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Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia is ready to open in Fishtown, with Soulive and Questlove

The New York based music venue, bowling alley and restaurant is set to reshape Philly’s live music scene.

Kyle O'Rourke with Live Nation is preparing the bowling lanes Monday for the Thursday opening day of Brooklyn Bowl in Fishtown by removing debris from the gutters. Brooklyn Bowl, a music and bowling venue will be located at 1009 Canal St.
Kyle O'Rourke with Live Nation is preparing the bowling lanes Monday for the Thursday opening day of Brooklyn Bowl in Fishtown by removing debris from the gutters. Brooklyn Bowl, a music and bowling venue will be located at 1009 Canal St.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

On Thanksgiving weekend in 2017, Brooklyn Bowl founder Peter Shapiro took his son to a Friday afternoon Flyers game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Eager to check out the Fillmore in Fishtown, Shapiro was pleased to see who was playing that night: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, a Grateful Dead-inspired band that’s performed at the original Brooklyn Bowl so frequently that there’s a meatless Joe Russo’s Almost Burger on the restaurant menu.

When Shapiro got to the Fillmore, he was in for another surprise. “Holy [smokes]!” he recalled thinking, talking on the phone this week from the Manhattan offices of Relix, the jam band magazine of which he’s publisher. “There was a bowling alley right next door.”

Shapiro ducked into Revolutions, the lanes that opened in 2016. “There was no one there.” A lightbulb went off. He called Geoff Gordon, the Philadelphia head of concert promoters Live Nation, and quickly came to a decision: “I’m going to do a Brooklyn Bowl here.”

Four years later, Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia — the fourth in the mini-chain that also has outposts in Las Vegas and Nashville which, like BB Philadelphia, are partnerships with Live Nation — will open Thursday night.

The 900-capacity venue is spread over two floors in a 38,000-square-foot post-industrial space that once, like the Fillmore, was home to the Ajax Metal Company.

It includes 24 bowling lanes that rent for $25 a half hour for up to eight people and a restaurant serving comfort food by New York restaurant group Blue Ribbon, including signature fried chicken that on a visit to Brooklyn last week was, in fact, delicious.

The venue makes its entree onto the Philadelphia music scene with a double bill, starting with Bowlive, the unique-to-the-Brooklyn Bowl aggregation of jam band trio Soulive joined by bassist George Porter Jr. of New Orleans funk greats The Meters.

They will be immediately followed by a performance by DJ Questlove of the Roots in an upstairs room decorated with hand-painted carnival murals. The Summer of Soul director will bring the Bowl Train experience with Soul Train videos that he’s shown hundreds of times at the venue’s Brooklyn location since it opened in 2009.

Bowlive will do early shows the next two nights, followed on Friday by DJ Logic and Saturday by the Dead-themed Jerry Dance Party. For all Brooklyn Bowl shows, a ticket to the early set - $39.50 for Bowlive - also covers late night for those that want to stick around. They do not clear the house.

Embarking on a new venture even as the pandemic drags on presents challenges, “but I think the time is right,” Shapiro said. “People are ready to come together.”

Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours will be required for entry. The city of Philadelphia mask mandate requires face coverings to be worn when not eating or drinking and they will be enforced, venue operators say.

The effect of Brooklyn Bowl’s arrival on the Philly live music scene will be immediate. Its completes a triangle of Fishtown venues for Live Nation, with the Fillmore (and its upstairs intimate the Foundry) next door and the Punch Line Comedy Club across the street.

The venue is the latest manifestation in Philly of a trend that goes back to the opening of World Cafe Live and Johnny Brenda’s in the 00′s of music venues that aim to win over concert goers with a comfortable experience beyond crowding bodies on a sticky dance floor.

“In all of our rooms, we’ve kept an eye on ancillary spaces at a show,” said Live Nation’s Gordon at BB Philadelphia one morning this week, as workers busily readied the venue and sunlight came streaming in the colored windows.

Just as fans can escape to a quiet bar area at Union Transfer or head downstairs at Johnny Brenda’s for a burger or sip a glass of Pinot Noir at City Winery, Gordon pointed to spaces like Grand Salle lounge at the Met Philadelphia “where you can hang out, get some food, take a break from the action, grab a drink.”

The venue will be jointly programmed by Paul Bacher, a Brooklyn Bowl veteran who’s moved to Philly from New York, and Live Nation Philly booker Molly Warren.

Shapiro, 49, has unmatched jam band credentials. In 1996, he took over Wetlands, the club that became the lower Manhattan headquarters both jam bands and was also home for a brand of alternative hip-hop exemplified by the Roots, as well as acts like Talib Kweli, who plays BB Philly on Nov. 27 and Rakim, who plays the venue Dec. 11.

He booked the 2015 Fare Thee Well dates in Chicago and California that were billed as the Dead’s final shows, and is cofounder of the jammy Lockn’ Festival in Virginia.

But Brooklyn Bowl also books non-jam acts, like rowdy bar band The Hold Steady, who play multiple shows at the New York venue every December, and will also do so in Philly starting in 2022.

The talent BB typically brings in will put the venue in competition with various rooms in the area, with the advantage of deep pockets and the revenue that comes from bowling and food which will allow for cheaper tickets prices than the competition.

The venue that has the most in common with Brooklyn Bowl is Ardmore Music Hall. Colorado progressive bluegrass quintet Yonder Mountain String Band played BB Brooklyn last week. They’re at Ardmore this weekend.

Sean Agnew, who co-owns Union Transfer, said that in the few months that BB has been booking in Philadelphia, “we have not lost a show to them.”

He adds: “I think there is a specific kind of artist or band that doesn’t mind playing to people as bowling is happening next to them.”

Bowling going on simultaneously with acts playing does come into consideration. “We book loud bands,” Bacher says.

Last week in Brooklyn, bluegrass pickers Yonder Mountain played at high volume with sound superb and bowling wasn’t a distraction. And with two floors of lanes in Philadelphia, Bacher says they can pause bowling adjacent to the stage at artist’s request while bowling goes on downstairs.

Chris Perella, who co-owns Ardmore Music Hall, expressed concern about Brooklyn Bowl’s calendar that’s dotted with Ardmore regulars like Splintered Sunlight on Dec. 17 and Talk on March 4.

Perella’s not worried about there not being enough live music fans. “We’ve really got our own niche and serve a lot of people in the suburbs and northern Delaware and the Main Line,” he says of the newly refurbished 650-capacity room.

What’s of concern is the standard practice concert industry radius clause which prevents a band playing another area venue for 90 days after a gig.

That means if a band plays Brooklyn Bowl, they can’t come back to Ardmore for at least another three months, “though there’s a lot of reason to think that artists will bounce back between the two rooms because they’re very different from one another.”

Bacher said he doesn’t expect competition to be fierce. “There are instances where we can be more flexible with our radius policy,” he says. “Instead of an artist playing the market once a year, maybe they play twice a year.”

When Brooklyn Bowl’s opening was announced, many social media wags took issue with the New York value arriving in Philly and suggested other names could have been considered like… the Fish Bowl?

“They serve Philly cheesesteaks in a hundred different cities,” Gordon says. “They don’t rename it. [Brooklyn Bowl] just shows expectation of consistency that you get … It’s a great brand.”

“We’ll have to work harder for people to know how cool it is,” Shapiro says. “And then it will stand on its own. We thought about should it become Philly Bowl, but Geoff was supportive of it being Brooklyn Bowl. That said, the logo outside the building is a giant fish.”

Shapiro is excited about the proximity of BB Philadelphia to the Fillmore.

“I don’t think there’s a 1,000-capacity room next to a 2,500 room that exists anywhere in America,” he says. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So there’s a lot of collaborative booking things we can do that can make the live concert experience special. We’ll do some creative stuff.”

Bowlive featuring Soulive with George Porter Jr. at 8 p.m. Thursday at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia, 1009 Canal St. $39.50. And DJ Questlove presents: Bowl Train at 11 p.m. $20. 215-606-4950,