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Spare time for the Dust Bowl

For good food, drink and fun.

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MEMORY LANES: The Dust Bowl decor hearkens to the past with vintage touches.
  • MEMORY LANES: The Dust Bowl decor hearkens to the past with vintage touches.

"Really there are two types of people that go bowling. There are people that really, really love bowling, and then there are the people that are like, 'Wouldn't it be hysterical if we went bowling?' "

—Jim Gaffigan

Imagine what would happen if you tried to do something nerdy, only ironically, but then accidentally had fun?

That could happen at downtown Little Rock's new Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge, a compact eight-lane bowling alley, bar and surprisingly good restaurant, Dust Bowl. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, our six-person crew descended on Dust Bowl to topple some pins and crush some dinner after.

Dust Bowl shimmers with a 1970s-'80s vibe both in the decor (lots of paneling and brown/burnt orange) and on the playlist (happily heavy on the funk). We'd wisely acted on a tip to call ahead for a lane reservation — with only six public lanes and two lanes in the VIP room for parties, the place tends to fill up quickly. Lanes are generally $20 an hour, but go for $30 an hour after 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus $3.50 for shoe rental.

With only six non-VIP room lanes, the bowling area is cozy rather than spacious, so expect to get to know your neighbors in the next lane. You'll also get to know your server well — ours did a fine job of keeping drinks coming while we did our dead-level best to keep all the bowling gutters full and our scores in the double digits.

Bowling alleys are not often known for their fare, but be assured: Dust Bowl is well-past an alley's usual "snack bar" status. The menu featured 25 beers to choose from, ranging from the humble Pabst Blue Ribbon to a solid selection of local craft beers and regional favorites, along with eight signature cocktails. Our vodka drinkers were keen on the citrusy Trackflare (with a base of Clementine-infused vodka) and the "Ice and Rug" (pomegranate-infused vodka and ginger beer). Dust Bowl also plans to soon offer three larger Punch Bowl drinks, which will serve from 4 to 8.

When it comes to the food, Dust Bowl isn't playing around. We tried a selection of delicious-sounding options, but the overwhelming favorite at our table were the "Totchos" — think nachos with tater tots taking the place of corn chips and topped with delicious pulled pork, refried beans, cheese and chipotle aioli. It's offered as an appetizer, but could easily be a meal in itself.

ALLEY FOOD: The Totchos (pork, potatoes and beans) are just one of Dust Bowl's better-than-bar-food items.
  • ALLEY FOOD: The Totchos (pork, potatoes and beans) are just one of Dust Bowl's better-than-bar-food items.

Other highlights included the Jumbo Onion Burger, made with a patty that's 50-50 beef and onion; a spicy "hot chicken" sandwich that disappeared almost instantly; a flavorful and satisfying Veggie Gyro; and an extra-spicy bacon cheeseburger that was 10 times more spicy than anticipated. The only so-so item we encountered was the Beet Hummus appetizer. Served with kettle chips, carrots and cucumber, the hummus appeared to be essentially just ground beets. The addition of some spices could easily turn this appetizer around.

The kitchen is still working out some opening kinks and waiting for several menu items to be available. I'm looking forward to trying the Duck Fat Fries on a return visit, as well as what looks to be a solid selection of milkshake flavors — including the standards, plus offerings like Salted Butterscotch, Caramel Butter Pecan, White Chocolate Raspberry and an Extreme Shake with added caramel, hot chocolate, whipped cream, sprinkles and a house-made cookie. Also opening soon: a small karaoke room big enough for 15 people or so.

One word of caution for those used to normal bowling alley prices: Dust Bowl is a bit dear, comparatively. Keep an eye on your allotted time in the lanes — we'd reserved an hour, spilled over several minutes to finish the game, and got charged for an extra half-hour. Drinks and food are delicious here, but don't be expecting a fast-food-sized check at the end of the night.

Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge is a welcome and fun addition to the downtown Little Rock scene, both for its sporty activity and its upscale food and drink offerings that are far more oriented toward lounge than lanes. Once it gets over the opening bumps, we predict that Dust Bowl will fast become a local favorite for the late-night crowd. Lace 'em up!

Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge
315 E. Capitol Ave.
501-353-0775

Quick bite

The VIP room's two lanes can accommodate 16 to 20 bowlers and costs $100 an hour (two-hour minimum) and includes shoe rental. No one under 21 is allowed in after 8 p.m.

Hours

4 p.m.-2 a.m. weekdays, noon to 2 a.m. Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday.

Other info

Full bar. Credit cards accepted.

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