x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bowling in dark is right up their alley

Disco balls,neon lights and Akon pumping from speakers are clues that the popular pastime just had a makeover.

DUBAI // The end of another weekend work shift at the gym once signalled Marco Tomayo's retreat to his Dubai apartment for another evening in front of the television. Not any more. For the past fortnight, the 30-year-old Filipino fitness industry employee has spent his Saturday evenings enjoying Dubai's latest affordable fun spot - Switch Bowling Alley at the India court in Ibn Battuta Mall. "It is really fun," Mr Tomayo said as he and his colleagues completed a frame at the 12-lane bowling emporium.

But for reflections cast on the LED-lit alleys off disco balls above, the venue is dark. Four 24-metre wide screens beam out glamorous images from the latest music videos by Beyoncé, Rihanna and Akon. The centre was officially opened on Tuesday evening by Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. Switch bears a striking resemblance to a nightclub. But there is no alcohol to be found, dancing is kept to a sly hip wiggle between frames - at least during Ramadan - and children line up with their parents and friends to enjoy a few frames before heading home to bed.

The venue is already proving popular among those living and working in the densely populated vicinity that surrounds the mall. "This is my second time here. I came with different people last weekend and enjoyed it so much that I came back again," Mr Tomayo said. This time around, it is boys versus girls and while Mr Tomayo's side are ahead, the girls appear to be having just as much fun. Patricia Del Rosario high-fives her team-mate after scoring a strike, before erupting into a celebratory dance with her colleagues.

"This is my first time here, but we'll definitely be coming back here again," Ms Del Rosario said. At the top of a winding wrought-iron staircase, four private karaoke studios are available for hire by budding singers. The rooms are the next on Mr Tomayo's to-do list. "I haven't tried it yet, but maybe next time," he said. "This is close to our working place, and with the music, it is fun." Behind the red-trimmed alleys, a group of men in national dress sit in a booth enjoying post-iftar snacks while they await their turn bowling.

In a nearby lane, a child dons the obligatory, shiny, bowling shoes and takes turns with her nanny to throw her ball down the aisle. It is, her nanny says, a great way of keeping children entertained and, at Dh25 a frame, relatively cheap, too. To the far left of the alleys, Q's billiards club is unusually quiet. On weekends it is overrun with groups, young and old. As is the Networkx computer area, where younger customers spend their hours playing networking games online.

The managing partner of Switch Middle East, Tarek Naim, said despite summer and Ramadan generally being a "low" business season, he was happy with the popularity of the centre and said there are waiting lists for bowling games throughout the weekday evenings as well as on weekends. Mr Naim said in the weeks to follow an outdoor area boasting an Italian coffee shop and restaurant will open and the company is already looking at expanding the brand across the region.

"We are offering something unique here," he said. "Of course there are classic bowling venues but Switch offers something beyond the sport of bowling, it's also about family entertainment. loatway@thenational.ae