In the late ’90s, Mr. T’s Bowl in Highland Park achieved a rare indie trifecta: a packed slate of hip bands, cheap domestic beer, and indifference to indoor smoking. “It felt like playing in your grandparents’ basement,” says musician Mike TV (no, not the kid from Willy Wonka), who used to book bands for the bowling alley turned club. After longtime owner and beloved local character Joseph “Mr. T” Teresa passed away in 2003, regulars agreed the place was never the same, though Teresa’s son kept it running until 2014. That year bar proprietors 1933 Group snatched up the shuttered business, which is reopening this month under its original moniker: the Highland Park Bowl.
1933’s Bobby Green, Dimitri Komarov, and Dmitry “Dima” Liberman—the trio behind themed drinking spots like Sassafras Saloon, Idle Hour, and fellow HP watering hole La Cuevita—bought Mr. T’s with the hope of maintaining its colorful past while catering to a new breed of resident: young Angelenos seeking the same kind of affordability and creative flavor Silver Lake offered 15 years ago. “It has always been our philosophy to try to find an emerging neighborhood to sink our teeth into,” Komarov says. “We are going to be accessible to everybody, but we’re also trying to change with the neighborhood.”
Green and company have brought their vintage-cool aesthetic to the redesign: In 1927, the venue was the site of one of L.A.’s first bowling alleys; today there are eight refurbished lanes, and the chandeliers are even made from repurposed pinsetters. Bands will perform in an area named after Mr. T., while an enormous mural of a forest discovered during the remodel remains in situ. Modern upgrades include an Italian wood-burning pizza oven (executive chef Richie Lopez also runs the food program at Idle Hour), and a microbrewery is in the works.
Though Mike TV now lives in Austin, the overhaul has piqued his interest. “I don’t believe in any sort of cosmic anything,” he says, “but if there’s any place that’s going to have residual good vibes, it has to be there.”