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TRUMANSBURG, NY — Trumansburg’s Atlas Bowl is set up for fun.
That’s what sets it apart from other eateries in the area, said Atlas’ owner Todd Parlato.
“You can come here, you can have a first class hospitality experience with service and our chef-driven menu, and roll straight into a fun night of activity all in one stop,” Parlato said.
“We want people to come in and leave with satisfied, full bellies, having had a really great time.”
Atlas manages to strike an all-ages sweet spot by offering smartly-curated drinks, an accessible menu, and of course, as its name suggests, bowling.
“Bowling is a social thing, and it’s sort of egalitarian: there are smiles on people’s faces, from little kids to senior citizens that haven’t bowled in 20 years,” said Parlato.
“Invariably, it’s hard to watch somebody bowl without seeing them smile, frequently.”
Craft beer and people watching
Rather than keep the restaurant and bar separate from the alley, most tables have a view of the bowling, “an awesome spectator sport,” according to Parlato.
The booths (with tables made from re-purposed bowling lanes) are comfortable and inviting, in no way overwhelmed by what could be a high-energy, eclectic environment.
“Our vision was that you could sit and dine with friends and watch little kids bowl, and watch hipsters bowl, and watch seniors bowl, the whole mix of people together doing their thing, that’s what’s really kind of special,” Parlato said.
The bar features almost exclusively craft beer and cider, as well as boutique wines from the Finger Lakes and some from beyond. (That being said, you can also get Utica Club and Genny Cream Ale for under $4.)
Bartenders mix up classic and signature cocktails, as well as a variety of delicious, boozy milkshakes. Non-alcoholic milkshakes and mocktails round out the special selections for the whole family.
Parlato is excited to expand Atlas’ wine on tap program to include Finger Lakes wines by the glass on weekends. Atlas will add a red, rosé, and Riesling by the glass from local wineries within a 15 mile radius of Atlas.
“From the first glass that comes out of the keg to the last one is fresh, just as the winemaker intended,” he said.
Tater tots and tacos
If you’ve heard of Atlas Bowl, you’ve probably heard of their “totchos”, and for good reason. Take a plate of tater tots, sprinkle them with bacon, melty cheddar cheese, green onions, jalapenos, and sour cream, and you have tater tot nachos.
The fried Brussels sprouts, tacos, and Atlas burger are also hugely popular, and menu mainstays.
Atlas’ menu can best be described as from scratch and chef-inspired, namely by Chef Brittany Loughlin, known as Chef Brit.
Chef Brit focuses increasingly on using locally-sourced ingredients to make both pub and street-style foods shine, and the kitchen tinkers continually with new flavor combinations.
“We talked about a lot of our favorite things before we opened, and one of the things we talked about was crispy tofu,” Parlato said.
“Chef Brit managed to really wow us with a crispy tofu presentation that we haven’t changed from day one: with a mango sauce with real mango and cashews. It’s just awesome.”
Atlas’ website is consistently up to date with daily specials. Mondays and Tuesdays through the summer feature “Bowling with my Crew”; it’s only $5 to bowl two games. Tuesdays are also family night, with kids meals half-price. In addition, families can get Kids Club card where five kids meals earns a free hour of bowling. Wednesdays has QuizBowl trivia, and Chef Brit concocts a “locavore special” based on what’s fresh at the Trumansburg Farmers Market that day. Thursdays have local DJs spinning their collection for Vinyl Showcase, and half-priced bowling all night. On Fridays, diners can enjoy a fish fry. On top of that, every day there is half-priced bowling from 4 – 6 p.m.
All that variety is really the spice of life at Atlas.
“We see a real spectrum of diners: people that consider themselves foodies and are looking for a thoughtful, creative and well-constructed meal, not things that are sort of thrown together with creative adjectives,” said Parlato.
“Then we see your workaday types that are just looking for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a burger. We really wanted to create a home where all of these folks are welcome.”
Likewise, Atlas is incredibly kid- (and parent-) friendly.
“A lot of parents remark that they are made to feel not welcome in many spaces because kids like to move around,” Parlato said.
“In our space, we give them an activity that can keep them busy and focused. A lot of times parents will just sit and watch their kids bowl and have a snack and a drink and a chance to chat because the kids are off doing a great, fun thing by themselves.”
An empty storefront brought back to life
Before Atlas Bowl moved in, the space it now occupies was empty for eight and a half years. It had been a supermarket. Nearby, just north of the VIllage of Trumansburg on Route 96 was Tri-County Lanes and Richard’s Restaurant.
The establishment burned down in 1999, leaving a palpable hole in many Trumansburg hearts.
“Richard was beloved in this community, and that’s not an overstatement in any way,” said Parlato.
Parlato has been living in Trumansburg since shortly before the fire. Originally from Oneonta, he has a background in forestry in addition to being a restaurateur.
“I ended up going to California to do an Americorp program. When I finished that, I came back and I got a job as a full-time seasonal worker in Hector at the Finger Lakes National Forest, where I worked for five additional seasons,” he said.
Parlato worked at Maxie’s Supper Club in Ithaca for 13 and a half years. Parlato drove by the grocery store every day on his commute, and the desire to open a restaurant began to form.
The entertainment aspect was there the entire time.
“For us, the concept came together around this space, feeling that Trumansburg was going to be a great home for us, which it has been,” Parlato said.
“It’s centrally located so that Ithacans can access us very easily, and visitors to the whole Finger Lakes region can have a chance to check us out.”
After two years of development, it took almost nine months to gut and reconstruct the space. Parlato partnered with Jon Wagner, and Peter Browning, owner of Viva Taqueria.
“The only thing that was original here were the walls,” Parlato said.
The bowling alley itself is not a megacomplex with wall-to-wall screens and black lights, nor is it excessively kitschy. Instead, it lives in a liminal space somewhere between modern and retro, and is undeniably hip.
“We had a lot of people come in and say ‘Wow, you bottled Brooklyn and brought it to Trumansburg,’” said Parlato.
He brought in seven vintage lanes and Brunswick machines from a shuttered Detroit alley, now restored to their former mid-century glory. There are no screens here: players keep score by hand.
The only bowling concessions to modernity are the fold-in bumpers.
While the bowling is center stage, Parlato stressed that Atlas is not just a bowling alley with a good menu, they’re a restaurant that happens to have built-in entertainment.
“We always knew before we opened that we were going to be ‘the bowling alley.’ Luckily people now know us as ‘the bowling alley’ and ‘I heard they have great food and drinks’,” Parlato said.