Some Crystal City residents say a new bowling alley has created a persistent late-night ruckus, and they want police to strike at the heart of the problem with extra enforcement.
The issue is causing a split between apartment dwellers who want peace and quiet at night, and a seemingly benign business — Bowlero, at 320 23rd Street S. — that has allegedly attracted a rowdy clientele.
With reports of fights, screaming, littering and the stench of marijuana, the relationship between the bowling alley and its neighbors is in the gutter, so much so that the Arlington County Police Department saw fit to organize a virtual community meeting on the topic Wednesday night.
During the Zoom meeting, police acknowledged dozens of calls to Bowlero over the past few months, a pattern that has led the business to beef up security, including using metal detectors at the entrance.
Police connected the rowdiness to the pandemic, as Virginia opened up before Maryland and D.C. and thus has been drawing a more regional crowd seeking out nightlife opportunities.
“We’ve seen an increase in patronage in Arlington County because Arlington and Virginia seem to be opening at a faster rate than D.C. and Maryland,” ACPD’s Restaurant and Nightlife Liaison Samantha Brien said. “We’ve seen a lot of patronage to Crystal City and Clarendon because they could stay out later and have more fun. As we start to open up, I’m sure we’ll open up faster than D.C.”
Since Bowlero opened in July, there have been 52 calls for service, and 42 of those calls happened inside the business or right outside, Brien said. The bowling alley’s management made 28 of those calls, which is “a good thing,” she said.
“You have to look at when they’re calling and how frequently they’re calling,” Brien said. “If they’re calling before something really bad happens that means they’re intervening at a higher level and that’s what we want to see.”
In response, Brien said Bowlero has implemented bag checks and “wanding” with handheld metal detectors. Signage warns patrons not to bring weapons inside. Arlington police on a nightlife detail conduct hourly walk-throughs of bars and restaurants along 23rd Street S. from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
ACPD officials encouraged perturbed residents to call the non-emergency line, (703) 558-2222, any time there is a complaint. These calls are logged and could ultimately be used to reallocate resources to Crystal City, said ACPD Captain Michael Rowling.
Rowling said the police have occasionally placed signboards and set up mobile surveillance cameras outside Bowlero. Extra police details and plainclothes officers have been dispatched to the bowling alley, resulting in several arrests inside and outside, he added.
Brien and Rowling compared the situation in Crystal City to Clarendon in 2016, which Brien said was “the Wild West.” She pointed to Clarendon as an example of how ACPD can work with bars and restaurants to improve nightlife activity and safety.
“As we have been working so much in Clarendon, and establishments work with us, the patrons know how to correctly act in the Clarendon area,” Brien said. “Since Bowlero has enacted wanding and bag checks, and put up signage, patrons will soon realize how to act.”
Both credited Bowlero for being cooperative with the police department.
“The good thing is that we’ve developed a good working relationship with everyone at the Bowlero,” Rowling said. “Everything we’ve asked of them, they’ve complied with — they’ve gone above and beyond.”
That distinguishes Bowlero from the former Purple Lounge, a site of repeat violence several miles away on Columbia Pike. While some residents wondered if Bowlero could be shut down like the Purple Lounge was, Rowling said the lounge closed because it did not cooperate with the county or the police. (A new family-friendly restaurant will soon be filling the former lounge space at 3111 Columbia Pike.)
Some residents attending the Zoom meeting wanted to see more security details or police officers on patrol outside Bowlero.
ACPD has talked about having officers on 23rd Street S. for peak hours but it does not have the staffing to station someone at Bowlero during business hours, Rowling said.
Toward the end of the meeting, some residents of The Buchanan apartment building, in which the bowling alley is housed, resigned themselves to living above a nightlife hotspot where their only recourse is to call the non-emergency number and hope for the best.
There is also an expectation that a more widespread reopening will help alleviate things, eventually. But residents should expect Crystal City’s nightlife to expand, not contract, in the long run, given the influx of new residents and workers to the broader National Landing community.
“We are seeing a big push in nightlife in the Crystal City area and we are probably going to see a lot more restaurants catering to nightlife start to pop up,” Brien said.