Don't Ask Jon Simon About Life in the Gutter—He's Kingpin of New York's Trendy Bowling Club
After they've dined at Lutèce, seen Cats and discoed at Studio 54 and Xenon, where do celebrity night owls go? These days, the dive of choice is Bowlmor Lanes, a grimy establishment near seedy 14th Street which transforms at midnight twice a week into the Bowling Club. After a rattletrap elevator ride up to the third floor, a $5 cover charge entitles celebrants to drink a few beers and—like anyone else in Archie Bunker territory—bowl a few frames.
Bowling leagues need not apply. The Bowling Club is strictly limo country. Supermodel Christie Brinkley and her champagne heir boyfriend, Olivier Chandon, herd uptown pals like Jerry Hall to the lanes to soak in what Christie called the "refreshingly different" ambience. Jack Nicholson, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, Catherine Deneuve and Valley Guy Frank Zappa have all slummed there. David Bowie and Susan Sarandon showed up one night and bowled until nearly sunrise. Richard Gere and Nick Nolte teamed up to impress double dates with their prowess. Mackenzie Phillips popped in after her purse was snatched one night and offered to pay for her beer with a check. Writer Jerzy Kosinski has dropped in, and shockrocker Grace Jones is a regular.
Once considered a decidedly lowbrow sport, bowling has taken on a nouveau cachet—much as roller disco did in the late '70s. Migrating through the two-floor, 44-lane premises, patrons show off an array of punkish fashions ranging from leather tuxedos and Mohican haircuts to tulle prom dresses and vampish veiled hats. For those who don't care to bowl, there is a VIP room, the Convoy Lounge. Or they can play video games by the bar, loll about on scuffed plastic benches and, in the restroom, light up joints.
Those who do bowl have an advantage: They can dance in the lanes to music ranging from New Wave to bossa nova (anything but disco). Some unlikely types have made the effort to play. German New Waver Klaus Nomi, for example, finds the sport bizarre but fun: "It's very nostalgic, like the '50s." Indeed, says the club's co-owner Jon Simon, 26, "Bowling is more like Old Wave. Most of our generation doesn't remember bowling when it was popular in the '50s. But they like the blue-collar atmosphere. Besides, you don't have to be good at it, and it's coed."
An entrepreneur whose main interest is running his Upper West Side haute cuisine restaurant, Simon's, Jon got into the nightclub business as a sideline—"a way of having a social life." He got involved when a rock critic friend who had tossed a party at Bowlmor Lanes one night, Alan Piatt, thought the idea had money-making possibilities and invited Jon to oversee the business end. The Bowling Club opened last year and has proved a success, with the partners pocketing as much as $1,000 a night in net profits. Last May, the pair opened a West Coast branch at the Hollywood Legion Lanes in West L.A. It has been temporarily closed by the authorities—for serving liquor to a minor—but not before it had functioned as site for a big Grease II premiere party that lured the glittery likes of Lily Tomlin, Shelley Duvall and ex-First Family member-turned-soap star Steve (The Young and the Restless) Ford.
Manhattan-born Simon attended Antioch College and worked as everything from food critic for an underground newspaper to corporate caterer before opening his own restaurant with partner Neil Kleinberg. Unfazed by the current depressed economy, Simon shrugs that "things are too exciting now to worry about the monetary factor."
Having recently bought out Piatt to take on a new partner—Steve Maas, proprietor of the famed Mudd Club—Simon plans to open more bowling spots in the New York area. The partners also plan to stage special concerts featuring local New York bands, prepare a celebrity bowling TV show and institute "Tea Bowls," which would cater to a predominantly homosexual crowd. A self-described "bachelor and hetero," Simon sees great advantage in luring gays as well as straights to his club. After all, he points out, "the whole idea is to make bowling a little sexual."
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