Despite Santa Fe’s many cultural attractions and easy access to outdoor adventure, some families have found themselves heading south to Albuquerque in search of kid-friendly entertainment. Joey and Hannah Padilla grew so weary of the trip down I-25 that they decided to open their own family fun emporium. Their brainchild, The Alley at DeVargas Center, officially opened Oct. 4, but its bowling lanes, pool tables and other games have been drawing crowds for the past month during the venue’s soft opening.
The Padillas, who are certified dog trainers and have run the pet care business Santa Fe Tails for more than a decade, say they drew their inspiration for The Alley from BOL Vail in the Colorado ski resort town, which they visited in July 2017. “It was clear that Santa Fe needed more than an ordinary bowling alley,” said Joey Padilla. “We needed something cool like BOL.”
But first they needed space. Santa Fe had been without a bowling alley since Silva Lanes closed in 2009 and later became the home of Meow Wolf, the immersive experience venue. Efforts by an investor group to build a bowling alley in the Railyard had ended in failure, but that venue was fraught with sound issues and was too limited for the Padillas’ vision.
Enter Katy Fitzgerald, senior project manager at DeVargas Center, who thought the space occupied by the defunct Hastings video and game store might be the ideal fit for the entrepreneurial couple.
In the end, lease expirations for DeVargas tenants Longevity Gym and the Traveler’s Market provided an opening for the 20,000-square-foot bowling alley. Longevity moved out of the mall, and Traveler’s relocated to the former Hastings location.
From Fitzgerald’s point of view, the lease was a win-win situation. “Any new tenant brings in more customers, and it provides reasons for customers to stay for longer period of time,” she said.
But could bowling really make a comeback in Santa Fe after nearly a decade?
Not on its own, the Padillas decided. “We didn’t want to be a bowling alley that sold hot dogs in a city like Santa Fe,” said Hannah Padilla. That’s why they decided to partner with chef Ever Paz and transform his El Sabor food truck into an upscale eatery that would attract a clientele that wasn’t interested in knocking down pins.
A recent day found Ann Germano and her daughter Jennifer Germano enjoying lunch at El Sabor, which specializes in tapas, but whose menu includes everything from a $28 paella to $8 nachos, as well as kids’ fare like chicken fingers and fries for $9.
Germano, who owns the Marcy Street boot store Back at the Ranch, wants to start a social bowling league for professional women that would meet at The Alley in the new year. “Wouldn’t that be fun?” she asked.
Social leagues are definitely in The Alley’s future, said Hannah Padilla, but for now the focus is on families, including their own. Their two children – Jacob, 9, and Amelia, 8 – have been dropping by after school and on weekends to play games at The Alley, where there are six billiard tables, two indoor turf courts for the classic Italian game bocce, two shuffleboard tables, three dartboards, a video-game arcade and 12 regulation bowling lanes supplied by Chino, Calif.-based U.S. Bowling Corp. Youngsters can get help on their swing from dragon-shaped ramps.
With its eye-catching graphics, photo montages of bowlers and lanes of yore and its stylish mid-century modern-style furnishings, The Alley is a cut above typical bowling venues, and its prices reflect that. For groups of two to six, each bowler pays $14 an hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. From 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends, the price rises to $16. There are discounts for seniors, kids, and active and retired military, and there is no charge for shoe rental.
Asked if their rates make bowling out of reach for some families, the Padillas say they’re still tinkering with pricing and mulling discounts, such as rewards programs. A private party room is already being eyed by corporate clients for holiday get-togethers.
They freely admit The Alley is still evolving. And they’re quick to credit the people who made it happen, including Santa Fe architect Wyndham Carlisle, Bill Snoberger, national sales manager of U.S. Bowling, who collaborated with Hannah Padilla on demographic research to determine whether the area could support a bowling alley, as well as Andrea Neal of Whole Brain Design of Santa Fe, who created The Alley’s logo and other design features.
It was Joey Padilla, however, who came up with the twist of having The Alley’s bowling balls look like giant billiard balls, a subtle way of reminding patrons that there’s more than one game in the venue.
In fact, the lanes have been so busy at The Alley that some would-be bowlers facing a three-hour wait for a lane on a recent Saturday could be found under the twinkling white lights on the bocce courts, studying the instructional handouts and learning the rules of the game first played in ancient Rome.
But as far as Hannah Padilla is concerned, there’s still not enough kid-friendly fun in town. Once The Alley finds its groove, she’d like to open a gymnastics studio that serves boys over the age of 7, a group not currently served in Santa Fe.
As she outlined her plan in front of her husband of 11 years, Joey Padilla smiled at her and asked, “Can we take a vacation first?”