N.E.R.D performing at Brooklyn Bowl in 2010.
Bowling, good music, fried chicken and beer are all well and good on their own.
But business partners Charley Ryan and Peter Shapiro had a not-so-radical idea: Why not put them all under the same roof?
It’s been eight years since Brooklyn Bowl opened in the 19th-century Hecla Iron Works building on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg.
Since then, they’ve put on 3,920 total shows, had 7,534,652 frames bowled, poured 845,122 pints of Brooklyn Brewery beer and hosted 215 weeks of Questlove’s Bowl Train DJ residency.
In other words, Brooklyn Bowl has managed to carve out its own distinct space in New York’s increasingly competitive live music scene.
Ahead of an 8-night run to celebrate the venue’s 8th anniversary, co-founder Charley Ryan spoke with the Daily News about his initial inspiration for the concept and what he sees for the future of Brooklyn Bowl.
NYDN: How did Brooklyn Bowl begin?
CR: Peter came along and bought the Wetlands Preserve, which was a downtown music club in Tribeca. He asked me to run it with him. For the next five years, that place had a real renaissance and resurgence.
Prince Rama performs at Brooklyn Bowl in 2015.
(Thomas Levinson/New York Daily News)
But we took the staff out a bunch for different parties, and then those parties took on a lot of different forms. One time, we took them to a bowling alley. The place that we went wasn’t really clean, the food wasn’t good, the sound wasn’t good, the service wasn’t good. But everyone had a really good time because of this magic ingredient called "bowling."
Everybody’s been bowling before, but we looked at it from our own special lens and said, "Wait a minute. We know how to do live music." And that’s probably the toughest component that you could possibly isolate.
So we thought, "Why don’t we try to somehow come up with a space plan that really brings the bowling in a way that’s never been done before?"
NYDN: While you have pretty eclectic programming at Brooklyn Bowl, there definitely is a heavier emphasis on jam bands and hip-hop. How did you guys realize that you could build the venue behind those types of acts?
CR: Everything seems to work well at our place to be honest with you. And I don’t want to brag, but one thing you didn’t mention was New Orleans music.
New Orleans music is good-time music. It’s not music you sit around like a church. You’re up and dancing and having a good time. If someone cheers because somebody else got a strike [while bowling], it doesn’t offend anybody because that’s just the nature of New Orleans and New Orleans music.
For hip-hop, we were fortunate early on to get Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, people of the highest level to come and play the room. So the agents who handled those kinds of acts knew the crowd was great for their artists.
The bowling lanes at Brooklyn Bowl are set off to the left of the stage and dancefloor area.
We do almost everything except for folk singers sitting quietly on a chair or a really contemplative jazz where people would sit at a little cocktail table and be very, very quiet listening to every note.
People do pay attention to the artistry on stage, but it’s never going to be a contemplative, quiet space, so we don’t try to make it into that.
NYDN: At a time when you’re seeing so much consolidation in the live music industry with companies like Live Nation or AEG buying up festivals and venues, what do you envision for the next eight years of Brooklyn Bowl?
CR: We have partnered successfully, and it’s public information, with AEG, Madison Square Garden and other entities. We look at ourselves as Switzerland. At this point, we have the opportunity to partner with whoever we want to partner with. There’s no reason to view the entire world as your enemy.
NYDN: There are compromises that smaller companies might have to make when they partner with bigger entities, but it’s not definitively selling out to work with those bigger entities.
CR: When you talk about the festival scene, that’s what I’d call a "big boy game." I don’t mean to be gender-specific about it, but that’s a lot of money and it takes a lot to get it launched. You’re going to need staying power there. You’re going to need some partners, you’ll need sponsorships. You’ll probably need to build some alliances.
So those are either wholly or substantially or significantly owned by the biggest people in the business. And that’s increasingly true all the way down to a venue as small as ours.
Bowl Train, Questlove’s weekly DJ residency at Brooklyn Bowl, has become a New York nightlife tradition.
NYDN: Were there any specific mistakes along the way that you made when launching and developing Brooklyn Bowl and how did you respond to those mistakes?
CR: We’re really happy with the design of the place. One mistake that I made was not grabbing more space from the landlord. If we had grabbed more space from the landlord, we would have more storage. That would make life a little easier. It would also afford us the space to build in the fire-rated stair towers and so forth to do something up on the roof.
That’s my biggest regret. We built something that didn’t have any flexibility. Every square inch is accounted for. Although we could do something up on the roof, we would really need to intrude on the program as you’ve seen it and everybody’s seen it for the last eight years in order to do that.
So we should’ve grabbed more space when it was available. But that kind of hindsight is 20/20.
NYDN: You already have two other venues in London and Las Vegas. When you talk about continuing to expand Brooklyn Bowl, can you get a little bit more specific about those plans?
CR: We have an idea about what our spatial requirements. We certainly don’t want to go everywhere and aren’t in a hurry to expand.
But we’ve done a lot of legwork in Nashville. I think that might be the next one, although there’s nothing set there in any way. Nashville is quite an amazing town. It’s a boom town in the best sense of the word because the town fathers 20 or 30 years ago did a lot of things to make it not chaotic and make it ready for what’s happening now. It’s a hip capital for the South that I think never existed before.
We’re looking at a couple of other locations and we’ll have to see how they go. But there is no simple answer for where we’ll go or why we’ll go there. But it requires a certain population, a metropolitan area and it has to feel right.