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  • Writer's pictureMike Douglas

Hollywood Bowl re-brand event

Last night I had the pleasure of representing Pompey Bloggers at Portsmouth's Hollywood Bowl re-brand event.

This is a venue I have previously been to, but not for a long time. In truth, I thought this was an overpriced venue that often seemed like a waste of space. There was previously a large number of pool tables, that rarely seemed to all be in use. I don't remember having food there, so I can't comment on that, only to say at best it wasn't memorable. Im sure the arcade felt more child focused too.

That was all around 2 years ago. Since then I have found other places to meet with friends and even have the occasional date, so when I was invited to attend the re-brand event, I really was not sure what to expect. I have visited other Hollywood Bowl venues (in Eastleigh and Southampton), both are impressive and pleasant venues. I wasn't sure how much the venue would change though as I read that changes had been undertaken while keeping the venue open. That made my expectations lower slightly because I thought that it wouldn't be likely that much would change.

While the overall layout is not hugely different (but it is different, welcome to my talking style of writing), there are very noticeable and beneficial changes.

I really like the change with the Diner. From memory, this was previously about 4 tables shoved on the end of the first lane near to the welcome desk. So kind of an after thought.

Being based in Gunwharf Quays, is a real asset. However it does mean you are around many well established restaurants, pubs and even fast food establishments. Its pointless offering food if your not going to do it properly.

From the samples on offer yesterday, I was not too keen on the hot dog, it didn't taste great to me. Worry not though, I did enjoy the veggie burger and the surprisingly taste-filled popcorn chicken. Although I didn't try it the ice cream, desserts looked amazing! I will definitely be going back when Im not as full to try those.

The Diner itself has been moved to a more central location, next to the bar and over looking the alleys. This will be a much better location for families I think. Providing adults with a wider field of vision of the venue and their possibly wondering little people.

I was fortunate enough to speak to Reece (Centre Manager) during the evening to find out about some of the changes that have happened. He also mentioned the small seated area by the arcade (which we were sat in at the time) and how that had been created with sporting events in mind. Providing an allocated space for those visiting the venue to watch whatever sport was on at the time. I also think that out of 'sporting events time' this has been created with dates in mind. Reece seemed very aware of the customers that visit the venue and was / is trying to make it the best experience for them.

The bowling, kind of a big thing for somewhere with bowl in their name. I am going to confess to being little bias. Thing is, we played two games and I got 6 or 7 strikes and a few spares. So I think the bowling is great, hahaha.

Im not sure if theres new technology, but the alley seems smoother, if thats possible? Plus, am I the only one still a bit amazed that we don't have to wear the clown shoes anymore? Is that part of the new tech, or did we never need to wear the shoes? I kind of hope we didn't and the people working at bowling alleys were just having a laugh. Please let that be the truth, Im chuckling just thinking about it. In fact Im making that my truth!

There was a quite clear separation of the alleys from the bar / diner with the darker lighting. Which obviously helps make these lanes look so...Hollywood. That said it didn't feel like there was a divide, the venue is a nice open space with limited obstructions to your view.

In fact there was a lovely atmosphere on the evening, I guess thats expected on a evening such as this were there is a real focus on customer service and customer experience. However that doesn't take away from the lovely evening it was.

There were a few PR things going on, in fact Im very fortunate to be able to share with you 4 of the images taken by official event photographer Paul Jacobs in the collage below.

The above 4 images are curtsy of Paul Jacobs. All other images within this blog post are my own.

Once we finished bowling I sat down with Reece to ask about the recent changes and the rebrand event.

"We took over Bowlplex about a year and a half ago, wanting to rebranding all the sites. Gunwhalf was one we took about a year over because we wanted to make it a flagship site. Given the location its in, there are a lot of other flagship stores and we wanted to be in keeping with the standard of Gunwhalf here...We have spent the most we have ever spent here, £750,000. This amount to refurbish a bowl is unheard of...Bowlplex had been here a long time, over 10 years and it needed the change, plus we wanted to change the layout including moving the diner, bar and offices."

"A lot of effort has gone into the customer journey, most of our customers are families or couples...We wanted open spaces and bright lights by the amusements. We have put a lot of thought into the music levels and lighting to make it the right journey for the customers we want to attract."

"This (venue) is for everyone, children, grandparents, everyone. Kids can beat their parents and dad doesn't have to let them win...You can have the food, the drink, the amusements, the bowling, its all here."

I did ask about discounts and offers, you know me. It was great to hear the team are looking to work with local disability groups and providing Services discount. I think this is a great thing given the location of the venue. We should be proud of the local and visiting Servicemen and women and I am all in favour of promoting discount to those often away from family and friends.

The full 7 minute chat with Reece will be coming soon to the podcast.

After chatting was time to have a look around the arcade. Game time!

The area seems larger than the previous space allocated to the non bowling fun. There are still pool tables and while it was great to see the mass pool table fetish cut down. Only having 4 tables does seem like a massive change. Hopefully this is enough to ensure this is an available activity for people without lining up the table with coins. I think its a sign of the changing culture that the venue wants to implement. Moving away from what could have been considered as somewhere that may attract stereotypical 'lad culture' with the bowling, pool and bar focus.

Yesterday felt different, it felt more...welcoming I guess. Sure the balloons and free tasters were great, but Im very aware its not going to be like that next time I visit. While the atmosphere may change, I think the culture and environment being created will stay.

Can I just say I was laughing inside my head playing Jurassic Park with Jess (a vegetarian) as we shot at dinosaurs.

All in all its a great venue, the staff were very friendly and welcoming, I would recommend it. I will be going back to see if its as good when its not an event night. Plus I need to try the ice cream!

Before you go...

  • Link to podcast of my interview with Reece

  • Short youtube video below, sorry half of its in portrait. Its from my Insta stories.

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