WASHINGTON – Under the dim,almost candlelight florescence,Eric Behrns glanced up at the crystal clear,plasma screen,checking how far ahead his last strike put him.
After bowling his second strike in four frames,Behrns,28,nonchalantly plopped down into the lane's plush blue sofa,like something from “MTV Cribs,” where a cocktail waitress greeted him with a round of drinks.
Behrns,manager of federal public affairs for Xcel Energy,came with three friends and jokingly called his strategy “throwing it down the middle and hoping the pins fall down.” It was a style not uncommon at Lucky Strike Lanes,which celebrated its grand opening earlier this month with an invite-only event.
Aside from its 14 lanes,where bowlers can knock down pins for about $5 a game,the 21,000 square-foot facility inside Gallery Place,a downtown shopping and entertainment mall,includes a 50-foot bar,three 10-foot,high-definition screens intermixed with 40-inch plasma televisions and an array of padded half-circle booths and tables.
Concentrating on the pins isn't as easy as Behrns made it look. With eight 150-inch projector screens above the pins displaying a unique slideshows of modern art and multimedia to entertain bowlers and other patrons,Behrns and his three opponents certainly had an excuse for an occasional gutter ball.
Washingtonian Cortney Walker,24,an account executive for the Choice Inc.,comfortably in second place behind Behrns,said the new scene is her idea of what a bowling alley should be.
“It's great,” she said. “It's awesome entertainment.”
A few lanes down,members of the D.C. United professional soccer team's front office soaked in the sights and sounds of an entertainment setting entirely new to them.
“This is more of a bar with some bowling than the usual bowling with a bar,” said D.C. United Vice President Stephen Zack,40,of Potomac,Md.
Zack and other guests said the location across the street from the MCI Center,which hosts professional basketball and hockey along with concerts,gives the establishment an edge in a booming Chinatown district.
“I think it's going to be a gold mine,” said David Frewing,president of U.S. Bowling Corp.,the company that supplies Lucky Strike Lanes with custom-built equipment and electronics. “It's not a blue-collar sport anymore; now it's more of a white collar,middle-aged,yuppie crowd.”
After starting the company in Southern California three years ago,Lucky Strike owner Steven Foster's hip entertainment idea has spread – and spread quickly. Foster now owns 11 U.S. alleys,including Denver,Miami,Pittsburgh,Chicago and Boston.
“Bowling appeals to everybody. There's great interaction,and it's very dynamic,very kinetic,” Foster said. It's kind of an ice-breaker.”
Foster said the business has created a niche for the young professional crowd.
“D.C. is the governmental and cultural hub,” he said. “I love the market and the District. I think Lucky Strike can offer what the area might be lacking.”
And if D.C. is lacking anything,it's lacking bowling.
A couple of university centers are the only options Washingtonians have for a casual night of bowling,Behrns said.
Most of the area's bowling alleys,a good portion owned by AMF Bowling Worldwide,U.S. Bowling,and Bowl America,lie in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs – most with more than 30 lanes – catering more to a league-play clientele.
Foster said he wasn't sure whether Lucky Strike Lanes will create leagues.
Waiting for a lane to open up,Emanuel Payton,46,of Washington,said he's most impressed with the alley's convenience to the Metro rail system and it's accessibility to the urban crowd.
“I live downtown and work downtown. This is the new urban chic for young professionals who work hard and want to play hard,and they don't have to drive,” he said.
Payton,president of a consulting firm,said he'll consider having his next company party at Lucky Strike.
“Plus,the people-watching is great!” he added.
Since 1980,bowling has made the transition from league to casual,according to the U.S. Bowling Congress. Membership in the Congress,available to any league bowler,dropped from 9 million in 1980 to just 2.9 million.
Mark Miller,the group's publications team leader,said the decrease is a function of societal change.
“It's not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. world anymore,” he said. “There used to be a lot of women's daytime leagues,which has dropped in half since 1963.”
But just because bowlers aren't joining leagues doesn't mean people have lost interest in the sport's entertainment value.
According to a National Sporting Goods Association participation survey,bowling participation has grown 5.3 percent since 1999.
“It's the fastest growing sport in high schools,” Miller said. “Sixteen states have varsity bowling teams.”
Regardless of skill level,bowling at Lucky Strike is just part of the experience.
The $5 million facility surprised some guests with its gourmet menu. In addition to pizza,including a roasted plum tomato pizza,and burgers,including an “au pouivre” tuna burger,the menu includes lime shrimp and chipotle chicken skewers.
“Growing up,it was hot dogs and nachos,” said D.C. United midfielder Ben Olson. “I'm pleasantly surprised. It's a nice joint.”