The Blancher family rolls out its new, multi-million-dollar Rock ‘N’ Bowl de Lafayette in downtown Lafayette this week.
The southwest Louisiana expansion of the popular New Orleans bowling alley/music venue officially opens Monday with a Mass at 5 p.m., followed by Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars at 7:30.
John Blancher’s New Orleans compound encompasses three separate buildings at the intersection of Carrollton Avenue and Earhart Boulevard: Rock ‘N’ Bowl, the restaurant Ye Olde College Inn and a new private event space.
Rock ‘N’ Bowl de Lafayette combines three similar facilities under one roof. From bowling balls that look like oversized pool balls to the snazzy lighting fixtures and the statue of the Virgin Mary that greets patrons, no detail was overlooked.
“It’s a first-class situation,” Blancher said of the new venture. “I may be biased, but there’s nothing close to it in the state of Louisiana.”
The Lafayette emporium’s main room can accommodate about 1,000 people, slightly more than the New Orleans Rock ‘N’ Bowl. But Blancher isn’t necessarily hoping for capacity crowds this week, as he’d like to ease into the operation.
For that reason, the in-house restaurant, the Sainte Marie, will open later, along with a second-floor ballroom for wedding receptions, Carnival balls and other private functions.
Blancher’s son, Johnny, who previously managed Ye Olde College Inn, moved with his family to Lafayette to build and oversee the expansion of the family business.
“He was the general contractor, he’s the general manager — he’s running the whole shebang,” John Blancher said.
In a change from the New Orleans Rock ‘N’ Bowl’s design, the Lafayette stage and dancefloor are in the middle of the bowling lanes, flanked by eight lanes on either side. Second-floor balcony suites overlook the dancers and band.
“Musicians will look up and see people in the rafters,” Blancher said. “When these guys see the venue, I think they’ll want to play there. It’s a dynamite place not only to see music, but to play it.”
Blancher has built a lucrative business, and an iconic New Orleans attraction, around bands playing music in a bowling alley.
In 1988, he bought a struggling, dilapidated bowling alley near Tulane and South Carrollton avenues in New Orleans. He eventually started booking bands, which turned the business around.
In 2009, following a dispute with his landlord, he shut down the original Rock ‘N’ Bowl and built a new one several blocks away in a former Helm Paint Co. warehouse. He also acquired a neighboring restaurant, Ye Olde College Inn. In June, he opened a private event space in a corner building that formerly housed a beauty supply shop.
Live music and bowling define the Rock ‘N’ Bowl brand, but its private event and catering business — birthday parties, office parties, holiday parties, etc. — is its bread and butter. Each December, the venue hosts more than 200 private functions.
Blancher didn’t anticipate operating more than one Rock ‘N’ Bowl.
“I was always hesitant,” he said. “I’ve been so hands-on, I could never figure how I’d be in two places at one time. But since my son became involved, he had a desire to expand the brand.”
After Hurricane Katrina, the Blanchers eyed Lafayette as a potential new market. Two or three deals fell through before Blancher bought the five-story, 56,000-square-foot building at 905 Jefferson St. for $2.5 million in December 2016, two years after Whitney Bank had moved out.
He spent another $2.5 million to transform the first two floors into a deluxe entertainment complex. Various commercial tenants rent offices on the third and fourth floors. The fifth floor, for now, is vacant.
“Everything I’ve got is invested there now,” Blancher said. “It’s a good thing I had a good year” at the New Orleans Rock ‘N’ Bowl.
Initially at least, the senior Blancher will book bands for Lafayette. Southwest Louisiana music will factor prominently in the mix — the New Orleans Rock ‘N’ Bowl has featured a weekly Zydeco Night on Thursdays for years — as will country music. “I think there’s more interest in country in Lafayette than in New Orleans,” he said.
Following Monday’s opening night with Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars — tickets are $10 — the music continues with Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas on Wednesday, Michael Juan Nunez with special guests Lil Buck Sinegal, Roddie Romero and C.C. Adcock on July 20, Ward Lormand & the Has-Beans on July 21 and Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners at 4 p.m. on July 22.
Cajun-pop singer/fiddler Amanda Shaw is booked on July 27, followed by Rockin’ Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters on July 28.
Blancher will be on hand for Monday’s opening and possibly for Wednesday’s first Zydeco Night. But come next weekend, he’ll be back in New Orleans at the flagship Rock ‘N’ Bowl, leaving Lafayette in Johnny’s hands. “It will be my son’s deal to handle.”