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Mr. T's Bowl, Highland Park's Last Live Music Venue, Is Getting a Makeover

Mr. T's Bowl Parking Lot Entrance
Mr. T's Bowl Parking Lot Entrance
Photo by Art Tavana

It's official: The 1933 Group, who "design and build fancy drinkeries" in L.A., will soon be remodeling Mr. T's Bowl in Highland Park into the new and more glamorous "Highland Park Bowl." 

"At Highland Park Bowl, we plan on continuing the legacy of live music when it was Mr. T's," says Dimitri Komarov, co-owner of the 1933 Group. "We'll be restoring the original eight vintage bowling lanes and will bring the space back to its original glory when it was Highland Park Bowl."

Mr. T's has been shut down since January (when the property was sold). However, local promoters, such as Top 40, been have renting the space and booking shows, such as a KXLU-hosted event on Sunday, which included a set by local garage-punk band Spaceships. Joel Jerome's Bowling Alley Tour also had a show at Mr. T's on July 29.

The venue's license has yet to be transferred to the 1933 Group, which means Mr. T's (as we know it) could still technically host shows before the 1933 Group begins work on its vintage cool, Americana redesign. But for now, Mr. T's is trashier than ever.

Mr. T's Bowl during a soundcheckEXPAND
Mr. T's Bowl during a soundcheck
LA Weekly

The 1933 Group is bringing a much-needed proper music venue back to Highland Park, which now relies mostly on surrounding neighborhoods like Cypress Park, Eagle Rock, Glendale, Echo Park and Silver Lake for live music. Highland Park Bowl, scheduled to open next summer, will be the biggest music venue in Highland Park—one of L.A.'s coolest neighborhoods. It's also going to be a bowling alley again, something Mr. T's abandoned in the late '80s.

It's also no longer going to be the smelly punk joint that began booking shows in the early '90s, the place that served wine in a box while bands like Thee Tee Pees and The Mormons played in the dark, illuminated only by a tacky strobe-light. For all those reasons, Mr. T's was a Highland Park gem. 
For a while, it seemed like the Church on York (which booked its first show in November of 2013) was going to be the new home for punk in Northeast L.A. In less than a year, the Church managed to book hardcore bands like Iceage, and on Valentine's Day, they scored the final Vivian Girls show in L.A.

But in May, the Church was forced to close down after the city's zoning administration denied the necessary permits. Today, the checkered floor of Café NELA, the current punk and hardcore haunt for Northeast L.A., has become the unofficial successor of Mr. T's. However, Café NELA is located in nearby Cypress Park, not Highland Park.

At the same time the Church was being pushed out, the York bar was issued strict warnings by the LAPD to stopping staging live shows. The York no longer books bands. The truth is that Highland Park is a neighborhood filled with families and middle-aged hipsters seeking a more tranquil existence away from Echo Park and Silver Lake. The old guard would like to keep Highland Park as quiet as possible.

As a result, Highland Park has had to rely on places like All Star Lanes in Eagle Rock and Complex in Glendale, as well as local records stores like Permanent and Mount Analog for live music — all of whom continue to support the local D.I.Y. scene by booking and promoting local acts. 

L.A. punk band Shark Toys performing at Permanent Records in July
L.A. punk band Shark Toys performing at Permanent Records in July
Courtesy of Permanent Records

It remains to be seen whether the 1933 Group will abandon the punk spirit of Mr. T's for a more upscale bowling alley, with all the chic decor you'd expect from a group responsible for the Thirsty Crow in Silver Lake. But with Highland Park's first drive-thru Starbucks opening next month, and the city's gritty dive bar roots — housed formerly in spaces like Mr. T's and the Church on York — being washed away, Highland Park is becoming less "anti-Hollywood" by the day. 

The next Echo Park?
 That's the hype, but the reality is that Highland Park doesn't seem to want all the noise associated with being a hub for local music. Then again, maybe that's what the residents of Highland Park want — to be away from it all.

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