Ignore The Coming Depression By Bowling Luxuriously

When we think of bowling, we don't generally think of a fine-dining experience. And when we think of the current state of the economy, we don't think of a more expensive way to enjoy a traditionally cheap activity. So we were a bit surprised to hear about 300, AMF's new chain of upscale bowling venues. A location opened in Houston on Bunker Hill near the Marq-E Center last week and we headed over to check out it out.

We were greeted by the sound of Beyonce booming over the speakers as her video played on giant screens at the end of each lane. Black and neon lights lit up each alley where well-dressed patrons were striking it up on lanes furnished with brown leather benches and shiny wood tables.

"AMF decided to launch a new concept and kind of take some of our tired facilities and look at the market and just go into the first upscale, very first-class service," Sales Manager Jill Maxwell tells us. First class indeed; instead of an apathetic teen in a ill-fitting polo attending bowlers' needs, each lane is outfitted with its own personal lane captain who is outfitted in a tuxedo vest. 

"[The captain will] get them their drinks, get them any food and beverage that they want, take care of any issues on the lane - if they have a scoring issue, they miss a frame, one of the pins gets stuck - the lane captain takes care of all of that and they close out with the lane captain," she says. Before that you head to an equipment specialist who sizes you for a ball, gets your shoes and escorts you to your lane.

All this attention comes at a price. Weekend evening rates get up to $8 a game with a $4.50 shoe charge. There's also a private room equipped with seven lanes, a personal bar and bathroom that can be rented for $3,500 on the weekends, $2,500 on weekdays. Maxwell says the average customer spends about $50 per person on food, drinks and bowling.

The 300 location used to be a "traditional" AMF facility and the switch has garnered a few moans and groans from regulars and local non-profits who held events at the facility. But they've been replaced. When we visited 300 on a Thursday afternoon, half the lanes were taken up by a corporate group who had a nice long table of eats that didn't look like standard bowling alley fare (read: microwave pizzas and greasy cheese sticks).

"Everything is served on fine china. We have an executive chef who was formally with Mortan's Steakhouse and has studied all over the world," Maxwell says. There's also a full bar and a couple of tables and chairs in the entry way as well as a small lounge with large, leather chairs and sofas.

Maxwell says the big screens at the end of the lanes can also be used to show slideshows for bachelorette parties, corporate events, etc. or they can be tuned to sporting events. Sounds like something we'd hide our blue collars or change out of our denim cut-offs for. If the current state of our nation isn't emptying your pocket book, here's a not-so-cheap thrill that can.

-- Dusti Rhodes

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