Bayside Bowl now has more room to play, eat, and drink for locals and pros.
On warm evenings this summer, a roof deck in Bayside just might rival the Portland waterfront as a popular place to chill. From atop the expanded Bayside Bowl, you can nosh on tacos ordered from a circa 1962 Airstream trailer and sip a margarita as you take in a panoramic view of the sunset over Back Cove, before settling in around the fire pit. The Airstream was hauled up to the deck by crane. “We loved the idea of using a vintage trailer as a food truck—and we think it might be the only one on a roof in Maine,” says Bayside Bowl operator Charlie Mitchell, who owns the business with former Maine State Senator Justin Alfond.
The rooftop bar and lounge is just one aspect of the bigger and bolder Bayside Bowl. Eight new lanes (built with repurposed equipment, except for the ball returns) anchor a 40,000-square- foot addition, dubbed “West Bayside” by the owners. A redesigned central entrance now faces Kennebec Street and leads to a pro shop, an arcade with old-school games like Skee-Ball and pinball, a long bar, and lounge areas with couches and wood-paneled walls. For private gatherings of up to 25, the Garage, a meeting room accessed by a garage door, boasts state- of-the-art AV equipment and a large picture window with a view of the new lanes, and the sprawling mezzanine overlooking the whole space can accommodate up to 150 guests. There will be TVs, but just a few. “Our business model is built on people having a good time together, not being overwhelmed by screens,” says Alfond.
Mitchell and Alfond opened Bayside Bowl six years ago, inspired by Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl—an iconic bowling and music venue in New Orleans. Mitchell had started a bowling league, which needed a home, and the two men scouted the city trying to find the right location. “The Bayside community wanted us here,” says Alfond. From the beginning, good food, drink, and music were important parts of the mix, but the leagues quickly multiplied, and walk-ins looking for an evening’s entertainment were often disappointed to find that they could order Bayside’s famous tot poutine (homemade “tater tots” with cheese curds and vegan mushroom gravy) and a local beer, but couldn’t bowl. “A lot of times people came down here and it was a wait for a lane,” says Mitchell. “An hour wait is great—you can have dinner and a drink—but if it gets much longer than that, or if you have kids, it can be hard.”
League play will now be restricted to the original 12 lanes, in “East Bayside,” where the old dining area is being revamped into a music venue. “We’re going to have a show every weekend night in May to reintroduce it,” says Mitchell. Despite the increased focus on entertainment, however, leagues are still at the core of Bayside Bowl. “There are plenty of boutique bowling alleys going up around the country doing a good job with their food and cocktails,” says Mitchell. “But what we have that is unique, is all of those things in a facility that is built around leagues and hosting tournaments.”
Pro bowling has a dedicated fan base in Portland. From April 9 through April 16, the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) national tour returns to Bayside Bowl for the third year with the L.L.Bean PBA League and Elias Cup, joined this year by the MaineQuarterly.com Mark Roth/Marshall Holman Doubles Championship, a tournament that has been around since the 1970s, says Mitchell. In past years, wildly enthusiastic, sold-out crowds have endeared the venue and the city to pro bowlers from around the world. “I travel to a lot of the PBA events and meet with the players—this is really the place they talk about,” says Mitchell. “They have established incredibly close friendships with a lot of players and fans in Portland. Just this week, Tommy Jones was here bowling on the weekend. He’s one of the best players in the world.” Bayside Bowl has its own PBA team, the Portland Lumberjacks, which will play in the Elias Cup. One new player, drafted in Las Vegas earlier this year, is Kyle Troup, known for his self-taught, two-handed bowling style, “crazy clothes and giant hair,” says Mitchell. “I think he’ll really fit in with our crowd.”
ESPN, which tapes Elias Cup play, will broadcast the Roth/Holman finals live on Sunday, April 16—a first for Bayside Bowl and a tribute to the hometown crowd. “Outsiders come and ask, ‘How did you create this level of excitement and knowledge with the fans?’” says Alfond. “It’s simple: they’re here all the time and understand the sport. They not only appreciate what the pro bowlers do, they want to emulate them.”
Included in the Elias Cup festivities are a live music show on Saturday night, and vodka and beer tastings with sponsor Shipyard Brewing Company, as well as a fly-fishing demonstration off the roof deck with PBA sideline reporter Kimberly Pressler, who will be wearing L.L.Bean gear during the whole tournament, according to Alfond. “This year’s PBA event will showcase some of Maine’s best brands and the iconic things that people know about Maine,” he says. “But our goal is to keep elevating it; pro bowlers love our famous lobsters and blueberries—which is great—and we want to show them there’s more to enjoy.”
Mitchell has his sights set on bringing more national and international tournaments to Bayside Bowl, including the women’s bowling tour. “It’s not a particularly modest claim, but I think it’s true: We have the world’s best tournament bowling venue,” he says. “People say, ‘You guys are creating not only a community for bowlers, but you’re creating an even better community for Bayside, and by extension, a better community for Portland,’” says Alfond. “Every sunset that Mother Nature will give us is a great opportunity to attract tourists and locals. We’re pretty excited about this being added to Portland’s story.”