Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Never Too Old to Act Young

    A JUGGLER on a unicycle wobbles past a cluster of clubgoers, deftly avoiding a collision that might spill their candy-color cocktails down the front of premium-label jeans. A clown on stilts hobbles past a table full of neatly coiffed men with untucked dress shirts who don’t even look up from their drinks. It’s hard enough to project an air of unwavering cool at New York nightclubs. It’s even harder to do so in the presence of a clown.

    But Carnival at Bowlmor Lanes, which opened last month on University Place, is not just any club; it owes more to the memory of P. T. Barnum than Steve Rubell. With 16,000 square feet of wire walkers, sword swallowers and Coney Island-style games like ring toss and goldfish pong, it’s a working carnival within the confines of a nightclub.

    At this carnival, however, you wash down corn dogs with $14 blue-cotton-candy martinis, and the carnies barking out “Step right up, folks” look more like recent N.Y.U. sociology graduates than ex-cons.

    “It’s like a cross between Circus Circus and the Boardwalk at the Jersey Shore,” said Rudy Temiz, 31, an electronics retailer who had just won two goldfish and three plush toys, and was enjoying a drink with a friend.

    At first glance, such a splashy approach to after-hours fun seems at odds with the recessionary era in night life, where conventional wisdom has it that low-key is the new black. But with its emphasis on participatory fun, Carnival at Bowlmor Lanes is keeping with the move toward interactive night life.

    Nightcrawlers who are weary of Club Row haunts offering little more than $400 bottle service and tedious electronica beats often drop the attitude — well, some of it — and settle in for a night of table tennis among the celebrities at SPiN New York (co-owned by Susan Sarandon) in the Flatiron district, martini-fueled gutterballs at Lucky Strike Lanes & Lounge on West 42nd or miniature golf in a foursome of plaid-shirt types at Bushwick Country Club in Brooklyn. (Carnival’s proprietor, Tom Shannon, was an early adopter. His Bowlmor Lanes bowling alley one floor below has been a magnet for trendy young clubbers for years.)

    Particularly in lean times, the thinking goes, people have little patience with velvet ropes and bottles of Grey Goose. What they want is escapism.

    “It’s the perfect club for this economy,” said Candice Spano, 23, a hairdresser from Staten Island. “The standard club is everyone sitting around talking and you can’t even hear each other,” she said. “Here, you don’t have to entertain each other. Here, you get entertained.”

    Jack Anteby, 28, a wholesale jeweler from Brooklyn, certainly seemed to be. Surrounded by friends, he fired a fastball into a target a dozen feet away in the “Get Tanked” booth. Steee-rike! A lever swung, a trap door opened and a female employee in shorts and a T-shirt plunged into a tank of water. Mr. Anteby raised a fist in triumph. “I’m the only one who’s hit it, with at least 60 balls thrown!” he crowed.

    His wife, Doris Anteby, said that her husband’s favorite place was the Seaside Heights Boardwalk in New Jersey, and he had been pestering her to come to the club since it opened. “He’s almost 30, but he acts 10,” she said.

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Never Too Old to Act Young

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