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Unwinding at Japantown Bowl

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Life in the slow lane

By Michelle Goldberg

The sign of a good new year's eve, I think, is being so burned out that you want to hibernate for all of January. Ordinarily, Jan. 1 begins for me with a sickly feeling of failure and dejection, and I spend the next few weeks frantically going out and trying to purge memories of a limp, desultory party that failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations.

But thanks to the geniuses behind Anon Salon and their New Year's EVEolution bash at the Oak Street Ballroom, New Year's 1999 surpassed even my most naively buoyant Hollywood dreams of ecstasy and epiphany at the stroke of midnight. With countless rooms, truly spiritual trance music, gorgeous lights, saunas, skinny dipping, flower petals falling from the ceiling, glitter and feathers, boas, leather, latex, silver, gold and gauze, New Year's EVEolution was easily the best Dec. 31 of my life.

The proof is how spent, splotchy and serotonin-deprived I felt come Jan. 2. I saw four of five movies in the first few days of the year, read two novels and downed too much coffee, but I needed other options. Happily, in trying to recuperate and avoid the bars for a few days, I revisited the strange joy of the Japantown Bowl.

Walking into Japantown Bowl, you pass a sulky gauntlet of impeccably dressed teenagers--presumably also desperate to find anything to do that doesn't require ID--lounging about the video games. Downstairs, the scene is a better-dressed version of bowling lanes across the nation. But on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday nights the second floor of Japantown is host to Cyberbowl, a glow-in-the-dark bowling party with an aesthetic reminiscent of a suburban roller rink circa 1984, lightly accented with motifs borrowed from the early '90s rave and club scene. As fluorescent pink and yellow balls speed down the iridescent lanes toward eerily glowing pins and strobe lights zigzag across the room, the 15-foot DVD screens intersperse images from music videos and psychedelic computer animation with alarming shots of crowd members--three times larger than life--as they purse their lips and lurch their balls toward hopeful victory.

bowling Take Your Best Shot: Rolling in it at Japantown Bowl.


Lest this description sound sarcastic, I assure you that bowling at Japantown Bowl is genuinely and outrageously fun--and not in a snide wink-wink white-trash nostalgia kinda way, either. The biggest problem with bowling in general, I think, is its obnoxiously high irony factor. But the irony here dissolves quickly enough--even if you think bowling is a joke, serious competitiveness sets in by the second or third frame.

On a recent night, we found ourselves next to a team made up of young restaurant workers from Lulu's. "I really enjoy it. Last April my brother bought me a ball and shoes. I believe bowling is a sport that requires sweat and skill," said Brendan Costigan, a 22-year-old Lulu's bartender who was finishing up his game before the Cyberbowl began.

One evening, I begged a friend--a fey and elegant man-about-town type--to join me and was stunned when he started rolling strikes. "Oh," he said, sipping his vodka tonic, "I used to be in a league back in Jersey." He finished his drink and I brought him another one because, despite my original plans for temperance, cocktails at Japantown Bowl are a steal--I paid $8.25 for a round of three. After all, like most sportsmen, the serious bowler quickly works up a thirst.

Japantown Bowl, 1790 Post St., 415/921-6200. Open 24 hours Fri.-Sat.; 9am-1am Sun.-Thu. Reservations are recommended for the Cyberbowl events, held 9-11pm on Tue. and Sun.; 8:30-11pm on Sat.

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From the January 18, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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