One meatball. That’s all it took to convince me that the new Alley on Columbus Street wasn’t a typical bowling alley. Earlier this week, while workers were still constructing the outdoor patio, owners Jimmy Poole and David Crowley gave me a tour of what will soon be Charleston’s coolest event venue.

  • Eight lanes of fun

The Alley is a compilation of things: It’s a funky eight-lane bowling alley with brand new balls (with an interactive display to help you find the right size!); a retro game room stocked with gems like Mortal Kombat, Joust, Ms. Pac-Man, and Afterburner; a relaxed bar where you can watch the game on two 160-inch screens; a lounge where you can host the next office party; and —most unlikely of all — a restaurant to take the family to for a bite on any given night. Really.

  • Wall o’ games

Forget hotdogs and hamburgers. The menu at The Alley will be more diner than bowling alley, with meatballs, beef stew, shrimp and oyster po’ boys, and braised pork belly sandwiches. Does the thought of eating such fare at a bowling alley scare you? Well, it shouldn’t. Smart guys that they are, Poole and Crowley have partnered with Aaron Siegel, Taylor Garrigan, and the rest of the owners at Home Team BBQ to create The Home Team Kitchen.

  • Jonathan Boncek
  • From left: Jimmy Poole, Taylor Garrigan, and David Crowley

Siegel and Garrigan, who’s been with Home Team for six years, worked together to carefully craft a menu that will strike a balance between casual and comfort. They’re calling it “feel good food,” and the menu reads as an unpretentious crowd pleaser that promises to go over big, if the little pre-taste I got this week is any indication.

And what’s more feel good than a big bowl of meatballs? They’re housemade from ground pork butts and bellies and come nestled in a bowl of bright marinara, a nice easily sharable appetizer for $7.95. You can also get a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs as an entrée. Poole says the food was a big part of what they needed to figure out. “We’re doing events and birthday parties, so it’s clearly an event thing for us, so we needed a branded restaurant behind it.” If someone wants to host a party there, they’ll be confident about getting a serious food spread to go along with it.

The one concession to bowling alley food on the menu is the pizza. But this isn’t any old pizza. This is french bread pizza. Think Stouffer’s frozen pizzas on steroids without any of those hard tough edges. Indeed, the bread, which Garrigan spent a while perfecting with Normandy Farm, is perfect. Flat, crispy, easy to bite through (no scorched palate), these pizzas might just become addictive. We tried the meat pie, which was loaded with proscuitto, pepperoni, and mozzarella and came with a thin layer of that same tasty marinara as on the meatballs. Overall, it’s a pleasing change from the standard pizza pie.
I would venture to say not many of us would dare order a salad at a bowling alley, but Garrigan insisted we try the green salad ($8.95), a shredded mound of fennel, cabbage, celery leaves, jalapeños, and cilantro tossed in a light lemony vinaigrette. Even my 9-year-old loved it. Items like this will make the Alley a place you can stop in for lunch or dinner, even if you’re not going to bowl.

And don’t worry about noise from bowling balls crashing into pins. The lanes are tucked into the back one-third of the building, far enough away from the dining room and bar to be nearly soundproof. Lanes will be rented by the hour (price was still being debated), which will allow for reservations and a waitlist. There’s another bar back by the lanes where you can wait and watch the action from the rail, a great vantage point for heckling your pals or slamming a congratulatory round of shots.

The Alley is in a former Ben Arnold distribution warehouse and is pretty massive. “The number one goal was to figure out how do you make a 14,000 square-foot warehouse feel intimate,” says Poole. They did it by working with design firm Stumphouse to break up the space with areas like the 1800-square-foot mezzanine. They also used some fun features, like a layer of circa-70s wood paneling around the main dining room, to warm up the room and add a bit of cheeky fun.

The Alley is throwing a disco-themed preview party on Saturday night (already sold out) and will follow up with a soft opening in the next few days. Follow them on Twitter @TheAlleyChas for updates. Once the doors open, they’ll stay open daily from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. so they’ll be plenty of time to check it out.

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