There's no doubt about it: Baltimore needs more bowling alleys.
Seidel's shut down this year, leaving the Patterson Bowling Center as one of the last, if not the only, old-school bowling alleys in the city.
Enter Mustang Alley's, a new 12-lane bowling center and bistro that opened this month on Bank Street. After spending an evening there, one thing's for sure - it's not your grandparents' bowling alley.
Though my friends and I had fun when we were there last week, I don't know whether we'll be going back soon. I don't think I can afford to. And I'm a twentysomething young professional - the crowd this place seems to be trying to attract.
When I called ahead, the guy who answered the phone said the bowling rates were $55 per hour per lane Fridays through Sundays and $35 Mondays through Thursdays. So my roommates Patchen and Jeremy and I showed up about 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, hoping to bowl for (semi-)cheap. But I had been misinformed. Apparently, it's only $35 an hour before 7 p.m. Gulp.
The Koch family (Tim, Mary and their son, Kyle) opened Mustang Alley's on the second floor of an old tack factory. The booth cushions are chartreuse and black - the place's theme colors. When it's not your turn, you can watch the O's game on one of the four giant projection screen TVs above the pins.
With shiny wood lanes, exposed brick walls and small cylindrical hanging lights and square-shaped latticework hanging from the ceiling, it has an authentic Baltimore feel with a funky new-wave flavor.
Four of Mustang Alley's 12 lanes are duckpins, as they should be. It wouldn't be a Baltimore bowling alley with only tenpins.
We set up shop on a duckpin lane and ordered a couple of beers. The service was on its game all night. Our server took our orders on the lane and did a great job of keeping our glasses full.
I've heard that some of the machinery used for the duckpin lanes dates to another bowling alley from Baltimore's past. We could tell - our lane jammed four times in an hour. The managers spent 10 maddening minutes fixing it. After the third or fourth time, they gave us a free hour and moved us to another lane.
You might think $55 per hour is not a bad deal, because five or six people can play on one lane. But bowling takes time. In an hour and a half, the three of us played a total of three games. Patchen (a newcomer to duckpins) won two, I won one, and spin doctor Jeremy ended up in the gutter.
The bar has about a half-dozen beers on tap, including a handful of crisp, locally brewed Clipper City drafts. I love going to new or recently revamped bars, because it's hard to beat good beer from a brand-new tap.
I've always thought of bowling alleys as unpretentious (and slightly seedy) places where you can kill a night for cheap. Mustang Alley's is more of a special occasion, which is both good and bad.
Sure, the place looks nice and clean, the crowd of a couple dozen people was mostly young, and there are big TVs. But it's still a bowling alley. I don't think most Baltimoreans will go there on a whim, unless they're comfortable spending $75 on an hour of bowling and beer.
Mustang Alley's is on the second floor of 1300 Bank St. Hours are 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Call 410-522-2695 or go to mustangalleys.com.