Down the hall lined with photos of famous patrons, in the west-side building at the Broadmoor, the city's most expensive bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon waits to be ordered at Play. I don't know that's true, actually, but really: How many bowling alleys have the balls to trade you one for almost six bucks?
Of course, that whole section of the menu, the PBR/Bud Light/Coors section, seems to only exist because there was a box to be checked off. What the latest six-lane expansion from the world-famous hotel really wants to sell you is wine from a list where bottles top out at $180, or liquor-laced milkshakes for $11.75, or $24 fried chicken wrapped in faux copies of the Gazette.
And though it's hard to hate on the latter two — our orders were superb — just know that when the hotel writes, "Finally, a bowling alley with a decent wine list," they're probably not talking to you, dude. Additionally, whether you roll on Shabbos or not, you'd better roll fast: One lane for up to six people costs $50 per hour, and shoes are another $5 each.
Tying the room together
But you probably won't breach the dividing wall with the embedded fireplace to actually bowl, because the main part of Play is a restaurant ready-made for a board meeting. There are so many studded chairs, wood-paneled columns and vintage chandeliers that a merger agreement can't be far behind. Even the thick, leather-bound menu is tabbed like a folder.
Oddly, Play still tries to trade on its name by throwing in some cheap-looking glassware, like red-swirled water cups and tiki glasses. Sometimes, the whole thing comes off like an oppressive-feeling Red Robin on the Titanic.
All that said, the menu by 34-year-old executive chef Justin Miller rarely misses. Whether a serving of matzo ball soup ($7) so clear and clean you could read the date on a dime at the bottom of the bowl, or bright red cubes of poke ($11) made from ahi tuna and laced with soy and Sriracha, his food often sings.
Especially that fried chicken. Marinated in buttermilk and slow-cooked, the free-range bird's breast, drumstick and thigh are so rich with salty juices that they literally burst from each bite, while the nearly see-through crust covers each curve like a paper shell. I've never had better.
"We wanted to really go after some American classics and put our own 'play' on it," says Miller, a former sous chef at the Penrose Room who's also responsible for overseeing dining at the West Lobby Bar and what's left of Charles Court. "You can see quite a bit of [that dynamic] there, with the burgers, the sliders, the hot dogs, the popcorn, french fries, [and] flat breads."
The Play Burger ($15) is definitely an enthusiastically delicious creation — with moist, house-ground beef; almost-caramelized shredded short-ribs; and Tillamook cheddar — while the crab-cake sliders ($15) set a new high for comfort food. Full of rich, Maryland lump crab, the warm rounds laced with stone-ground mustard are paired with Old Bay mayonnaise and buttery, pillow-soft brioche buns.
Strikes and gutters
As for cocktails, they're killer. The Harvest Old Fashioned ($11.75), with its house-made cinnamon bitters mixed with Leopold Bros.' New York Apple Whiskey, nearly changed my life. The Bailey's-and-whiskey-laced Frozen Irishman shake ($11.75), sporting ice cream from Colorado City Creamery, is similarly affecting, and Play also deserves credit for its impressive list of Rocky Mountain spirits.
As with the array of bright orange, purple and red bowling balls, a few holes can be found in the food, though. The restaurant was out of the Tuna, Avocado, Green Apple Inside Out sushi roll, so we tried a smoked-trout Colorado Roll ($10) that had a weird, chewy density to it that makes me think either the rice or the nori isn't dialed in yet. Meanwhile, the salt-and-vinegar fries ($6) were just a soggy lump, while an otherwise good, health-focused seven-layer dip ($8) put its slices of turkey unobtainably at the bottom of the pile.
Still, ringlets of tender fried calamari ($11), with the lightest crust, are deeply impressive; the Thai Coconut Curry Chicken ($12) takes almost-pink, charbroiled chicken to an art form; and the cheesecake trifle ($9) is nearly too pretty to eat.
"I think everybody hears 'bowling alley' and they always relate [it] to pre-made pizzas and burgers," says Miller. "And we're showcasing homemade, skilled product, [where] everything is made in-house, down to the barbecue sauce. We're doing everything as true as we would in an environment like Penrose."
And if this translates into a gourmet experience at the table, maybe you won't care that it does the same on your bank statement.