Courtside in Gowanus: Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club

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A little piece of coastal Florida now resides on Union Street in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ashley Albert and Jonathan Schnapp opened the doors of their self-envisioned Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club on February 19. Only six weeks later it has become a destination for Manhattanites on the weekends and a welcome addition to Brooklyn’s array of day- and nighttime activities.

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Featuring 10 regulation-size shuffleboard courts in a beautifully appointed 17,000-square-foot expanse, the Royal Palms is that ideal meeting point of indoor and outdoor, just off a Brooklyn sidewalk.

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Ashley and Jonathan first glimpsed the idea in December 2011, while earning their certification as barbeque judges (Ashley’s holiday gift to Jonathan). Ashley grew up in Miami, and Jonathan also visited family in South Beach, where he would often play shuffleboard. While in Florida, they found a place where they could play in St. Petersburg—at the largest shuffleboard club in the world. They fell in love not only with the game but also with the beautiful, city-owned park that housed the courts. St. Petersburg hipsters would flock to the club on Friday nights to play, and even a bookmobile and veggie-hotdog cart would show up. Ashley and Jonathan immediately thought, what if they created a shuffleboard destination back home in Brooklyn?

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They came upon the perfect unused warehouse space in Gowanus as soon as March and serious planning began. Having made a number of new friends in the shuffleboard community since the initial idea formed (they both are now avid players: Ashley is the 68th-ranked shuffleboard female in the country, and Jonathan the 82nd-ranked male), the partners consulted with them about court dimensions and even received old equipment and homemade disk waxers.

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They hired designers for part of the design process, but mostly they masterminded the space themselves based on their own visual memories of Florida shuffleboard clubs. They produced a computer rendering and gave it to New York-based Greenlight Construction Management to recreate. “It’s uncanny how much the space looks like the rendering,” says Ashley. “[Greenlight] just nailed it.”

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In some ways, the inspiration for the look of Royal Palms did come from the world-renown St. Pete courts—the outdoor string lights that circumvent the center spaces pay homage to that spot—but really the aesthetic is a composite of Ashley’s memories of growing up in Miami, including deck chairs, black-and-white striped cabana awnings, and the pool-blue color she chose for the courts, which reflects off the white-washed ceilings much like a swimming pool would do. The feel is outdoor, poolside, while still being very much indoors, in Brooklyn.

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A vintage shuffleboard table is placed in the center of the large space to provide a communal surface for all kinds of board games and general hanging out. The poolside chairs are lightweight enough to be moved about in different configurations, much like at a pool club. The division into two separate court areas, each with its own bar, also facilitates special events, so that one half can always be kept open to the public. A fireproof room with a cutout window onto the space provides a spot for food trucks to pull up and serve food.

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Vintage biscuit baskets adorn wooden cubbies behind the reception desk. The baskets were donated by shuffleboard players around the country, but only after Ashley and Jonathan promised to replace them with new ones. Working with investors, the partners built replica baskets with the help of Makeville Studio in Gowanus (shown on the bottom shelf). Wicker lampshades above the bars and reception desk were found at Ikea. The counters are sided with cork and trimmed with black paint (picking up on the black accents of the ceiling fans, painted columns, and cabana awnings).

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Ashley gathered Florida memorabilia for behind the bar, such as the classic orange and green printed juice glasses that to her simply ring of the state, as well as vintage Florida State pennants to decorate the walls.

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The Pink Flamingo wallcovering in the bathrooms has been widely enthused about on Instagram. Ashley found it from a wallpaper company in England.

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Before taking down the dropped drywall ceilings to uncover the intricate, intact crisscross of wood beams, which they brightened with whitewash, the partners could not be sure what the visual outcome of Royal Palms would be. As Ashley notes, “The space has warmth to it that was unanticipated. It doesn’t feel creepy to be in here with only four people playing shuffleboard.” What once was a deserted dye-cutting factory, originally erected in 1919, now exudes lively sociability.

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Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club

Greenlight Construction Management

Makeville Studio 

Photographs by Michel Arnaud

Post by Anne Hellman