Bowlmor Bethesda

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Editorial Review

Editor's note: Strike Bethesda changed its name to Bowlmor Lanes.

When most twenty-somethings go bowling, whether on a date or with friends, it's usually for the kitsch factor: Schlitz in a can, deep-fried food and the rough-around-the-edges feeling that made the pool room at the late Nick Rinaldi's feel like a speakeasy. It's not for the comfort level; shoes are often ratty and the balls leave a weird film on your hands.

Perhaps it's inevitable, then, that we'd get something like Strike Bethesda, the area's first upscale bowling alley. Decked out in a bright, retro '60s decor, it has a look that's more space-age cool than "Happy Days." The 34 maple lanes have pins that glow in the dark. Bowlers wait for their turn on comfy, upholstered benches. All scoring machines are computerized. Four bartenders staff two bars that stretch to 30 feet. Clad in bowling shirt-inspired dresses, cocktail waitresses bring drinks to each lane. The restaurant has a multi-page menu. Wrap all of the above in chrome, patterned resin and molded plastic, and this ain't your average Bowl America.

Actually, it was. Built in 1959, there was nothing special about the Bowl America Westwood -- except for its 14 duckpin lanes. It closed in October 2000. When the lease became available in December, Washington native Tom Shannon moved in, spending more than $3 million to create Strike Bethesda. From the upholstered furniture to the state-of-the-art light system, it's an impressive makeover. Five retractable eight-foot screens hang above the lanes, showing sports and music videos or projecting atmospheric, lava lamp-style patterns.

The two long bars are among Strike's stronger selling points -- this is as much a place to meet for drinks as to knock down some pins. Ranging from Budweiser to Sierra Nevada on draft, and Miller Lite to Newcastle Brown Ale in bottles, beers cost between $4.75 and $5.75; mixed drinks are usually under $6. The restaurant area, which seats about 50, replaced the Bowl America's snack bar. Instead of tired french fries and candy bars, it offers a full menu, including chicken satay, vegetarian spring rolls, Hawaiian pizza and Maryland crab cakes. For you traditionalists, corn dogs are also served.

Shannon has experience in the upscale bowling business. His other property, New York City's Bowlmor Lanes, is a trendy Greenwich Village alley that mixes its 1930s history with martini bars and DJs. Bowlmor has become the haunt of celebrities, including Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts.

Strike's usual weekend entertainment schedule features bowling and a DJ. Monday's "Night Strike" event offers unlimited bowling from 9 until 1 a.m.: The lights go off, the pins glow and DJs spin techno and house. Future plans include guest DJ nights, sports-viewing parties and performances by live bands. "[The schedule] is very fluid, though," says Shannon. One thing isn't: a $1,000 prize for anyone who bowls a perfect 300 game.

There's a strong community element at Strike. The alley opens at 10 every morning and has those special bumpers that prevent kids from throwing gutter balls. They're already booking birthday parties. But after 6 p.m., you have to be 21 to enter.

Now, for the prices. Strike is more expensive than your average bowling alley. Before 5 p.m., it's $25.95 per lane per hour. Other days are $35.95 per lane. Shoe rental is an extra $5 per pair. Those watching their money should visit on Monday night for the $18 all-you-can-bowl special from 9 until close, which includes shoes.

-- Fritz Hahn