There may be competing nominees for the title of Crown Prince of Bondi, but it would be difficult to find a ballot paper without Anthony “Kappa” Kaplan’s name scrawled on it. The restaurateur and bar owner has been at the forefront of food and drink in the seaside suburb for a decade, with The Shop & Wine Bar, The Corner House and Panama House under his belt. Last month he added another (rather large) feather to his cap when he took on food duties at the re-launched Bondi Bowling Club.
“It was an opportunity that was too good not to consider,” says Kaplan of his decision to join the four-person team charged with putting the ailing club back on its feet. He says that while bowling clubs are there for members, they’re often mismanaged and financially troubled. “Bondi had a particularly active treasurer who wanted to see the club become vibrant again and the only way they could do that would be to get some others on board to work collaboratively.”
This is a unique arrangement for Kaplan who is used to spearheading his own projects and spaces. He works alongside Troy Barrott from Hub Artist Services who is responsible for tunes, Oscar Done and renovation project manager Andrew Jones of The Block fame. They’re long-term Bondi locals, and despite their youthful demeanour, they’re all dads, too.
It’s this last fact that has definitely influenced plans for the space. “We’re all in our late thirties or early forties and have been in Bondi for 20-plus years. We’ve all moved on from our wild drinking days and now we want somewhere that we can have fun and bring our kids,” says Kaplan.
That’s not to say the youth won’t be catered to. With live music every Thursday and a menu that’s on trend with sliders and burgers, chances are they’ll be just fine. This demographic has already flocked to the space, occupying sun-soaked tables for Sunday sessions and booking out Christmas parties all through the last week.
Bondi Bowling Club finds itself, then, in a unique position between old and new, traditional and cutting-edge, fresh and weary-eyed. This is a line that Kaplan is happy to tread, making room for the old custodians of the green while planning morning yoga and pilates classes for residents who probably never even thought to poke their heads inside before.
“Bowling clubs in their day were really swinging,” he says. “Back in the ‘70s, when the bar was full, if a member walked in, he could be at the back of the room and just signal to be served before anyone else. A lot of them still hold onto that. We obviously want them there to show there’s a collaborative approach to this. And they want us there, they don’t want a club that’s empty.”
Naturally there are detractors, and certainly some residents have voiced concerns, particularly given plans for weekly live music. While taking these on board, Kaplan remains convinced of his mission. “The reality is if we didn’t come on and help this club it would probably be a 16-floor high rise in five years that would block their views entirely and they’d be living in the darkness.”
As far as the regular menu goes (the team has an expanded offering for functions), Kaplan says it was a no-brainer to go for the classics. “For me, if I go to a pub or a club, I want a schnitty or a burger. We just tried to keep the price on point but do our spin on it.” That means salads, steaks, fish of the day and more craft beers than you can poke a stick at, all sourced locally.
Though Kaplan is officially involved with the gastronomy, he’s keeping on top of all the plans for Bondi Bowlng Club. “People would naturally associate a bowling club with summer. But we’ve got two live fireplaces in there, a grand piano … we see a lot of opportunity in there in winter,” he says. “Longer term we just wanted to be a space for the community that works differently for different people. We want to bring back some kitsch community activities, like bingo. Everything’s a possibility.”
If there’s one thing Kaplan can be relied on for, it’s using his conviction to make magic happen. We’ll see you there for decoupage classes.
Bondi Bowling Club
Warners Avenue, Bondi
(02) 9130 2383
Mon to Wed 3pm–11pm
Thu to Sun 11am–midnight