Press Club

Crystal City bowling alley set to have permits renewed amid reports of rowdy behavior

It appears that Bowlero — an allegedly rowdy Crystal City bowling alley at the base of apartments — won’t be headed to the gutter this year.

The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to renew use permits for Bowlero (320 23rd Street S.) sparing it from closure, on the conditions that staff will review its operations next January, closely monitor the business in the meantime and review it again in 2025.

But the relationship between the bowling alley and the residents of The Buchanan apartments above it is uneasy. There have been dozens of reports to Arlington County Police Department of fights, drunk and loud patrons, indecent exposure and damaged property.

It reached a point where ACPD hosted an online town hall on March 31 last year to hear tenants’ concerns and discuss the work by officers and Bowlero staff to get crowds under control.

Eighteen months after opening, Arlington County is recommending the Board renew Bowlero’s permits with the one-year review to make sure community concerns about night-time nuisances are minimized. Since it opened in July 2020, there have been nearly 70 calls for service to ACPD.

The county says it supports renewing the permits because the quality-of-life problems caused by rowdy patrons are being addressed through the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI), a partnership between ACPD and restaurants and bars to make Arlington a safe nightlife destination.

Otherwise, it says in a county report, staff found no other problems with the business operating there.

The police department supports the renewal because Bowlero maintains the restaurant initiative accreditation it earned in October 2020, per the report. The alley’s management plays an active role in involving police, ACPD said in the town hall, making half of the 52 calls for service between July 2020 and March 31.

“Bowlero has also implemented proper security measures and best practices, as recommended by Arlington County Police Department (ACPD), for calming and managing crowds, in addition to proactively responding to pending reports on site,” the report said. “The Police Department has not identified any outstanding public safety issues related to the continuation of the subject use.”

These security measures include scanning people with wands and checking bags, the report says. In addition, a neighborhood liaison has been appointed to address residents’ concerns.

Still, members of a nearby civic association have expressed their concerns “about reports of a high volume of late-night noise and potentially dangerous activity related to patrons of the establishment,” the report said.

One former resident, who moved away partially because of the nuisances downstairs, said metal detectors and police’s best practices are “treating the symptoms” but not addressing their root causes: alcohol, prices, promotions and hours.

The permits allow Bowlero to operate from 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Saturday through Sunday.

The former Buchanan resident said the calls to police detailed in the report — chiefly calls about fights and loud and drunk patrons — “seem typical of what I experienced.”

“They are absurd,” he said. “Gun issue? Street fights? Woman exposing herself? These are not just noise complaints, nor was this U Street [a street in D.C. known for its nightlife] prior to Bowlero opening. It was a calm and pretty safe street that turned into a place to actively avoid.”

Here’s the full list of what residents called for in 2021:

Calls to ACPD for service at Bowlero in Crystal City (via Arlington County)

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