Most of us have warm, fuzzy bowling memories from some point in our lives. Mine are around getting dragged to league night at the Springfield Lanes with my grandma. She’d put back Manhattans or pin-shaped beers while annihilating the other grannies with scores in the 200s. Once in a while, she'd let me throw a ball, too.
Bowling has long been a staple in San Francisco. It used to be there were lanes scattered up and down Market Street back in the ’50s and ’60s, and in the ’90s we had Park Bowl in the Haight and Japantown Bowl in that hood. Fast-forward to now, and there are some spots to play at Yerba Buena and in the Presidio, but none have that old-school charm or ambiance. I’ve found myself longing for a classic-style alley, pin-shaped beers and all – in a neighborhood that’s accessible from a bike and public transportation angle.
Insert Sommer Peterson and Molly Bradshaw, owners of the new Mission Bowling Club. MBC is the ideal city spot to appease a love for bowling – along with my affection for new bars and restaurants born from pop-ups. Layer in a future league night, revolving art shows, bike parking, family hours, and a large patio, and they’ve got the makings for an epic new hangout.
Inspired by fond memories of bowling with her grandparents, Sommer came up with the idea for MBC a few years back. She was bummed about the lack of alleys here and yearned for classic league nights, food, beers, and cocktails. Sommer has bowling in the blood. She spent her toddler years in bowling alley daycare (yes, back in the late ’70s alleys occasionally offered those services). Between bowling with her family as she grew older and seeing Green Day perform at a San Jose bowling alley back in 1993, Sommer was inspired to create happy bowling memories for other people, smack in the middle of the Mission.
I've known Molly and Sommer for about three years from a different neighborhood. Their first business, Mini Bar, is on Divisadero around the corner from my business, Workshop. We quickly bonded over the struggles of opening shop in a crappy economy and on a street that was growing pretty slowly. I realized these were rad, friendly ladies, and over the years Mini Bar has become like my Cheers.
I’m excited about MBC because I know it isn’t the product of some big corporation or fat cat investors looking to cash in on a new trend. It’s a local business run by local ladies who've put a lot of sweat, equity, and love into the neighborhoods where they set up shop.
As if opening a bar wasn't hard enough in SF, these women are opening a three-pronged business in an area where permitting and legal hurdles were initially everyday occurrences. They actually worked with city supervisors to change Mission-specific legislation that prevented non-music entertainment spots from serving alcohol so MBC could open with a bar. Their efforts not only benefitted them, but will also benefit other Mission businesses like the Roxie, which will soon be able to serve beer and wine. Pretty cool.
I was lucky enough to sneak in for a preview bowl with Sommer and Molly before they opened and check out the lanes as well as the bar, mezzanine, and dining area. Anthony Myint (Mission Street Food, Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth) also dropped by, as he’s taking on the food side of things. He gave me some hints about what’s going to be on the menu, from the much-adored Mission Burgers (insert Homer Simpson drool here – one of these best burgers I’ve ever had) that come in vegan too, as well as to die for fried chicken on a stick, gourmet corn dogs, a tasty lil’ Bavarian pretzel, and a few more surprises. There will be food service on two floors, as well as on the patio – which, p.s., gets sun just about all day and will be dog friendly.
Everything about the space made me smile, from the silly graphics that pop up on the scoreboards to the giant wooden bowling ball and pin hanging from the ceiling. They’re even offering pom-pom socks at the rental counter – Sommer and I discovered that both of our grandmas rocked these in their bowling getups. The counter, by the way, is decorated with the original Centennial Electric sign built into it, a relic from the previous business that keeps a little of the building's history alive.
As someone who prefers hangin’ at places with a neighborhood vibe, I was excited to hear that Molly and Sommer partnered with a lot of local folks for MBC. They hired artists from nearby Engine Works to design the outdoor area. Their serving staff will be comprised of bartenders from their favorite bars, both dive and fancy. (They’re excited about the bowling alley creating over 50 jobs for the city.) They also talk enthusiastically about reaching out to the folks in the area directly surrounding them, bringing in community groups and kids for special events and hosting neighborhood art shows. I imagine MBC will be a lot like Mini Bar, a place I can go where the owners will know my name, the bartenders give me a hug, and nobody who works there is too cool for school. In a city where I can get intimidated by new spots or overly artisan places, I can already see MBC being a place I'll dig.
Now that MBC is open, it’s time for me to get bowling for real. Though my score with Sommer and Molly didn't break any records, I threw a few strikes that night and can’t wait to better my game. Plus, I already bought myself a pair of vintage bowling shoes, a bowling ball, a bag, and an embroidered jersey. I'm ready to try my hand at this game and do my grandma proud.
You can become a Lebowski and master the pins over at Mission Bowling Club. Like most new businesses, we expect they'll be busy for a while. They will offer lane reservations for three of the six lanes, leaving some open for walk-ups. Starting March 26, they will have happy hour from 3-6 p.m. (with $10 burgers), and regular hours are Monday through Friday, 3 to 11 p.m. for 21+. Saturday they'll be open from noon until midnight, with all ages hours from noon to 7 p.m. and 21+ from 7 p.m. to midnight. Sundays they'll be open from noon until 11 p.m. (all ages noon to 7 p.m., 21+ from 7 to 11 p.m.).