Colorful entertainment venue is on magazine’s list of 100 alleys to bowl before you die.
RANGELEY — Step in the door and there’s an arcade — a wild swirl of purples and pinks — where you can earn enough points to score a pirate eye patch with even modest Fruit Ninja skills.
Feet away there’s an open stone fire pit ringed by lounge chairs. It’s next to what has to be the only dance floor in Maine decorated with hand-painted, photo-realistic trout and landlocked salmon, a little hunting-lodge-meets-nightclub chic.
Out back, reds, greens and blues flicker up and down 10 pristine blond bowling lanes. Automatic bumpers slickly pop up out of the floor and sink back down for beginners. Gutter balls beware.
Everywhere, there’s music, lights and moose antlers.
It’s cool in the middle of nowhere, and that was very much the point.
Nancy Bessey opened Moose Alley lanes in 2011. At her first meeting at Brunswick Bowling Products’ Chicago headquarters, when the business was only an idea, the manufacturer’s reps pulled up a population map of Rangeley and did a double-take.
Absolutely, she said.
“This sort of place doesn’t end up in more remote areas. They end up where it’s more of a slam dunk,” Bessey said, but “We rely so much on the weather. When the weather’s not right, there’s nothing left to do.”
Bessey, who grew up in Ohio and traveled extensively for work in the energy business, retired to Rangeley in 1998. She calls the community “an amazing four-season spot; it’s like heaven up here.”
She created Moose Alley out of a former restaurant and dance space on outer Main Street. (It was The Club House, then People’s Choice before that.) Through Brunswick she worked with an Oklahoma City architect to expand, then fill out, 15,000 square feet.
Far from boxy, the floor plan meanders. There’s space around three 9-foot pool tables to relax with friends. There are tables for sit-down dining within easy sight of the arcade so kids can play and parents can eat. A second bar fringed in grass skirts handles any overflow and serves up the house specialty: rum buckets. (Small pails of rum and fresh fruit, served with a lei.)
Keeping customers in mind — a number arrive by snowmobile in the winter — there’s a special room with racks for helmets, hooks for bibs and lots of lighting so riders can keep an easy eye on their gear.
There are seven 10-foot screens and dozens of smaller TVs around the building, plus live music on the weekends on a stage by the fishy dance floor. On that same 20-by-20-foot floor, there’s also a hand-painted moose and an outline of Rangeley Lake complete with lake depths, a throwback to its People’s Choice days.
“Saving this was kind of important,” Bessey said.
The year it opened, Moose Alley made it into Bowlers Journal International magazine’s architecture and design awards. In 2013, it was among 100 alleys — the only one in Maine — in the magazine’s list of places to bowl before you die.
Bessey has made it work while the industry in Maine has faced a tough go of it. Two years ago, Auburn Lanes came down to make room for townhouses. Lisbon Fall’s Good Time Lanes closed this year.
In Waterville, Sparetime Recreation is being bought by a church to become a church. The owner of Sparetime Recreation in Lewiston has had it quietly on the market for two years and plans to potentially halve the number of lanes to make it more sell-able.
Bessey said she doesn’t quite compare to the traditional alley, by design.
“You’re there to bowl, maybe get some fries,” she said. “You’re not going to spend six hours there. There’s not going to be live music.”
While, for Moose Alley, “I consider it a fantasy living room,” Bessey said.
But make no mistake: She’s a kingpin. Bessey and most of the staff bowl in one or more of the Monday, Tuesday or Thursday night leagues.
She likes that the special automated bumpers — ” I don’t know any lanes probably in the Northeast that have those” — give kids a level playing field against Mom and Dad.
“(Growing up) bowling was a rite of passage. When you got good enough, you got to join a league with your mom and dad,” she said. “We oil our lanes, we have factory patterns. We take the bowling seriously; we don’t take ourselves seriously. The team in first place gets to pick the music.”
Bessey called her own daughter, Sam White, her “30-something secret weapon.”
“This made Rangeley palatable for her,” she said. “She loves creating a vision for this place. She cooks in here, she’s my ace bartender.”
Moose Alley is open 365 days a year, with live music on Friday and Saturday and a sort of karaoke without the karaoke on Sunday nights — an open mic with acoustic guitar accompaniment.
“We do harmonies and get stupid,” Bessey said. “It’s my favorite night of the week.”
Lanes are rented by the hour, with up to eight bowlers per lane. Weekend nights from January to March are rocking, as are any rainy days in the summer.
Given the area’s reputation for high-profile seasonal residents, Bessey smiled and confirmed, “Famous people come through,” but she’ll name no names.
Gary Hawkes, a lobsterman from Harpswell, stopped in to bowl with his family while they stayed at a local timeshare during Thanksgiving week.
“This place is perfect, it’s got everything,” he said as his kids hit him up for more tokens for the arcade. “It’s nothing like it used to be.”
Paul Friedman from Rangeley bowls there two nights a week.
“Obviously, Nancy is awesome. She condones us having lots of fun,” Friedman said. “It gets dark at 4 in the winter — you’ve got to do something.”