Is tenpin bowling about to have a moment in Melbourne? New bowling-alley-meets-beer-garden-meets-music-venue-meets-bar, The Keys, looks set to be a magnet for your big summer catch-ups.
Twelve gleaming lanes, made from timber reclaimed from old bowling alleys, occupy one end of the 3000-square-metre warehouse in Preston. But there are also pool tables, arcade games, a 300-person beer garden, fireplace, dining nooks – and plans for more fun in the final-third of the warehouse, currently unrenovated.
Tenpin fans, chef Tom Peasnell (Dom’s Social Club) and business partner Jon Rowatt, felt there was a gap in the market for bowling overlaid with quality food and drink in an inviting space.
For more than a year, the Keys team have been sanding, measuring and polishing to create a venue that simultaneously nods to art nouveau, the ’80s and the ’60s.
“We didn’t have an architect designing it, so as a result you can do weird things like that,” says Rowatt.
The pair wanted to create something lasting so decided against using MDF and perspex in favour of natural materials such as hardwood because of its ability to age well.
Two bars feature eye-catching leadlight glass covering the gantry, spelling out ‘bar’, ‘bowling’ and ‘leisure centre’. Cast-iron columns from the old Spencer Street train station join other rescued materials, including timber from Gellibrand Pier in Williamstown. The team even constructed their own ball hoods, ball returns and masking units to channel the look of the sport’s mid-century heyday.
Drinking pals can split 30-centimetre pizzas – topped with pepperoni, scamorza and honey, perhaps – made on a slow-fermented base that’s a hybrid of crisp and soft pizza styles. Peasnell says it’s designed so it still eats well after 20 or 30 minutes, as people bowl or play arcade games.
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‘Gutter dogs’, despite their name, are filled with a frankfurt custom-made by butcher Hagen’s Organics, stretching to nearly 30 centimetres and topped with American mustard, house-made ketchup and a jalapeno, capsicum and onion relish. Parmas, burgers and pub-like meals round things out.
White Russian cocktails are another nod to bowling culture, referencing the film The Big Lebowski and its main character’s favourite drink. Dom’s Social Club bar manager, Morgan Cook, has designed the retro-leaning drinks list. There are also 48 beer taps pouring mostly local craft brews.
In the new year, expect bowling leagues to get up and running. For now, high-scorers in December will automatically go into a New Year’s Eve bowl-off.
Open Wed-Thu, Sun 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11am-midnight
1/188 Plenty Road, Preston, 03 8844 4124, thekeys.com.au
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