It ain't over till it's over and Astro Bowl was over for keeps when it finally shuttered its doors in the spring of '99. I was offered a ride out to Jersey to roll some games a few weeks before the business went south and I jumped at the chance. Astro Bowl was located about 15 minutes outside of the Lincoln Tunnel in the bustling Allwood section of Clifton, New Jersey. Laid out 1960s style, with the exception of the cheesy computer scoring system (the one with the little animated pins going up to heaven), Astro Bowl was once the pride of the Styertowne Shopping Center. By the time I got there the intoxicating sparkle of the lanes had long since vanished. Creaky and dank, redolent with overflowing ashtrays, the lobby stank of foot spray and sticky soda syrup. Dusty glass cabinets boasted blue ball point pen championship stat sheets and the faded league night photos of triumphs gone by. An inescapable finality overshadowed the din and clatter of the automatic pinsetters. As I laced my size nines, I could sense that a great deal of sordid and raucous business had transpired in this joint. A lot of kiddie parties went down in those lanes over the decades and more than likely many an ill-shaven face was abruptly slapped in the cocktail lounge.
Astro Bowl was opened in 1959 with great fanfare by Lawrence "Yogi" Berra and Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto--two Yankees buddies who were probably looking for a legit hangout to greet the huckleberries while they could sock away a little something-something for the chilly post-season years. Luxuriating in one of mankind's finest follies, they brought in their brothers to keep the lanes waxed and the counters polished just so. Sometimes Yogi would tend bar and bowl with the customers while Scooter would chat with fans over a cannoli. Sure, the malaprop spouting geniuses hedged their bets by hawking Yoo Hoo and the Money Store, but they always found their way back to the bowling alley (which was initially called the "Rizzuto-Berra Bowling Lanes" before they sold the ownership). Hard to believe that a 40-lane paradise that kicked off to such frenzied hoopla would struggle to stay open, and ignominiously shut down, not even giving the Brunswick 2000 ball return machines a chance to greet the new millennium.