If you haven't set foot in a local bowling alley in a couple years, you may not know this: They've changed – big time.
The major bowling alleys in Fresno and Clovis have converted to a modern concept that feels like a nightclub on weekend nights, with loud music, music videos playing on giant screens, lanes lit by black lights and cocktails.
The AMF Rodeo Lanes at 140 Shaw Ave. near Minnewawa Avenue in Clovis is the latest bowling alley to convert to this concept, renaming itself Bowlero. It has gradually made changes over the last few weeks, and will host a launch party from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
It's similar to the former AMF Sierra Lanes on Blackstone Avenue that was converted to a Bowlero last year.
Bowlero owns AMF and is converting some of them, 26 so far (including Visalia), to the new concept. There will be 40 Bowleros by the end of the year. The renovations cost on average $1.2 million and the one in Clovis included all new lanes, said Bowlero's area manager Andrew Tauscher.
It's an evolution that's bringing in new customers and leading to a big bump in business, he said.
And yet for some people, the changes are something to be mourned. Competitive league bowlers, who often bowl twice a week, say they miss the bowling alleys of years past where bowling was the main reason to be in a bowling alley.
Part of what makes the changes in Fresno seem so stark is that there are not many bowling alleys left. Besides the two Bowleros, the only traditional bowling alley left in town is Bulldog Bowl at Fresno State's University Student Union. It has 12 lanes, is open to the public and does glow-in-the-dark bowling on Friday nights.
A slew of closures have whittled down the field from 1959, when Fresno had seven bowling alleys. Cedar Lanes closed after 54 years at Cedar and Shields avenues, torn down to make way for a Walmart Neighborhood Market. Mid-State Bowl closed in 1990 on land that is now home to a Vallarta Supermarket at Weber and Clinton avenues.
Sunnyside Lanes and other bowling alleys closed, too, though there are still several bowling alleys in cities surrounding Fresno.
Bowlers like Craig Donaldson of Clovis, who has been bowling for more than 40 years, miss the good ol' days. The new bowling alleys with dim lighting feel like nightclubs, he said.
"As a longtime bowler and somebody who represents that group, there are lot of folks that want to have a place to go on a regular basis that … just don’t want to have to deal with some of the idiosyncrasies of bowling in a nightclub atmosphere – music blaring, lights out, paying $8 a game to practice. It’s becoming very expensive."
League bowlers are welcome at Bowlero, said Tauscher, the area manager. Things are quieter during the day and more ideal for league bowlers and families, he said.
"We're opening it up to everyone. We don't want to limit our clientele base," he said, adding that they serve everyone from 3-year-olds to 90-year-olds.
But yes, weekend nights are going to be a lot different than some people are used to.
After 8 p.m. or so, "we've got the music up and the lights down and the drinks and food are just flying out of the kitchen," he said.
A new menu includes tacos, burgers, salads, wraps, a 2-foot long Coney mega dog and a pretzel that's 15 inches in diameter. Customers don't have to order at a counter anymore. Servers take their orders laneside and deliver their food.
The bar still serves beer, but now has a cocktail menu, which includes "big bowl" cocktails designed to share. The 123-ounce "dunk tank" is made from fruit juices, three kinds of Bacardi and is served in what looks like a fishbowl with four straws.
Seating is softer than the previous hard chairs and bowlers can communicate with the front desk via video chat without leaving their lanes.
Bowlero also has a new arcade with games like air hockey, Mario Kart and The Walking Dead.
"It's where the market has gone," Tauscher said. "Milliennials, they want something with a little more excitement when they come out for the evening."
Brothers Alex and Hector Castanada from San Joaquin have bowled at the Fresno Bowlero since before changes. The pair occasionally play some games at the arcade but Thursday were drinking Crown Royal and Cokes while they bowled.
"I like it," Alex Castanada said. "We come to relax, spend some time. It's my day off."