Waterloo bowling center returns after devastating fire

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Last Friday, leagues and recreational bowlers were already rolling on the lanes at the newly rebuilt Maple Lanes Bowling Center, 2608 University Ave.

Co-owners Rich and Kathy Eighme were busy finishing last-minute details in the Kingpin Social. They expect the new bar and restaurant to tentatively open around Labor Day. They are hesitant to give a firm date because some items for the area are still in transit.

More than a year ago, contractors began rebuilding the iconic 62-year-old bowling center that was nearly destroyed by an arsonist in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2020.

“Building back, I decided to think outside the box,” Rich told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. “I’ve been in the bowling business about 35 years, and I’ve traveled and visited a lot of other bowling centers. What you see now, what has been created, is the culmination of ideas from all the bowling centers I’ve seen and wanted to have here.”

Maple Lanes has reopened as an entertainment center with many more activities in addition to bowling. There are 28 glossy new lanes and masking units sporting a collection of black-and-white images with pops of color featuring recognizable and historic local entities, including Waterloo’s Electric Park Bowling, Starlight Theatre and Riverfront Stadium.

A new lighting system allows each lane to have its own color show, as well as opportunities for “bonafide light shows and a new sound system for rock ’n’ bowl,” Rich said.

The front desk is now in the center of the bowling alley, next to Laneside Bar & Grill. The pro shop has been moved from the west side to the opposite side of the building, and bathrooms are in new locations. About 20 feet was added to the west side of the building for the new restaurant, bar and mezzanine.

Bowling and dinner, or simply a good meal, is on the menu at Kingpin Social. The restaurant and bar can be entered through the bowling center or a separate entrance angled toward University Avenue. “In designing the space, we had the thought that this could be a great place for a company to have a team building event – meet, eat, socialize and maybe bowl, and go have some fun – and a place where people who aren’t interested in bowling could come and enjoy the food,” said Kathy.

A quartz bar, poured concrete epoxy flooring and a variety of seating, including booths, create a welcoming space. Hanging above the bar is a trio of vintage 1950s pin setters. On tap will be a selection of local and regional craft beers. Mixed drinks and other beverages will be available, as well as adult milkshakes concocted from vanilla bean ice cream, rum or other liquor and flavorings.

At the entrance to the restaurant stands a classic 1950s Tel-E-Score scoring table in lieu of a hostess stand.

“We’re jumping off a cliff here, opening a restaurant. We’ve hired a chef, Kevin Kline, who is developing a menu that has bowling alley staples, but is also broader and more adventurous with upscale renditions of American classics,” Rich said.

Monte Cristo sandwiches, brat corndogs, smoked brisket, mac and cheese bakes and other dishes are planned. Kline also has created “Inferno,” a collection of smoked meats including baby back ribs, hush puppies and other bites served with a flame at tableside.

On the bar’s main level are four duckpin lanes. Duckpin, similar to standard 10-pin bowling and popular in the northeastern U.S., is enjoying a renaissance around the country. The novelty bowling game uses a 5-pound, 5-inch ball without finger holes and requires “a different skill set than regular bowling,” Rich said. It levels the field between experienced and inexperienced bowlers.

Equipment for the custom-built duckpin lanes are concealed behind classic and hard-to-find Brunswick Gold Crown masking units constructed from metal and stretched canvas.

“We didn’t want to go retro with the entire bowling center, but we wanted nuances of bowling history. It’s a big part of who we are,” Rich said.

Upstairs, there will be billiard tables, darts, pinball and other games and activities. In colder months, Rich expects to start a few indoor bags leagues “because the mezzanine ceiling is high enough that we can do that.”

Outdoor seasonal offerings will include two sand volleyball courts for league play, a beer garden, fire pit and seating.

Both Rich and Kathy are happy about realizing their dream of what a bowling center can offer in the Cedar Valley. “The bowling community was supportive and there for us, especially on those days you wondered why you were doing it, and you thought about quitting,” Kathy noted.

Rich added, “It’s bittersweet because of how it happened with the fire, but we’re back with a new and improved bowling center.”

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