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Cruisin’ with Peter Shapiro: A breakneck night at Brooklyn Bowl with Elvis, The Roots and a Wynn


Denise Truscello / WireImage /

Mark Kelley, bass player for The Roots, and Brooklyn Bowl owner Peter Shapiro at Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq.

The Roots at Brooklyn Bowl

The Roots perform at Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq. Launch slideshow »

Elvis Costello and The Roots: 3/15/14

Elvis Costello and The Roots perform at Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq. Launch slideshow »
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Elvis Costello and The Roots perform at Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq.

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The Brooklyn Bowl marquee at the Linq advertises the Elvis Costello and The Roots concert Sunday, March 16, 2014.

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Bowling lanes at Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq.

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Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq.

His name reminds of the network-TV crime dramas of the 1970s: “Shapiro,” followed on your Thursday night schedule by “Mannix” and “Kojak.”

And it is a veritable chase scene, keeping up with this Peter Shapiro character. The man doesn’t stop unless he happens to bump into a wall (or one of his myriad close personal friends) at Brooklyn Bowl, the just-opened music-and-bowling complex that is the entertainment anchor at the Linq.

This tour de force with Shapiro unfolded Saturday night, and the place was ablaze with activity during the first of two performances by Elvis Costello and The Roots.

Brooklyn Bowl, for those who require initiation, is a bracing operation, an 80,000-square-foot, double-deck fortress enveloping a 2,000-capacity music hall that sits on the walking route toward the High Roller observation wheel. The Brooklyn Bowl marquee is flashy and impossible to ignore, sort of like Shapiro himself. He is the visionary and engine behind the business, teaming with his friend and business partner Charley Ryan, who we will run into on this three-hour tour in which I occasionally do find myself stranded. Shapiro has, over time, produced documentary films, which is a specialty of his brother, Jon, as the two teamed to produce the “U23D” U2 concert film and whom we also will encounter at the club.

Peter Shapiro is a fast thinker, fast walker and fast talker who seems to possess a sort of creative adult ADHD. While a student at Northwestern, he developed a chronicle of Grateful Dead fans, “The Spinners” as they were long titled, and the film “American Road,” a tour of all 48 states in the continental U.S. He opened the New York City club the Wetlands and also owns Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. Shapiro hired Ryan (a Dartmouth undergrad who once traded precious metals on the floor of the Commodities Exchange) to run Wetlands, and the two forged an effective operations/promotions partnership.

Four years ago, Shapiro and Ryan sought and found a shutdown, rundown 120-year-old building in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, snapped it up cheap and opened the famed Brooklyn Bowl. Shapiro and Ryan were swayed to move to Las Vegas by the Linq General Manager Jon Gray, who has delivered on his promise to make the venue the Linq’s entertainment cornerstone.

Wearing his hair long and natural and usually donning a blue hoodie, Shapiro reminds that there were “three major places on the Strip who had major execs visit us in Brooklyn.” Thus, Brooklyn Bowl was hardly a secret, favored by such visitors as then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Bill Clinton, who in September 2010 hosted a Millennium Network fundraiser at the club. Zagat named it New York City’s top music venue for three years running. Kanye West, Bruno Mars, Adele and M.I.A. have all headlined the New York venue.

Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas opened in the second phase of businesses at the Linq, with Shapiro recruiting his old friends The Roots (who opened the Brooklyn location) and Elvis Costello to fire up the venue. We are to meet inside the club, somewhere, the bridge being a text and my own meter as where one might find Shapiro in this vast structure. Luckily, it is the entrance to the club at the top of the stairs, beneath a statue of a golden woman about to fling a bowling ball. Shapiro shouts, “Say hi to Uncle Chuck,” who happens to be Ryan. There is a swift conversation, during which he points to Ryan’s shoes, covered with pointed, silver studs. “They are for special occasions,” Ryan says. And this is a special night, to be sure.

We hustle through the lounge at the side. “What do you drink?” he asks. “All beers here are on tap!” I respond that I’d like a Sprite, and he orders up a Sprite for me and a Sprite-with-fuel cocktail for himself. Next to us at the bar is someone unfamiliar, and the business co-owner shouts, “Get him a drink! He’s with the party!” Not sure to which party Shapiro is referring, but this gent just lucked himself to a free cocktail, too.

We spin to the main floor of the music venue. I ask Shapiro about the room’s capacity, which seems larger than the listed 2,000.

“Wait!” he says. “Hear it?”

“Yes!” I fib. “I am hearing it, Peter!”

“The sound is great back here, right?” he says as we stand just a few feet from the bar at the back of the main floor. “This is actually a great place to watch the show!”

“How many people can the club hold for a show?” I shout.

“We’re still figuring it out!” he says. “Probably 2,500!”

We stride back upstairs and met DJ Uncle Mike (our second “uncle” encounter of the evening), who refuses to play house music, EDM or hip-hop.

Which makes him, probably, the greatest DJ in Las Vegas.

“I am 51 years old, and I am never growing up!” DJ Mike shouts. “I mean, who plays this in a club in Vegas?”

DJ Mike, on loan from Brooklyn Bowl in New York, cues up The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” from his selection of 15,000 songs, stored in a computer program. “I play Frank Zappa! I play ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ by Three Dog Night. This is comfort music, brother!”

Elvis Costello and The Roots at Brooklyn Bowl

Elvis Costello performs with The Roots at the Brooklyn Bowl at the Linq Sunday, March 16, 2014. Launch slideshow »

“Turn it up!” Shapiro shouts, then moves away, fast, to yak on the cell phone, then returns for a quick tour of the outdoor patio.

“Bro, look, is there a better view of the High Roller than here?” he says, pointing at the 550-foot observation wheel in the distance. “And look at the lights! They are in sync!”

True, the lights on the Brooklyn Bowl are the same color and pattern as that of the big wheel. Genius, I say.

Shapiro settles into one of the outdoor chairs and leans back. “If you want to just take a break and relax, these are the best chairs,” he says. He points out the plants on the deck, and his eyes narrow. “We’ll have a little less plants out here. We have too many plants. Probably half as many plants are all we need here. Next time you're here, there will be less plant.”

Then he says, “Bro, I have to go see the band. I’d take you with me, but I don’t want Elvis to get agg-ro. He’s cool, but if I bring media back there, you know, he might get agg-ro.”

“We cannot have Elvis agg-ro,” I agree.

"Maybe I can get you a Root!" he says, eyes flashing.

Shapiro dashes off again, and in his absence, in the upper-level bar, I see a familiar face: That of Kevyn Wynn, Steve Wynn’s daughter.

“What are you doing here?” I ask. She says that she is buddies with Jon Shapiro.

“Oh?” I say. “Where is he?”

Standing in front of me, it turns out.

Jon is a terrific filmmaker and is taking in the night with one of the Wynn ladies, who opens up her cell phone to show an adorable video of her twin boys dancing at her home in L.A. (in the interest of disclosure, my cousin A.J Eaton shot that video, as he is friendly with the Wynn family, too, and this is just a very, very small world). Also in the group is longtime Wynn host Neddie Haines, who has lived in Las Vegas since 1964 and is a close friend of the Wynn family.

Shapiro returns and makes sure everyone knows one another. We explain the various familial connections, and he says, “It all happens at Brooklyn Bowl!,” then leads the group to the lower level of bowling lanes just house left of the stage. You are right on top of the action here, so close that when Costello appears, he walks just feet from the group and nods in our direction. The band is totally cranking and as the music starts, the bowling stops.

“You can watch the whole show on those screens,” Shapiro says, pointing (needlessly) at the end of they alley, where Costello and The Roots perform in crystal-clear, high-definition video perfection, more than a million LED lights at work. When I repeat something I’ve heard from three people during the course of the night, that Brooklyn Bowl feels a lot like a larger House of Blues, Shapiro pounces.

“House of Blues doesn’t have all these LED screens and 32 lanes of bowling, they don’t have the lighting system or sight lines we have, they don’t have multiple bars on multiple levels where you can watch the show. … I mean, I don’t want to be critical of a competitor, but this is a way different experience, a way bigger scope than House of Blues. I mean, Foundation Room is cool, but House of Blues is, what, 20 years old now? C’mon …” This goes on for several minutes before Shapiro, the ninja club operator, darts off again to hook up with Primus manager Brad Sands, who is scouting the venue in advance of the band’s May 1-3 appearances.

We hit the upstairs viewing platform, grab our respective Sprites and Sprite cocktails and gaze down at Elvis and The Roots, who are thumping through a reggae version of “Peace Love and Understanding.” I shoot an Instagram photo (and I took scads of photos, as social media followers understand) and — poof! — Shapiro has dashed away, again. It’s pointless now to attempt a “Saving Private Ryan” reconnaissance mission. I head back downstairs to the Jon Shapiro-Kevyn Wynn bowling lane, where we are so close that I can actually reach out and grab the guitar. Jon and I both eyeball the red Gibson leaning on a stand near the guitar tech, and Jon says, “Better not do it. That would be frowned upon.”

Costello closes the night by calling out, “It’s nice to have a little piece of home in Vegas!” a reference to the Bowl itself, likely, as Costello and The Roots played at Brooklyn Bowl in New York in September.

As the concert closes with a bounding “Pump It Up,” I break loose to find my way out of the club and run into … Peter Shapiro! He’s seated, eating pizza, across from Jim Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden. This is the first, and only, moment in this entire escapade where we sample the delicious food from Brooklyn Bowl’s culinary partner, Blue Ribbon Restaurants (and during the night we did speed past Blue Ribbon co-founder Bruce Bromberg).

At that moment, Caesars Entertainment executive Jason Gastwirth showed up to say hello to, well, everyone. He shakes his head at the splendor of the venue, then asks, “How’s your night been?”

And I answer, in full honesty, “Sir, you do not have enough time.”

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