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

Posted by Holly Whitfield | February 28th 2013 10791 0

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.

Show Comments


  1. Adrienne says:

    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.

  2. S says:

    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.

  3. Smackie Chan says:

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

  4. Neil says:

    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.  

  5. Jake says:

    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. 

  6. Crystal says:

    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.

  7. Bob says:

    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.

  8. Fr. Mike says:

    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.

  9. Damon says:

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

  10. Shelby says:

    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.

  11. Carla says:

    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.

  12. Steve Black says:

    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.

  13. Brian says:

    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. 

  14. lg says:

    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.

  15. Aaron says:

    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

  16. Burt Stigler says:

    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.

  17. Buddy Thompson says:

    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

  18. Reggie Riley says:

    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.

  19. David says:

    I bowled on a youth league at Big Daddy's in the mid to late 80's. Best place to bowl in Memphis, hardwood lanes, friendly staff, best prices; lots of great memories. Would love to see better quality pics, both new and old. All I have are my different team pics. 


  20. Mike Caldwell says:

    Reggie, you might remember me. I worked for Poplar Plaza Lanes / Big Daddy's until 1989 and still bowled there on the Tuesday Night Men's League until 1992. Sad to see it all gone now. Fond memories. You worked BD at Northgate Lanes.

  21. Bill Cox says:

    I bowled at Big Daddy's many times and always enjoyed it.  I also worked at the other undergrouind  bowling alley, Park Lanes, while attending Memphis State during early 90's.  I believe it was closed in the mid 90's.

    It was underneath a shopping center just like Big Daddy's and to my knowledge there never was an escalator only stairs.  There were 20 lanes in the front and 10 lanes in the back which we called the "Elvis Room".  Story has it that Elvis rented the room in the back once for a private party.  I'm not sure if this is true or not but the bowling ball and rental shoes he supposedly used were spray painted gold and displayed on the wall.

    I really miss Park Lanes, I have a lot of fond memories of bowling and working there.

  22. Mike Caldwell says:

    Paul "Big Daddy" Daddy, who passed away in 2001, once ran PPL for several years. I think back in the mid/late 50's/early 60's before Landon Cromwell, who passed away in 2008 and was working for Imperial Lanes at the time of his death, ran it back in the mid/late 60's until Turner Carpenter owned it before selling it back to Big Daddy who again ran it in the mid/late 80's/mid90's until it's demise due to fire. I worked for all of them at one time or another. I bowled, worked on the pin setters, drilled balls, oiled the lanes, you name it. I was around some of the greatest bowlers in Memphis during this time and had fond memories. I love to bowl and this was my house. I also bowled some at Park Lanes, and Imperial Lanes too. Sad to see them all go. If you want to know anything else about PPL lanes I bet I can tell you. There were 20 lanes with manual score tables, a big game room with many 8' pool tables. I bowled a 300 sanctioned game with an old house ball Brunswick Black Diamond in league play in 1988 on the Tuesday Night Men's league which later became the Dave Stinnett Memorial (Big Dave worked the counter for Big Daddy and had passed away suddenly).

  23. Lisa W says:

    Yeah, my parents were on leagues there in the early 60's.  I also remember going there as it was used for a Tornado Shelter.  Remember that bowling alley well!

  24. Chuck Johnson says:

    we would travel to Park lanes from Little Rock, Arkansas for the regional tournaments in the 1970's. We were Junior bowlers at the time and enjoyed bowling that tough house shot there. I often wonder what happened to all those guys. How many are still bowling league? I still am!

  25. Waynoka John says:

    Yes, there was a lot of kids running around in there drinking. Had a decent sized pool hall in there as well. It was my main reason for going. There was a fire in the late 80’s that shut it down. Also, there was an eye dr’s office on the corner right by the stairs that led down to Big Daddy’s.

    I guess that Kroger store is gone by now. Shame. That’s the first place I went when i first moved to Memphis. Biggest store I’d ever seen in my life. Cheap beer and it was sold on Sunday. Things have changed a lot since 1982.

  26. Todd says:

    My friends and I used to frequent most (if not all) of the Big Daddy’s establishments around Memphis in the mid/late eighties and early ninties. I guess we were some of those underage drinkers, but I never remember carrying booze into that place or any of the others. I think we were always lit by the time we arrived. There was another one also with a bowling alley, pool hall and arcade in the basement of Northgate shopping center in Frayser–Memphis’ first “suburb.” It was around when that neighborhood was still barely suitable for the working class. My friends and I used to meet up there after I/we finished our shifts at McDonald’s across the street until the late hours. The other Big Daddy’s that I can remember were on Frayser Blvd., on Navy Rd. in Millington, and on Covington Pike in Raleigh. I have been to them all at one time or another. I don’t seem to recall any others.

  27. Ken Spencer says:

    Big daddy’s closed or got shut down because they had gambling machines​ or card games that they payed off on & the owner had been warned before and the machines were taken out, but he had them put back in. Anyway they paid off a few OCU officers and got closed down for gaming.

  28. Ken Spencer says:

    Big daddy’s got shut down in the early 90’s I believe. The owner was called Big Daddy & he was closed down for gaming. They had a lot of card machines in there and they’d pay you off. They were like the machines they have in casinos like Royal flush and etc. They got busted by MPD & I believe they had been warned before so they shut them down.

  29. Mark Johnson says:

    Hi Holly, I worked at Kroger #188 from 1980 to 1997. I was in Big Daddy’s countless times. Also there was a just-as-big basement under Kroger to the east, next to Big Daddy’s. It was all part of the old Fortner Furniture store that was next to Kroger until Kroger took FF over and expanded in 1981, and that other space was used for storage, like the huge Poplar Plaza Christmas decorations, etc. I believe all of that basement space got filled in and paved over when they destroyed my old Kroger store and built the new one a few years ago, over where the old Peking Chinese restaurant was. Email me with any questions. I remember BD like it was yesterday. I am a wealth of knowledge about Memphis from the 60s through the 80s. And earlier. I’d be happy to talk to you. Thanks! Mark

Leave a Comment


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Resources for Travelers.