Why donâ€™t I go bowling more often? When revisiting The Vernon Clubâ€“the neighborhood bowling alley of my old stomping ground, I was reminded that the place has survived so much change in this city. Truly, the place is much better than it was when I was a child. I have memories of the early 1990s when it offered a rather bland atmosphere. How well it has adapted hand-in-hand with other improvements in our city.
The warm interior was alive on this chilly November night, from the billiard table in the front to the timid pins in the very back. The entire time this energetic atmosphereâ€“containing a jukebox, chatty drinkers next to the full bar and thunderous gamesâ€“was pulsating, there was a crowd of hundreds down below in the clubâ€™s basement music venue, where several metal bands blasted away. Itâ€™s amazing to think that two totally different sound environments can co-exist without one affecting the other negatively. I love old brick buildings!
After a bit of socializing I made my way up to the lanes to see what Iâ€™d lost in the year since Iâ€™d played the pins. I bowled a typical Duckworthian game: Two gutterballs, first. After I finished a beer, I got three pins down, and then picked up a spare. By the time I had three beers in my system, Iâ€™d gotten a few strikes. Then I shifted to bourbon, which enhanced conversation with others, but not my game.
I chatted with one of the clubâ€™s managers, Scotty Lawler, about the placeâ€™s history. The establishment has stood at 1575 Story Ave. since 1886 as a recreational center. It has continued as such through the care of many different owners, starting with a butcher and his family and then St. Joeâ€™s Catholic Church in 1918, where the Bowling Alley was first installed in the lower areaâ€“then titled â€œShort Lanes.â€ In 2006, after Dale McCall purchased the business, it saw a major renovation, making the best use imaginable for a narrow building with only eight bowling lanes. The current aesthetic tone embraces the grandness of the very old building, (particularly in the lounge/billiard room) while feeling very welcome, informal and communal.
The Vernon Club does have daily open-bowling hours, but it thrives from private events. Lawler tells me that the autumn season through Derby is the busiest time of year for special events. â€œItâ€™s very, very personable,â€ he says in regards to The Vernon being a comparatively intimate place for the sport. They host patrons like the Home of the Innocents, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana, and of course, company parties. Renting out the club varies in price, but itâ€™s clearly a popular spot.
This was the second year Iâ€™d attended Carypalooza, an event hosted by friends of the late Cary Creson who succumbed to Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma in 2013. Proceeds go to research of the rare cancer. Cary was a well-liked and devoted bowler at The Vernon. His comrades, and endless list of friends, bowl in his honor and intend to continue this as an annual tradition.
While I will certainly return for next yearâ€™s Carypalooza, I will be going back to The Vernon Club again even sooner than that. Iâ€™ve been denying myself all the fun and embarrassment that bowling guarantees. Knowing that their full bar is ready for my clumsy gaming, and serves some great food, is enough to assure me that this place is another fail safe for good times.