Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
514 Union Street, Gowanus
“Shuffleboard is like the man-bun of bar games,” I said to a friend as we made our way to this place after a long day of work. I won’t lie—I was being shitty. I was prepared not to like the Royal Palms, to find it too expensive, too twee, too full of people who take ironic pleasure in playing the games their grandparents enjoy down in Boca. But a funny thing happened as we walked from Smith Street toward Gowanus: any annoyance or anger I’d felt started to melt away. Maybe it was the cool, early evening air that held a promise of warmer days to come, or maybe it was the fingernail-thin crescent moon reflecting in the murky canal waters, but by the time we entered the brightly lighted, cavernous converted warehouse, I was feeling pretty good—and the lively space, decorated with old sports pennants, black-and-white-striped private cabanas, pink flamingo wallpaper in the bathrooms (handily labeled “Biscuits” for women and “Tangs” for men, after shuffleboard equipment), walls painted Tropicana Cabana blue, and 10 full-size shuffleboard courts only added to my good cheer. And, uh, the drinks helped too.
Although I was skeptical about the many fruit-based cocktails (some of them premixed and all served in Mason jars), I couldn’t bring myself to order anything that might, say, have an olive in it. Anything too salty or savory seemed sensorily dissonant in a place so vaguely tropical. And so I went with the not-too-sweet but very refreshing Shuffleboard Bob (gin, coconut water, cucumber syrup and lemonade) and also sampled the super-sweet Earl Ball (bourbon, black pepper, ginger, and a heavy dose of pineapple) and the smoky Jim Allen (Herradura tequila, mezcal and orange juice). Each cocktail was better than anything I’ve ever had in a Mason jar and perfectly complemented the excellent—and spicy!—sopes I ordered (two for only $7) from the Country Boys food truck stationed in a corner. (The Royal Palms will feature a steady rotation of food trucks, including Red Hook Lobster Pound and the Morris grilled cheese truck.)
And while I didn’t play shuffleboard that night, it was easy to imagine whiling away an evening with friends (a shuffleboard lane is $40/hour), sipping cocktails, and eating lobster rolls. The retro feel of the place isn’t at all heavy-handed; instead, it makes you nostalgic for the type of 60s cruise vacation that you imagine Don Draper used to go on, even though they probably only really exist in your imagination. Forget nostalgia, though. You don’t need it. The real thing is right there waiting for you at the Royal Palms.