When first learning that a new, retro-style bowling alley was opening at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, I thought it would be right up my alley (pun begrudgingly intended).
I was wrong.
A throwback to the 1920's, Breaktime Bowl and Bar bills itself as a "Trip to the Twenties," and features hand-poured drinks and hand set pins -- leaving out modern bowling technologies such as digital scoring and mechanical pin setup. You don't even need to rent bowling shoes, just roll with what you've got (another begrudgingly intended pun). Though I found the concept a bit "hipster-centric," I liked the idea, and looked forward to experiencing a new (old) way to enjoy a night of bowling and imbibing.
Would this be just another hipster fad? Or could it be a cool, new source for weekend fun?
On to my evening at Breaktime...
I -- along with a friend -- pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the Hope Artiste Village at around 9 pm on a Saturday, and walked toward the building I had previously known for live music (The Met) and for fresh produce (Wintertime Farmers Market), but on this date -- for pins and pints.
There was minimal signage to direct us, but we found our way. The first thing we noticed upon entering the building was the overwhelming scent of baking bread. The source: The Bread Lab, an artisan bakery and restaurant located on the first floor. I had never believed that the scent of baking bread could ever be too much, but this was close.
Anyway, we followed the small signs to the third floor, and walked in to a very bright room. There was a small congregation of a dozen or so people at the bar to the left, and the sound of falling pins directed my attention to the right. The bowling area itself featured six Duckpin lanes which were stretched out parallel to the bar. Five of the lanes were in use, and the sixth had a crudely drawn sign that said "Reserved 9:15." Instead of mechanical ball lifts or automated pin setters, Breaktime Bowl and Bar employs individuals to sit at the end of the lanes, reset the pins, and send the balls back for the next frame. On this night, there were two young gentlemen, sitting upon the barriers, waiting for the various bowlers in the five lanes to take their shots.
I asked the bartender about how one could go about reserving a lane. She seemed almost annoyed by the question. Her response was -- and I may be paraphrasing here -- "You've got to talk to the guy with the clipboard."
Luckily, I didn't have to embark on an epic quest in order to find the elusive "Mr. Clipboard," as a bearded gentleman fitting the description (in that he was holding a clipboard), walked by. I flagged him down and asked him about the process to procure a lane. He informed me that there was a 90 minute maximum for using a lane, as they hoped to accommodate as many bowlers as possible. I told him that was more time than we would need. He took my name, and disappeared. I forgot to ask how long we should expect to wait.
We polished off our first round of drinks, and went for round two. I asked the bartender to glance at a menu. The limited menu features many sandwich, appetizer, and snack options, all prepared from the aforementioned Bread Lab on the ground floor. While not hungry, I was impressed by a menu that boasted offerings far superior to any traditional bowling alley, including crab-stuffed mushrooms and spinach artichoke dip with parmesan-crusted toast. The bartender did not seem amused however at my decision not to order food. She swiped the menus from us with quickness, and walked off in a huff.
Pawtucket's Hope Artiste Village is a great spot, less than a mile from the Providence line that has been a near perfect adaptation of old industrial space for commercial and mixed use.
The food and drink prices were on par with what you'd expect at comparable establishments. $15 per hour for a bowling lane also seems quite reasonable.
It was difficult to differentiate employees from patrons. The bartender was less-than-friendly, and the lack of a concierge/hostess desk made it confusing and difficult to participate in the fun and games.
Retro is the new old. Or the old new? I don't know, but it is a cool business model.
Ehh. There are definitely some kinks that need to be ironed out. Also, their website is not very helpful at all.
The fact that the bowling lanes have actually existed in that location since 1918: Points! The fact that they only show Kingpin or The Big Lebowski on their two televisions: More Points!
Will I Return?
Absolutely. While my first experience was not wonderful, the venue showed some promise. Dim the lighting a bit in the bar area, add a front desk (or at least informative signage), maybe bring in some live music, and they will have a much improved product.
It's either a bar that happens to have bowling, or a bowling alley that's adjacent to a bar, but that is where the crossover seems to end.