If he builds it, they will come. That’s pretty much what happened when Peter Shapiro saw the potential in a huge abandoned iron foundry in a desolate stretch of Brooklyn. After a two-year, LEED-certified renovation of the 23,000-square-foot space, Brooklyn Bowl, a hybrid bowling alley/music venue/upscale restaurant, opened in 2009. Seven years later, the joint’s Chesterfield sofas are filled day and night, acts like Guns N’ Roses, The Roots, The National, and Elvis Costello take the stage every evening, and folks like Bill Clinton and Mayor de Blasio stop by to bowl a few frames and nosh on the Blue Ribbon fare. Since his arrival, other businesses have followed suit. What was once the decrepit warehouse across the street is now the Wythe Hotel, and the quiet of the industrial ‘hood has been replaced by the bustle of culture and commercialism. We talked with the former Wetlands owner about his part in the changing Williamsburg and what’s “cool” in his “urban sea town.”
How has the neighborhood changed since you moved in? I have mixed feelings about what’s happened in North Williamsburg. It’s cool to see all the action, all the people, all the hotels, and all the art and restaurants. But at the same time, we’ve sort of messed with night and day and the quietness here. The abandoned warehouses had a cool look and feel and energy. We were alone out here and an outpost, which was kinda cool. But it’s also cool that Williamsburg has become such a home for creative action. Ooh, I’ve never used that before. Home for creative action. I like that!
Brooklyn Bowl is a home for creative action, too. Yeah, and we try to be a real part of the community, too. We host everything from benefits for local schools and the Mayor’s [de Blasio] birthday celebration to motorcycle shows and an Usher concert. The night Prince passed, it was like an impromptu shivah in here. Chris Rock showed up and the whole neighborhood was here.
The place is really big. It must have been a big gamble to open it. People said “Whoa, this place is HUGE. You’re fucked. Nothing here is this big.” So yeah, I was a little scared at first, but it’s worked out. And the size and scale are part of why it works. In the winter when it’s cold and there’s nothing to do, it’s like a small village in here. You can lose yourself and forget where you are for four or five hours and enjoy yourself. That kind of thing is needed when you just sit and crack out on screens all day. The scale of it makes it a different world where you can have human interaction. We also wanted to reimagine what it means to be a music venue. Most music venues are a stage facing a bar. We’re a lot more than that.
What other spots do you like in the neighborhood? When we moved into the area, there was no Wythe Hotel or anything, but now it’s fun to go to the outdoor deck on the sixth floor [The Ides bar] there. The views there are sick. And I’m excited to check out the new William Vale Hotel. It’s going to have sick views at the top, too. There’s a fun restaurant called El Almacen on Driggs. About five years ago, I got a call saying, “Ralph Lauren wants to see what this whole Williamsburg thing is about.” So I took him to dinner there, then we went to the Bowl. He liked it. I told him Williamsburg was like an urban sea town.
61 Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Monday–Friday 6 p.m.–close, Saturday–Sunday noon–close