Hidden Memphis: Big Daddy’s Bowling Alley [Photo Gallery]

February 28, 2013 2:06 pm18 commentsViews: 256

Did you know that there used to be a bowling alley under the Kroger at Poplar and Highland?

No? Me either.

Someone asked me about it last week, so I asked Twitter, and all of this asking led to a call from Kroger's PR team, inviting me to come check it out.

Big Daddy's Bowling, Memphis, Tenn.

Poplar Plaza (the shopping center that's home to the Kroger) was built in the late 1940s, with some additions built in 1960. Like many buildings at the time, there was basement space alloted for a fallout shelter. Not, mind you, that a basement 12 feet below ground would have done much good to protect you from nuclear fallout.

Once the threat of nuclear annihilation was no longer imminent, many of these spaces were converted for other use. The one below the Kroger opened as Big Daddy's Bowling Alley sometime in the 1970s (we think).

The bowling alley had 18 lanes, concession stands and locker rooms, and was, according to many locals who bowled there, a haven for underage drinkers as management allowed patrons to bring their own alcohol.

Here's a rough diagram of how the space was used:

Big Daddys Bowling diagram

There's not much information online about Big Daddy's, but I did find this Memphis Daily News article from 1996 heralding the opening of Laser Quest (now I feel old), that mentions that Big Daddy's had closed the year prior after a fire.

There's very little of Big Daddy's left currently. The scorers tables, furniture and hardwood bowling lanes are long gone, and the rest isn't far behind. Now that there is a brand new, larger Kroger opening in March in the same parking lot, Big Daddy's will be demolished (along with the old Kroger) to make way for more parking.

Here are some photos of what remains of Big Daddy's Bowling Alley.

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18 Comments

  • it was a fun place. have you seen the underground vault in the lower level of the new Gould's salon at Poplar/Highland? Neat that both places had these underground areas.

  • There's also underground space underneath the Party City on Poplar, in the same shopping center. You have to go down there to use the restrooms – it's dark and sort of creepy. You have to traverse a huge, open space to get to the bathrooms. No idea what it used to be. Just ask for restrooms and they'll direct you that way.

  • I spent many a late, late night there my freshman year at MSU.

  • It was open 24/7.  They would allow you to bring in a cooler of beer and age was never a problem.  Big Daddy's was always neck and neck with the Buccaneer in attracting the underage drinking crowd.  

  • I think it was on the left side as you face the Kroger???

    Also there was one at Getwell and Park in the middle in a basement. That may still be there also right now. 

  • Did you really have to put a filter on every single photo? It'd be nice to see how it actually looks! What a neat place.

  • I don't know when the bowling alley opened, but it was open and going stong in the 60s – also had pool and snooker tables.

    I spent many a Saturday afternoon there bowling with my grandfather.

  • A lot of the intramural bowling games from Memphis State were played there at Big Daddy's, and it got a bigger crowd as the night (and morning) wore on.  I asked someone about this the other day when I heard they were moving the Krogers and they had no idea, but we had many a fun night there when I was in college.

    The basements under Party City, Petco and Spin Street were part of the old Lowensteins and later Dillards buildings.  Dillards actually took 3 different adjoining buildings and knocked out the walls, so they had to put ramps and staircases to connect the floors that were not on the same levels.  The middle part (which is now the Petco) actually has a middle mezzanine level, so that was a four story building.

  • Yeah, It would have been nice to see what it really looks like without the filter. 

  • The one that used to be at Park & Getwell underground was were I learned to bowl. When you walked down stairs there was the main area & then they had a back room with more lanes. That’s been about 20 years ago. It was always such a cool place to me.

  • I think that before the Dillards took the whole area that is now Spin Street/Party City and Petco there was a J.C.Penny's in the area that is now Party City.  I had a flashback when I used the restroom at Party City – I think that JC Penny used the basement for retail space – my flash back was to material and sewing items – but that could be wrong.

  • That bowling alley was called The Plaza Lanes in the early to mid-sixties.  As high school students my friends and I bowled there and at The Imperial Lanes on Summer Avenue. I had never heard it called Big Daddy.  The name must have changed to Big Daddy after I went off to college.

  • Ok, the layout picture is completely wrong. You entered through the doors and there was a bar to the left and shoes were to the right. Very close to the layout of the Big Lebowski lanes. If you continued left past the bar, there were a few pool tables and the jukebox and like four or five video games. Ha, there was also a cigarette machine back near the entrance. Three bucks a pack. 

  • Thank you very much for posting these pictures. I have not been down there since the 80's as a small child. When I started bowling more seriously later on, it had just closed. I was curious if any of the vintage equipment was still there (guess not). Very cool about the 24/7 and BYOB; both aspects will be a lost art of sorts for future bowling establishments.

  • I remember the one on Park and Getwell. If memory serves, there was an escalator that went down to the lower level, and inside the crane coin-op machine were dirty toys, like a plush penis with a face on it called Mr. Dickie or something. As a 7 or 8 year old boy, that was quite shocking lol

  • There was NO escalator at Park Lanes…steep stairs to the right of Lilliard's Drug Store and also some stairs if you came in the back way by the Krystal's.

  • Buddy Thompson

    I told my kids about this place…was back in town recently with them and found out it was gone.  I was confused about the Kroger moving to the other building also

  • Reggie Riley

    I worked for Bigf Daddy's in the mid 80's . The center had 20 lanes . Behind the front desk was bingo and video poker machines that was known for paying cash. The MSU students would flock there on weekends and bring their coolers and drink until the sun came up. Big Daddy also had a bowling center in Northgate shopping center in Frasier which was also underneath a Kroger and around 6 pool halls. Park Lanes Had 30 lanes 20 in the front and 10 in the back.

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