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What's Brewing?

Nightlife has a new spin

By SUSAN THURSTON
Published December 5, 2003

Diehard bowlers call it America's sport. It certainly isn't mine.

The idea of dressing up for a night on the town, then slipping into a pair of communal, multicolored flat shoes isn't my idea of fun. The rocklike bowling balls hurt my fingers, and the pins seem a county away.

Besides, who likes hanging out in a gutter?

But I may find myself lured to the lanes when Splitsville opens at Channelside later this month.

GUY REVELLE and Mark Gibson are transforming the former Pop City into a bowling alley/restaurant/night club. It will have 12 lanes, six pool tables and four bars with chic retro furniture and huge bowling pins as support beams.

In between games, people will have their pick of gourmet pizzas, sushi and the usual bar grub. Next door, Sally's Alley will serve classic Vegas-style entrees, such as veal parmigiana.

Revelle, 38, and his family moved to Beach Park four months ago from Orlando, where he ran some restaurants on Church Street. He's hardly a kingpin; he's bowled about 15 times in his life.

And he's "terrible" at it.

Still, he saw the potential.

In creating Splitsville, he visited Kings in Boston and Lucky Strike Lanes in Los Angeles - two of the trendiest bowling "lounges" in the country. He figured bowling would be the draw and the food and liquor the moneymakers.

APPARENTLY, BOWLING is on a roll. About 44-million Americans bowl more than once a year, according to a recent study by the National Sporting Goods Association. That's up about 8 percent from two years ago.

While the pros say league bowling has taken a tumble, the sport remains a popular date night or outing with the kids. Truth is, we've all tried it at least once.

"Bowling - you almost don't think about it," said Mark Miller, a spokesman for national bowling groups based in Wisconsin. "It's like water and apple pie."

Revelle and Gibson are new to bowling but not to Channelside. They opened Stumps Supper Club and Howl at the Moon in 2001 and plan to debut Tinatapas in February. Expect martinis and Spanish tapas.

Revelle admits they took a risk. Between Centro Ybor and Baywalk in St. Petersburg, Channelside faced tough competition - and still does. The retail base never took root, and weekday business remains painfully slow.

Somehow, Stumps and Howl survived - and thrived. Sales reached $4.5-million the first year, surpassing expectations, he said.

The next year will be critical for the entertainment and retail complex. Grille 29 and Cold Stone Creamery set up shop a few weeks ago and Hooters is on the way. The Signature Room Grille, an outpost of the 95th-floor restaurant in Chicago's John Hancock Center, will follow in February.

If all goes as planned, Channelside will be nearly 80 percent occupied, said marketing director Susan Martin. That's huge, given the slow start.

I hope all the restaurants make it. (Hint: Free parking would help.)

Tampa is well-stocked in the food department and, in my opinion, has too many places in the mid- to upper-price range. After all, how many $60 dinners can working couples afford in a week?

Revelle says not to worry. As people move into the Channel District and elsewhere downtown, Channelside is bound to pick up. Bowling might even attract suburbanites and their families.

He sees plenty of strikes - the bowling kind, of course.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 4, 2003, 10:57:05]

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