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Late Night at the Lanes 

Traipsing through the North Bay's few remaining bowling-alley bars

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"Where else are you gonna find a middle-aged Cubs fan bumping and grinding on a pool cue?"

I'm in the lounge at Double Decker Lanes in Rohnert Park and the scene that 21-year-old Travis Byrd describes is, indeed, happening. The silver-haired dancer in a blue Cubs jersey will later ascend a karaoke stage to groove and enunciate his Chicago-loving heart out in a passionate rendition of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."

It's this growling tribute to cyanide and neckties—and things like it—that draws Byrd's group of twenty-something friends to the Double Decker bar, one of whom says he has never bowled here.

"This is a working man's bar," says 23-year-old Dillon O'Halloran, looking around at the leather stools, faux-rock wall and big-screen TV set on MLB.

Built in the '70s at the suburbs' end, often marked by flickering Bud signs, bowling alleys and the bars inside them are indicative of another time, when roller rinks weren't creepy and brushing PBR foam from your 'stache was neither ironic nor cool. In the shelf life of hip, this of course means they're about to hit their critical retro date and become the darlings of Instagram-users everywhere—San Francisco's just-opened Mission Bowl, with its wunderkind chef, grapefruit cocktails and regularly scheduled brunches, serves as a preview to this inevitable trend.

But what of North Bay bowling alley bars? Are they still the authentic home of longtime regulars—true flannel-and-whiskey dives? Or are they, too, being co-opted by the young and beautiful, those with disposable incomes and nostalgia for a sepia-toned past they never actually knew?

The phrase "kids these days," which I overhear at Boulevard Lanes in Petaluma, doesn't seem out of place.

Bartender Sasha Barrios confirms that Boulevard's lounge clientele is generally older. She stands behind a center island made of dark wood and Greek columns, which was remolded after the bar was built, but no one can remember the exact year—sometime during the Reagan era. It looks like it belongs in Tom Selleck's house. Two big-screen TVs broadcast a 49ers win, signs for Bud, Coors and Miller Lite line the walls, and a small group of patrons reference Cheers and address each other by first name.

click to enlarge WHAT'LL YOU HAVE? Bartender Sasha Barrios at Boulevard Lanes in Petaluma, where everybody knows your name. - RACHEL DOVEY
  • Rachel Dovey
  • WHAT'LL YOU HAVE? Bartender Sasha Barrios at Boulevard Lanes in Petaluma, where everybody knows your name.

"Most of our regulars are league bowlers, people who have been bowling for years," Barrios says.

One such regular is a man who asks that I refer to him only by his first name, Kip. He has silver hair and is dressed simply, in boots and denim. He's been coming to Boulevard for roughly 10 years and has been part of the bowling world for much longer.

At the age of 17, he began working as a bowling-alley mechanic, fixing the pinsetters that deposit neat triangles of 10 at the end of each lane. This was in the mid- to late '70s, he recalls, at bowling alleys in Greenbrae, Millbrae, Novato and San Rafael, most of which have long since closed.

"The only one still up is the Country Club in San Rafael," he says, lamenting the rising cost of the sport. When he first started working, it cost 65 cents to play and 25 cents for shoes, and with the youth discount, it was 40 cents a game and 15 cents for shoes.

But although he's no longer a mechanic, he still enjoys Boulevard's bar. "I know a lot of the people," he says. "It's just comfortable."

Barrios agrees.

"The regulars depend on me, I know everyone's drinks," she says, adding, "I wouldn't want to deal with a bunch of kids."

  • Traipsing through the North Bay's few remaining bowling-alley bars

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