A new spin on the local bowling alley

Twenty years ago, Ethan Wurtzel and his family opened Twain’s, a restaurant poolhall combination that has become a Decatur favorite. Now, they’re branching out and starting a new project: Comet Pub and Lanes in the recently reinvigorated Suburban Plaza.

General manager, Ben Horgan,  found a pair of size 15 bowling shoes and the original drink board that hung over the alley while cleaning up the now defunct Suburban Lanes.
General manager, Ben Horgan, found a pair of size 15 bowling shoes and the original drink board that hung over the alley while cleaning up the now defunct Suburban Lanes.

Wurtzel was familiar with running a poolhall, his father owned one in Philadelphia during Wurtzel’s childhood. When he came to Atlanta to found his own business. Wurtzel wanted to create a poolhall just as his father had, with some added conveniences. He, his sister Thalia and his brother Uri partnered together to create Twain’s. They envisioned a poolhall with a bar and restaurant so that families could have fun while enjoying food and drink, something their father’s barebones pool establishment lacked.

When Wurtzel first arrived, Decatur didn’t have many entertainment options besides eating at the restaurants scattered around the square.

In the ‘90s, Decatur didn’t have its current award-winning restaurants and nightlife activities.

“When we opened, there was a great influx of people that were happy they didn’t have to schlep down to the Virginia Highlands,” Wurtzel said.

Now, the team wants to tackle new challenges with their latest venture: Comet Pub and Lanes.  Five-year employee Ben Horgan, now a general manager of Twain’s, plays a key role in organizing the new establishment by managing the new bowling alley as well.

He remembers growing up with Suburban Lanes, coming from the Paideia schools.

“I used to take class trips there. [I spent] many an afternoon at Suburban Lanes and the plaza as a whole,” Horgan said.

He remembers one class trip in particular, when his freshman literature teacher brought some students to bowl.

“He taught us that the best way to bowl was to throw the ball as high in the air as possible,” Horgan said. “We got kicked out for trying to destroy the lanes. Years later, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do because those lanes were horrible.”

As future manager, Horgan is ready to spruce up Suburban Lanes.

“I’m super excited to help take a place that really hadn’t seen a lot of love and attention over the years and bring it up to speed with the rest of Decatur,” Horgan said.

Although the Wurtzels and Horgan aren’t bowling fanatics, they’re eager to learn and bond with a new clientele. The team wants to connect with past leagues and older members.

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Standing left is Ben Hogan, general manager, on his right is Ethan Wurtzel, a founder of Twains, although he grew up with a pool hall Wurtzel can only play well for about 2 games before he’s just as good as anybody else.

 

Wesley Hatfield, assistant principal at Decatur bowled in a Suburban league for 3 seasons.

“I spent so much time at that place,” Hatfield said. “The thing about bowling leagues is that they never end. They last for, like, 35 weeks.”

Hatfield respected his other league members, despite their eccentricities.

“There was a guy that supposedly seasoned his bowling [ball] with embalming fluids,” Hatfield said.

Despite their quirks, he enjoyed the experience.

“It was such a fun place to be,” Hatfield said. “Really, really nice people. Really good people.”

Former league bowler and Decatur resident Amber Corbett remembers bowling at Suburban Lanes in the late 80s. She and her brother bowled in a youth league led by a husband and wife team. She bowled every Saturday morning and attended state and regional tournaments. The hard work paid off. Through the league, she earned a college scholarship at age 12.

“The first time I set foot into Suburban Lanes was 1988, I believe,” Corbett said. “It was very vintage. The cigarette smoke was overwhelming. I remember all the noise and how mesmerized I was. The video games, the pins being knocked down, the people all filled with joy.”

She enjoyed the community of Suburban Lanes especially bonding with fellow bowlers.

“All of the other kids and their families were invested in each and every child involved.” Corbett said. “It felt like a family,there are so many memories in Suburban Lanes.”

While bowling and pool are different industries, Wurtzel’s goal is to create a fun environment that combines bowling and great food.

Wurtzel and his family bought Suburban Lanes from Thomas Walker Sr., joining the list of four previous proprietors who had maintained Suburban Lanes since 1954.

“We saw bowling dovetailing with food and beverage in similar ways that we do it here with pool and shuffleboard,” Wurtzel said.

One of the tougher aspects is understanding the equipment needed to operate a bowling facility.

“We have a lot more to learn about the systems, specifically for bowling because it’s definitely more complex than a [pool] table,” Wurtzel said.

The family hired a specialized mechanic from North Carolina to calibrate the specialized equipment.

“We have a mechanic who’s coming to Comet who’s taking a fine toothed comb to get all 32 machines on par,” Wurtzel said.

While the mechanics may upgrade the equipment, the Lanes will still resemble their 1950s glory, says Wurtzel. While he plans to remove old carpets and walls, he wanted to preserve “the classic look.”

The family wants to appeal to a new audience while attracting the leagues that once practiced at Suburban Lanes back to the plaza.

“Some of the league players will have some things to get used to and I say that only because we’re new to bowling,” Wurtzel said. “If they don’t like it right away, then they’ll like it soon. There will be a lot of added service that they won’t be able to deny.”

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A sign advertising Twain’s progress on the alley via social media. The menu resides above the restaurant’s bar, highlighting the various drink options that Twain’s has to offer, as well as events taking place.

Past members are hopeful that the new owners will create a successful bowling alley.

“I’m sure the vibe will be different,” Hatfield said. “I really hope they can connect with some of the old leagues.”

Corbett plans to return as well.

“I will absolutely go to the remodeled version of Suburban Lanes.” he said. “It will never have the same charm that it once did, but it still has all of the memories.”

Challenges with equipment and building delays have pushed back the original grand opening of the new lanes.

But Decatur doesn’t have to wait long to lace up their shoes again. Wurtzel hopes to open Comet Lanes in late February or early January.

 

Photos by Sam Jones