Scoot: A New Orleans icon known more to locals than tourists

Rock N Bowl 30th Anniversary

Scoot
November 01, 2018 - 4:03 pm
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The image of New Orleans is built on iconic people and places.  The French Quarter, Jackson Square, unique cemeteries, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Cajun-Zydeco music, hurricanes (the drink) and coffee and beignets are some of the iconic things that define New Orleans, but there is another place iconic to New Orleans that is known more by locals than tourists.

On November 1, 1988, a man named John Blancher was down on his luck, with no direction in his life and stressed about providing for his family.  He took a chance on a business that actually inspired other businesses across the country.  Thirty years ago today, Rock N Bowl was born in New Orleans.  Like the name suggests - its rock and bowl!

In need of something to change and lend direction to his life, John Blancher’s friend asked John, “Hey, John, looking for a business deal!  Wanna buy a bowling alley?”  To which John replied, “Bowling alley?  I don’t know anything about bowling!”  But with so little cash needed to actually buy a failing bowling alley in New Orleans, John Blancher was able to take what money he had and buy Mid City Lanes.  The owners of Mid City Lanes, which was just a bowling alley, were desperate to unload it and the perfect opportunity was there for John Blancher.

Since John didn’t know anything about bowling, but had experience in a catering business, he didn’t see a bowling alley - he saw an opportunity to create a venue that featured entertainment and fun for a young generation that reached well beyond bowling.  On November 2, 1989, a year and a day after buying the troubled bowling alley, John Blancher booked a local New Orleans band, Johnny J & The Hit Men, to play at the bowling alley and in doing so established a bowling alley with music people could dance too. 

The response was instantly overwhelming and a new entertainment concept was born.  John did not steal the idea from anyone else and as far as he knows, Blancher was the first in the country to fuse music and dancing with bowling.  Rock N Bowl suddenly turned going bowling into an entertainment destination for a young generation.  Traditional bowlers from other generations still went to Rock N Bowl, but there was no question that this was something new for young folks.  Many went just to “rock n roll,” while others went to “rock n bowl.”

The story of Rock N Bowl is also a story about religion.  To this day, John Blancher, a man of strong Catholic faith, credits a sign from the Virgin Mary for his decision to buy the bowling alley and for its subsequent success.

Before the opportunity to buy Mid City Lanes presented itself, John and his wife visited Medjugorje, a small town near the Yugoslavian border with Croatia.  It was at a church in this small European town in 1981, when a report surfaced of an apparition of the Virgin Mary.  The report of the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary were so believable that people from around the world began pilgrimages to Medjugorje in hopes of feeling or seeing the Virgin Mary. 

John Blancher and his wife were there with the hope that a blessing would be bestowed upon them at a low point in their lives.  After Rock N Bowl became an established entertainment destination in New Orleans, John reflected back and believes to this day that a petition he wrote and left asking for help in Medjugorje was answered by the chance opportunity to buy a failing bowling alley.  In the long hallway as you enter Rock N Bowl, a statue of the Virgin Mary mixes among memorabilia of New Orleans music legends who performed at the venue.

Once while visiting Chicago, John Blancher saw a bowling alley that was more than a bowling alley named Lucky Strike Lanes.  Blancher contacted the owner and said that he had a similar place in New Orleans. The owner of Lucky Strike Lanes, said to John, “You’re the guy who invented this!”  With zero knowledge that his concept had influenced anyone else, John knew then that he had inspired a revolution in bowling alleys in America.

Blancher’s family works closely with him and one thing he cherishes about going to work is that it means he is spending time with his family.  John is patriotic and started the tradition of performing the National Anthem before any band starts playing at Rock N Bowl and people pay attention. 

Consider the uniqueness of the setting:  it might be 10pm and people have been bowling all night long and many are having birthday parties or office parties, the band has been setting up and music has been playing on the sound system.  And then, before the band is set to play the first note - a video recording of John Blancher singing the National Anthem appears of the gigantic video screen that is the backdrop to the stage.  We are used to the National Anthem being played at the very beginning of something, but in the case of Rock N Bowl, the National Anthem appears to break the chaos.  And maybe that is the reason it stands out.

The story of John Blancher and Rock N Bowl in New Orleans is a story about faith, but it is also a story that confirms the old adage: the definition of luck is that moment when talent meets opportunity.

On its 30th anniversary, we are proud to share this story of another one of the many traditions that have been inspired by the culture of New Orleans.

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