It's Thursday night in the midst of a long, stressful week, and you deserve an almost-the-weekend break. 'Dinner and dancing downtown?' your friends might suggest. 'One of the same five hipster dive bars we always go to in North Park?'
This is where you smile devilishly, grab a pair of socks, maybe do some light stretches. 'No,' you tell them. 'We're going to Poway Fun Bowl.'
What one might call the entertainment hub of Poway appears pretty tame upon arrival. The neon sign casts a desolate glow across the parking lot; bored-looking smokers guard the entrance. Do not be deceived. Inside lurks one of the cheapest, guiltiest sorts of pleasure possible to have without breaking laws--although, to be fair, a particular blend of piss-faced drunk and I-just-bowled-a-high-score giddy is somewhat conducive to petty crime after you leave.
In comparison with, say, the two-headed Mira Mesa/Kearny Mesa bowling monster, Poway Fun Bowl (12941 Poway Road, 858-748-9110, www.powayfunbowl.com) is cool because it's about the regulars. Sure, there are rogue groups of teenagers, but these are not kids who are handing over their $300 Adidas for bowling shoes. On Wednesday nights, the crowd might get a little hipper as a result of FM 94/9's weekly The Big Lebowski night, but the real Poway Fun Bowl, on regular nights, is the true bowler's experience.
At Poway it's about the grown-ups: the kind-hearted but gruff men (mostly) who are on a first-name basis with the bartenders and get the same food at the snack bar--based on the odds, something covered with cheese--three to five times a week.
'There's definitely a range of customers, but our regulars are awesome,' bartender Becca says, eyeing the few seated at the end of the bar as she pours another $2 pint of Fat Tire. Thursdays at the lounge--properly known as Jimmy'z--are Thirsty Thursdays, which means $2 beers. Tuesdays, $2 well drinks. The specials are hard to miss; the entire bowling alley is plastered with sheets of neon paper that inform you, for example, of 'MONDAY MARGARITA MADNESS $5 YOU KEEP THE CUP.'
'Wednesdays through Saturdays we have karaoke,' Becca adds, then gestures to the barren wooden dance floor, complete with disco lights and a large-screen TV relaying the lyrics to 'Down on the Corner' to no one. 'Whether or not anyone sings it.'
As she says it, a clean-cut, middle-aged Asian man who looks like he's had a few picks up the mic and joins in with John Fogerty with the kind of gusto that suggests he's done this before. This guy is a regular.
Out by the lanes, the sounds of pins hitting the ground reverberate over a frantic techno remix of Faith Hill's 'Breathe,' followed by a frantic techno remix of 'Every Breath You Take.' This strange pattern, combined with the alley's dominating mural of bowling pins set across a swirling black-and-white checkerboard, has a dizzying effect.
Time to bowl. At Poway, you can pick from seven 'themes' for the electronic scoring screen to accost your senses. The most entertaining is Extreme Sports, which means every time someone makes a strike or a spare, the screen shows the word 'strike' or 'spare' in front of a slow-motion, animated sequence of someone performing a high jump, doing a bike trick or racing a car. When you do a gutter ball, the word 'gutter' flashes over a boxer getting punched in the face.
Bowling is an equalizer. Unless you were in a youth league or something weird, no one's really that good at it--and being bad is just as fun, anyway. During the course of an hour, loyalties are formed and broken. You laugh, you yell, you drink more beer. You perform manly, full-body high fives. You're all winners, and you're all pretty big losers, too. It's like that.
An hour later, the atmosphere at the bar has changed. What was once an empty karaoke station populated by semi-drunk 50-somethings has now been overrun by extremely drunk 30-somethings. Karaoke commences.
One gentleman romances the two ladies he's brought with a fine rendition of some Jodeci song, during the middle of which he stops following cues and improvises a solo about 'licking your fine butthole,' although whose is unclear.
Another man, whose pants have almost completely fallen down in the process of grinding explicitly to that performance with both a female and a male friend, follows up seamlessly by screaming his heart out to Bon Jovi's 'You Give Love a Bad Name.' He finishes with a knee-slide on the ground into the audience, winning the respect, if not the hearts, of every patron in the building.
At 1:30 a.m., your underage designated driver puts his foot down about leaving. But as you head south down Interstate 15, you know you'll be back. The bartender knows your names. And next time, you'll break 100.