New Mission district bowling alley pins hopes on San Francisco supervisors 

Bowling and boozing — two inherently related activities — are the subject of city legislation designed to clear the way for a proposed new six-lane alley and bar-restaurant in the Mission district.

Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener want to tweak the planning code to make way for the new locally owned business, which wouldn’t otherwise be allowed because past problems with the area’s drinking culture prompted restrictions on new liquor licenses.

The proposed Mission Bowling Club is not the only 10-pin bastion of blue-collar culture wanting to locate in San Francisco, which has managed to hold onto only two such establishments over the years.

If you want to “roll rocks” in The City, your only options are the kitschy Presidio Bowl and a small alley at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Sommer Peterson, co-owner of Mini Bar on Divisidero Street, said her proposed bowling alley at 17th Street and South Van Ness Avenue will have the traditional social feel, except with better lighting and food.

Some would say Mission residents are the perfect market for potentially ironic activities, but Peterson sees that as an underestimation of the game’s simple joy.

“I don’t see it as ironic,” she said. “With so much serious stuff going on in the world, people just need a little break to go and be silly with their friends. You want to beat those pins down, you want to smash them and hear that crash.”

Adding to what’s becoming a bowling mini-renaissance in The City, Lucky Strike Lanes — offering a high-class bowling experience — is on its way to opening a location in the South of Market area at a defunct Borders bookstore. Plus, the New York owners of Brooklyn Bowl, which puts on a rock show complement to bowling, said they also are considering a foray into San Francisco.

The City has been no exception to a nationwide downturn in the once-beloved professional sport and leisure activity, which has seen a 55 percent drop in facilities since the early ’60s, according to the Bowling Proprietors Association of America.

Although the industry peaked in the ’70s, San Francisco enjoyed a few more options in the ’90s, when the Haight neighborhood’s Park Bowl institutionalized “Rock & Bowl,” a glow-in-the-dark bowling experience complete with music videos. San Francisco’s largest recent bowling institution was lost with the shuttering of Japantown Bowl in 2000, leaving behind a much quieter corner at Post and Webster streets.

Kim and Wiener both noted the difficulty of finding enough space in The City to have a bowling alley. Kim said the required real estate is often worth more as a condominium project, so it’s no wonder the crashing sounds of strikes, spares and gutter balls aren’t more common in city nightlife. Wiener said Mission Bowling Club, with its over-21 weekdays and weekends for kids, will be a good start.

“I think it’s making a bit of a comeback,” Wiener said. “It’s a daytime and nighttime use, and it serves a diverse segment of the population. And who doesn’t like bowling?"

Bowled over: Attendance lagging at the lanes

U.S. figures:

  • 55 percent decline in bowling facilities (11,476 to 5,155) since the early 1960s
  • 37 percent decline in average annual games per lane since 1975, from 11,419 to 7,178
  • 3 million competitive bowlers in 2010, compared to 8.4 million in 1983

Source: Bowling Proprietors Association of America


Let’s roll

Locals said they would welcome a new bowling alley in the Mission.

“It’s viewed as working-class entertainment, but that’s what’s fun about it. It could be the next hipster thing.” — Nik Larson, 34

“It would give people something to do besides hang around the streets.” — Deyna Loveless, 45

“‘The Big Lebowski’ culture is strong … there are a bunch of old kids in this part of The City. Look at how many ice cream shops have sprung up.” — Stephen Kovacic, 23

“It’s a fun way to get out and interact with people instead of just getting wasted.” — Andie Williams, 27

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