Inside Look: Highland Park Bowl, Los Angeles

During Prohibition, many businesses catered to the needs of thirsty alcohol-seekers by serving booze in secret places. But as speakeasies proliferated in basements and through back doors, few were housed inside bowling alleys. Except for Highland Park Bowl. The famous bowling alley was built in 1927 in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with a doctor’s office upstairs and a pharmacy downstairs where people could fill prescriptions for medicinal whiskey before hitting the lanes.

The building has endured several themes since—including rock club and pizza joint—until this past spring when it re-opened after an impressive renovation by the 1933 Group (known for their preservation work at LA spots including Harlowe, Sassafras and Idle Hour). “Highland Park not only has America’s first freeway running through it, but it is also rich with early LA history and architecture, from elaborate Victorians to simple Craftsman-style,” says 1933 Group co-owner Dimitri Komarov. “When we discovered this space, it was in dire need of an uplift and the general upkeep was in complete disarray. However, considering the history of the neighborhood and its architecture, we instinctually knew (but mostly hoped) that if we peeled away the layers, something rich would be revealed.”

From the beginning, design inspiration surfaced at every turn. “As we began to eradicate the dropped ceilings and other design features that were hiding the original aesthetic, we found not only grand architecture, but also obsolete machinery, pins, bowling balls, vending machines from the 1930s, and other trinkets left behind (a lot of them),” Komarov says.

To preserve the historic integrity, they restored and repurposed everything possible. They restored wooden lanes and ball to their former glory, cleaned up the massive 1930’s mural behind the lanes and repurposed old pinsetters into chandeliers and bar shelves. As a nod to its Prohibition days, the bar program features a playful list of cocktails, like The Dude Abides, an elevated remaster of the White Russian combining coffee liqueur, horchata cream and cinnamon tincture. Others, like the Owen Loves his Momma (with jalapeño tequila, aloe liqueur, hibiscus, lime juice and IPA) references the Danny DeVito movie “Throw Momma from the Train,” which filmed in the building in the 1980s. Talks of a microbrewery are in the works, but in the meantime, a stellar list of craft beer options rounds out the menu.