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Curtis Cartier rolls on down to Coasters in the Boardwalk Bowl and finds one of the liveliest dance floors in Santa Cruz.

By Curtis Cartier

Think of the only professional sporting arena with a playing field that's always connected to a bar (and no, poker is not a sport, whatever ESPN2 might have you believe). It's the bowling alley, of course! So with something as inherently awesome as bowling and drinking, it seems obvious why a person might want to add, say, live music. Well, readers, there just so happens to be such a place, and at least twice a week an almost purely local cast of punkers, hip-hoppers, rockers and disc jockeys gets down in red and blue alley sneakers.

Coaster's Lounge inside Boardwalk Bowl at 115 Cliff St. in Santa Cruz has been hosting random live shows for a while now, but since bar manager Rogelio Guzman started beefing up the lineups and getting out the word, more and more people who are neither high school sophomores or Hair Club for Men members are turning out to party. And while live music at a bowling alley is not a revolutionary concept, Coaster's choice of mainly local performers makes it one of the most community-oriented venues in town.

"I think local music is a really important part of the city," said Guzman. "There are a lot of local bands that are just looking for a place to play. We're not the size of the Catalyst or anything, but we always have a good time."

This past Friday, Mu_Z showed up in a bathrobe to throw a few apples down wood and drink a couple of white Russians. Filling in for a last-minute cancellation, local old timer four-piece Nightlife was there cranking out classic covers and high-powered originals to a small but lively crowd of well lubricated fans. Ages ranged from he's-got-to-have-a-fake-ID to shouldn't-you-be-at-home-watching-Murder-She-Wrote, but that didn't stop them from pounding the boogie wood with ageless fury. During a break between sets, Nightlife stick-swinger Darrell Hawkins explained the intimate connection bowling has with live music.

"At a bowling alley, people are automatically having fun," he said, beaming a toothy smile. "You've already got the bar, you've got food, people are there with their friends. It's a perfect place to play music."

Set into a far corner of the alley, the bar itself looks as divey as any bowling alley bar ought to look. Large banners detailing the latest pizza slice and Budweiser deals hang from the ceiling, and a lonely game of Golden Tee accepts the quarters of those with extra. It's a place where by day you can hang your head low and sob into a cheap pint of swill or by night throw your hands high and bump and grind in a conga line of Asian tourists. The dance floor really ties the room together, and since Santa Cruz has been deep in a well-documented dance floor drought, its existence is perhaps the principle perk the bar has to boast. Shows are always on Tuesday and Friday nights and the majority of them are free. Bowling is optional, and on busy nights, unless you get your name on the list early, bowling is unlikely. And with a big show coming up Feb. 7, featuring alt-rockers Honest Mistake, metalheads the Devil Himself and hip-hop crew the Naysayers, Coaster's has a place in ink on the Mu_Z concert calendar. Mark it, Dude!

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