Time Out pins down the joys of gay bowling – once we gets over the terror of wearing those awful shoes, that is
There are three objections any sensible gay man would raise to going gay bowling at Strike in the Trocadero Centre. One: it’s in the Trocadero Centre. Two: bowling is not very gay. Three: the shoes are hideous.
Happily, such fears are largely unfounded, existing mainly in the mind of homosexual ignoramuses. For one, the bowling shoes come with either Velcro straps or in the lace-up variety, offering a novel look that suggest corrective shoes for the under-fives. And, as it turns out, Strike manages to make ‘gay’ and ‘bowling’ a winning combination.
This is how it is done: every Tuesday the Strike team takes over the ten bowling lanes in Piccadilly’s enormodrome of entertainment. They use DJs from Soho club nights, get a startlingly tall drag queen to compere, open up the bar and invite anyone of whatever persuasion to come along for a session of good old-fashioned tenpin bowling.
The idea is the brainchild of Jason Rawlinson, former manager of The End nightclub – his father runs Funland in the Trocadero, the centre’s amusement arcade. Strike started as a fortnightly event held on Tuesdays last November and has gone weekly for the summer months. Rawlinson wanted to create something different for the midweek Soho crowd, tired of propping up bars and drunken dancing.
Gay bowling is not a new concept, however. Bearhug, a social group for gay men of the bearish variety, organises Bowling Bears, which is currently running on specific Sundays at the Airport Bowl near Heathrow (www.bowlingbears.com). Users of social networking site OUTeverywhere also arrange London bowling outings.
Strike differs in not being exclusively gay, even if the entertainment is. Rawlinson employs the compering skills of self-described ‘wicked witch of the West End’ Jonny Hooley, who gives out prizes for strikes and tells the entire bowling alley just how badly the bloke in lane two’s doing. DJs include Soho spinners DJ Slamma, Kesner Kidd and Ali B. No previous bowling experience is necessary and professional tips are available on the night. ‘There’s still a little bit of trepidation about it. People think you have to be good at it,’ says Rawlinson. ‘Also gay bowling is so new, people don’t know what to make of it.’
The other element that might cause some trepidation is the venue: the Trocadero is largely avoided by Londoners wary of tourist traps and feral children addicted to coin machines and shoot-’em-ups. On the night Time Out visited, security was visible and one incident with a group of teenagers on arcade machines quickly addressed. But Rawlinson is aware of the concerns: ‘The Trocadero centre has had in the past a reputation for not being a very family-safe or gay-friendly environment, which is also what I wanted to change here. There’s been a major clean-up at the Trocadero over the past 18 months: crime figures are down, all the families are coming back so it was a good opportunity to introduce a gay night. It’s right on the doorstep of Soho.’
Strike brings the elements of traditional Soho nights out – the bar, the music, and the drag queen – and adds them to the slightly more leisurely pursuit of tenpin bowling. There’s charm in this strange marriage. If the main reason for going on a specifically gay night out is to meet fellow homosexuals, the added element of a fun sport helps to take the sting out of the usual awkward bar room encounters. Instead of thinking up dreaded lines for potential suitors, Strike gives you the opportunity to make light conversation with the people on lane four without feeling the pressure to talk someone into bed by the next round.
Rawlinson says this mix was part of the point: ‘The 25-plus crowd thought if they’re bored doing the same thing during the week, it’s a great place to bring a date or to meet new people.’
The other point is that unlike standing around in bars like prize peacocks eyeing up the room, there’s no place for preening and posing in this style of tenpin bowling. It’s far too silly for a start. And you can’t help but fall around the lane laughing when your friend manages to bowl right into the lane next to them. The mix of people also helps to decharge the sexual aggression that pervades most gay spaces in Soho.
With its emphasis on not taking things too seriously, gay bowling manages to make even the stiffest beginner loosen up – a sexy trait in any would-be suitor. Even with bowling shoes on.
Strike, Funland, Trocadero, London W1 (020 72923642/www.myspace.com/strikelondon) Piccadilly Circus tube. Tue 9pm; £6.95 or two for £10. Group bookings/birthday parties also available.
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