Richard Cawthorne speaks to Peter Shapiro, who founded the Brooklyn bowl chain.
Peter Shapiro is not a man to do things by halves and even over the phone line from New York, his enthusiasm for his latest venture is catching.
The man behind the hot new venue Brooklyn Bowl London at the O2 in Greenwich wants the world to know something special has arrived and he’s not shy about saying so.
That may sound like he’s just another typical loud New Yorker, but it’s not true. American certainly, enthusiastic yes, but he’s soft-spoken and polite.
That could be a legacy from his parents, Daniel and Ellen, who have lived in London for the past 10 years – Shapiro senior is an international attorney, serves on the board of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and while in the US was president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York from 1983 to 1986.
At the age of 41, his son has a reputation as a workaholic, an office-pacing drinker of Red Bull who rescued a respected music magazine from extinction and went on to open what Rolling Stone magazine called “one of the most incredible places on earth”.
That was the original Brooklyn Bowl, which drew people in for 10-pin bowling and then presented them with big-name bands and US street food as well.
Brooklyn Bowl London follows the same formula, although Shapiro lists the priorities differently, describing them in order as “a premier performance venue, food by famous New York restaurant Blue Ribbon, bars which feature local craft-brewed beers and 12 bowling lanes”.
The whole thing, he says, gives guests “a unique place to relax, eat, drink and watch great artists playing live on stage”. Much of the emphasis so far for visitors seems to be on the big celebrities and the food. Shapiro’s CV is peppered with famous names.
There is Phil Lesh, ex-bass player for the Grateful Dead, who appeared at the end of July – his first gig in London for 23 years. In June, BBL hosted Pharrell Williams, who had the biggest song in the world this year with Happy. Others gracing the stage include the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, The Dandy Warhols and Dinosaurs Jr.
Another example of famous friends is Steven Van Zandt, known to TV fans as a leading light in The Sopranos crime series and to music followers as a founding member, guitarist and back-up vocalist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. As for the food, Shapiro is at pains to point out it is a big part of the Brooklyn Bowl ‘feel’, coming from the same New York restaurant group he uses for all his venues.
Blue Ribbon is run by brothers Eric and Bruce Bromberg and the chief feature is fun, American comfort food, such as Sloppy Joes, oyster po’ boys, Cajun catfish, fried chicken, French fries and gravy and French-bread pizzas.
Through it all, Shapiro, on record as describing himself as “a New York City upper-middle-class kid”, appears relaxed while leaving no doubt his finger is definitely on the pulse.
He concedes: “It is a challenge to open a new venue, especially this one, which is 35,000sq-ft, but we are excited. It holds nearly 1,000 people and we have some really cool bands lined up to bring them all in.
“We are ranked the number one venue in New York and we welcomed the opportunity to do something in London with that sort of space; we started in the US in a former warehouse and we have tried to re-create the feel of that in London.
Shapiro followed the London opening with Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas, an 80,000 sq ft space that can hold 2,000, and says the large-scale approach is another part of the BB feel.
“It’s about fun – the whole thing is about having a good time,” he says.
“We try to create a scene, a vibe, that’s reflected in the music, the kind of thing before we opened you would see maybe at Ronnie Scott’s, the jazz-fusion-soul stuff, or the jazz cafés. It’s just that we’re a little bigger.”
He is equally clear about his audience. “In New York, there are a lot of people in their 30s and 40s who work hard, are culturally aware and they come to see music, they like to dance. I think there is a lineage there.
“We have a recognisable name but we are not just a bowling alley. We are a multi-sensory, multicultural entertainment centre with very good food and great live music, as proved by the fact we just had Pharrell and he’s arguably the biggest act in the world. And as a bonus we have big screens to add to the experience and mean our guests can watch whoever’s on stage from wherever they are in the venue.”
• Details: www.london.brooklynbowl.com