You've seen the giant green "BOWLING" signs on top of the old building at the corner of Amherst and Elmwood. Those flashing signs did their job, winking to me during trip after trip to Wegmans. I wanted to go to Voelker's for a drink.
Old school fun it would be, I thought. Yoda-like. Campy. I would enjoy sipping a cocktail with the clattering pins, and the buzz and hum of the good folks of Buffalo in the background. The only thing I didn't count on was the cigarette smoke that some of my fellow patrons were producing on a recent Friday night. Otherwise, I can recommend the place.
There is potential fun here, with many forms of electronic entertainment, including TV, darts and bar-top adult video games, music, etc.
When a hot tune comes on the electronic jukebox system, some of the men here are comfortable enough with their fellow bar occupants and themselves to make "raise the roof" dancing gestures. I think it has to do with the fact that they are ostensibly there to do something active, something other than just drink, so they feel free to express themselves physically.
The bar itself is a huge oval in the middle of a huge, low-ceilinged room. Some classic, interesting architectural elements are not completely covered up by sports and beer paraphernalia. The curved glass brick foyer gives everyone a chance for a big entrance. The ceiling molding that mirrors the shape of bar and hangs directly over it is . . . mirrored. And the floor, covered in white and gray porcelain tiles, reminds me of every bathroom of every apartment I've ever lived in.
Children playing video games in the hallway arcade connecting the lounge to the bowling alley seem a little incongruous, but still homey. No kids are allowed, obviously, in either the lounge or the attached poolroom. Three green-felt-topped tables and a couple of places to park your can (of beer, I mean) are enough to make that room completely functional.
As I looked around, I caught myself being amused and charmed to see a man in a Hawaiian print bowling shirt walking through cradling a green marble bowling ball. Then I remembered I was in a bowling alley. Then, the next thing I knew, I almost pointed out some quaint bowling trophies sitting on top of the bar. Then, again, I remembered: We WERE IN a bowling alley!
Early on this Friday evening, the bar crowd included couples and pitcher-and-shot-drinking bowling teams (their matching T-shirts proclaimed affiliation with an auto body shop). Coming in was a group of young men and leaving, a group of women. In a Zen sort of way, it balanced out.
We left through the bowling alley, where wholesome family activity was taking place. A little girl hugged her littler brother as he guttered. We went home a little smoky, but none the worse for wear.
Voelker's Bowling Center, Lounge and Game Room
686 Amherst St.
Scene: Drinking, electronic entertainment and, of course, bowling.
Drinks: Beer kinda goes with the game; full bar, too.
Dress code: Informal poll found half of the men wearing baseball hats. For the rest, anything goes -- it's in a bowling alley.
Next week: Gin Mill