On a comparatively desolate block on the border of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods in Brooklyn sits an unassuming bar, where from the sidewalk out front one can see the decreasingly accessible waterfront and the Manhattan skyline beyond.
The bar is noticeable largely because of an old-school Coca-Cola sign hanging out front that is visible down the street. “Bowl” appears in black block letters beneath the brand logo, and a small chalkboard on the sidewalk announces the name of the establishment: The Gutter. One would have no idea from the sidewalk, but an honest-to-goodness bowling alley awaits inside the newer of Paul Kermizian's two North Brooklyn bars (the other being Williamsburg’s popular, vintage video-game filled Barcade).
Both feature local and regional beers almost exclusively and receive their electricity exclusively through wind power. Kermizian runs his businesses in a far more environmentally conscious manner than most, but he offers a refreshing and unpretentious perspective: it's ultimately just more practical to be “green.”
Once inside, The Gutter is shockingly spacious for a Brooklyn bar. The comfortably worn décor is all secondhand; an impressive array of bowling plaques, photos and other paraphernalia found at flea markets, while furniture and fixtures came from forgotten family restaurants. A recovered pool table awaits those who don't want to send pins down the alley, and a row of agreeable brown vinyl booths lines one wall. Above them, windows overlook the eight lanes.
It all began with Barcade, which is approaching its five-year anniversary. “My friends and I were all freelancing; I was working in film,” Kermizian says. He directed a 2004 independent documentary, appropriately titled American Beer. “My partners were all doing other creative stuff, so we thought we’d open a bar to have a steady gig.”
Kermizian loves vintage arcade games and had noticed people at parties flocking to his classic collection. He is also a huge fan of craft beer. Combining these two passions in his business venture, Barcade features 25 beers, almost all of which are made in the Northeast.
Choosing to serve from among the many regional brews (three made in Brooklyn alone) supports small local businesses and cuts down on shipping-related pollution; serving draft rather than bottled further reduces waste. The bar itself is made out of reclaimed wood, as is the rest of the furniture. Kermizian and his friends even began saving their beer bottle caps at home. These were used to create an ever-expanding mosaic on a wall outside where customers sit at recycled wood tables in good weather (and huddle to smoke regardless of temperature). Regulars began asking about the artwork, and soon began contributing their own beer-cap tiles to the piece.
Kermizian and his partners were concerned about the energy drain of housing a small arcade. “We’re not like the regular corner bar where we just need electricity for our lights and stereo,” Kermizian says. “We have 30 vintage arcade games that are drawing a lot of electricity, and we decided that we wanted to explore ways to be a little more responsible. We heard about wind power, did a little research, and it was really easy to switch.” New York State has an open energy market; individuals and businesses can choose their provider, and many energy companies are beginning to offer alternative sources.
“When people find out [we’re wind-powered], they look on our roof for windmills,” Kermizian says. “We actually get it from windmills located in upstate New York, mostly. It comes to us through a provider. Instead of them buying that power from the coal plant or a nuclear plant, they buy it out from a wind farm.” Kermizian buys wind energy for his apartment as well, and, of course, also for The Gutter.
The Gutter emerged two years ago. Barcade had become a success, and what goes better together than beer and bowling? Microbrews again took center stage, though a concession was made in the case of Guinness, in deference to a partner who drinks nothing else.
The location is slightly more off the beaten path than Barcade’s central Williamsburg location. “This is a little more of a destination spot,” Kermizian says. “Usually you got to make a trip over here.” Many Brooklynites make the trek. This is the first time in 30 years that the northern part of the borough has had a bowling alley to call its own, and The Gutter is the first new bowling alley to open in Brooklyn in 50 years. A second bar with an alley under different ownership has since opened in Williamsburg.
Some neighborhood residents participate in leagues that play regularly at the bar, and The Gutter occasionally hosts tournaments as well. “I’ve bowled since I was a little kid,” Kermizian says. “One of my partners and I are big bowlers. We’re not really good but we’re kind of good.” Kermizian concedes that maybe it’s not really about being really good. “It’s about having a good time,” he says, “and being OK.”
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