Farewell, Clairemont Bowl

One of the last great bastions of blue collar entertainment in my neighborhood is sadly being torn down in earnest.

After 49 years, the Clairemont Bowl is being leveled to make room for yuppie condos. Prior to the "official" closing in October of last year, I took my Mom to say goodbye to the place where she'd first met my dad - way back in 1964.

We went to the farewell party with fellow Clairemont native-turned-Idaho-resident Megan. The place was crammed as tight as a hotdog package - standing room only.NewsCafe.jpg

Yep. Turns out "The Bowl" kicked the bucket in true Clairemont fashion: That is, with AC/DC screaming in the background and a barfight in the foreground. The bar had to stop serving drinks because masses of hairy, tatooed hooligans were acting as crazy as shithouse rats and tearing up the place.

Unfortunately, that nixed our being able to enjoy our planned final toast to The Bowl. Initially we were a little bitter. . . In retrospect, however, it was a fitting conclusion. 

The Clairemont Bowl was always an original. Walk in and you'd see old-school neon while your nostrils were assaulted with a pungent, musky-greasy smell - sort of a combination of warm bowling shoes and the diner's deep fryer.

Despite the initial, face-slapping funk, the woodwork and lanes were still beautiful. The bar was a real jewel - hardwood polished to a high gloss, and stiff drinks sliding on top of it. If you looked close enough, you could see the layers of each decade: 50's-style lettering on the office doors and neon signs, a 70's-style ceiling, and most damaging - the bad 80's redux which left scars that included cheesy wall-murals, rotten furniture, a largely-ignored renaming to The Sunset Bowl and worst of all the adoption of The Prehistoric Motif. (I can't make this stuff up.) For years there was a giant plaster brontosaurus on the roof.

Despite the abuse, the Clairemont Bowl retained her charm, her dignity and her inner blue-collar character. The encroaching if inevitable seediness served to make the place kitschy, not repugnant. Being there, you'd feel good the same way camping feels good: It's a great time, the scenery is fantastic, but you're also looking forward to a hot shower once you get home.

I wonder, how many hot summer afternoons did Megan and I spend here, trying desperately to break a hundred? How many burgers and fries were consumed? How many goofy dates, games of Galaga? How many gutterball jeers? 

My mom and dad launched their 30+-year relationship here: In the Alamo bar, after her weekly squaredancing lesson. He said to her, "I'm leaving for Europe tomorrow. When I come back in a few weeks and call and say 'Hello, this is Jack,' I don't want to hear you say 'Jack who?'" (She didn't.)

ByeBowl.jpgThis is also the place through which The Varmint and his teammates ran nude, as part of a JV football hazing ritual. (I'd have paid good money to see that!) 

Sadly, the demise of the Clairemont Bowl leaves just onebowling alley standing in all of San Diego. It's the one with the least character. It's got crap architecture, no soul and is located in one of the blah-est parts of town. What a bummer.

I definitely think it's time to redefine what developers are calling "progress" in this city. I'll miss you, Clairemont Bowl.


  1. Carson said on May 5, 2009 17:40

    Wow. It will be missed!

    I worked there in the late 60's and early 70's. I was a number two. When I ask what that meant, they told me that everyone else was number one.

  2. Truelight said on April 2, 2011 14:33

    Thanks for this article! My mom worked most of her life as a bartender at the Alamo and I have so many fond memories of this place. I'm sorry to hear of its demise.


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I am a writer and lazy artist who loves travel, architecture and design. Right now, I'm into photography. My fabulous husband (a.k.a. The Varmint) and I are also the principals of a San Diego-based creative agency - and new parents to the divine Baby Mak. Read More >