Whomp. Within a couple of seconds of entering The Keys you’ll hear the meaty thump of bowling balls smacking onto timber. And a few seconds later, the polyphonic rattle of pins falling down to groans and/or cheers.
The 600-person venue, built by high school mates Jon Rowatt and Tom Peasnell (co-owner of Dexter, Takeaway Pizza, Nico’s and Dom’s), contains three bars, 12 bowling lanes, a dance floor, gaming arcade and massive beer garden.
The site was largely inspired by the grown-up bowling alleys the duo discovered in the US – “cool bars that you want to be at, regardless of whether you’re bowling”.
The Keys is 100 per cent this sort of place. There are DJs and live music from Friday to Sunday, and 48 beer taps rep the likes of 3 Ravens, Molly Rose, Kaiju and Bodriggy. White Russians are also on tap for fans of The Big Lebowski, while party cocktails like the Margarita, Espresso Martini and Old Fashioned are mixed fresh, with fun twists. And there are plenty of young, new-wave wines, too.
The food menu is shorter than you may expect – a necessary sacrifice for the kitchen to keep up. There are deep-fried snacks, pub classics like a burger, parma and schnitty (albeit with fancy kombu and bone marrow butter), and a handful of interesting gas-fired pizzas with echoes of sister venues Dom’s and Takeaway Pizza. The Hot Boi, for example, features pepperoni, jalapeno, fermented spicy honey and scamorza cheese.
Bowling starts at $16 per game for adults and $12 for kids (until 8pm), and four lanes are always kept open for walk-ins, to retain that drop-in spirit of the pub, where you never have to call ahead if you don’t want to.
The machinery underneath the lanes is modern, but Peasnell and Rowatt insisted on fittings and signage with more character. The lanes are traditional maple-wood rather than cheap laminate, and certain key pieces are custom reproductions of originals imported from bowling alleys in Michigan and Wisconsin at great cost.
This attention to detail makes a difference. After they’ve heard a few of those satisfying whomps, customers can’t wait to make a few of their own. Or maybe have a nostalgic game of Time Crisis, Daytona or Big Buck Hunter in the arcade.
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