Documentary depicts legendary Melody Lanes bartender Peter Napolitano

Pete Napolitano has been shaking it up behind the bar at Sunset Park’s Melody Lanes for more than three decades.
Photo by Chris Bernabeo

“It’s me, but it’s an illusion.” 

Peter Napolitano, an iconic longtime bartender at Sunset Park’s Melody Lanes bowling alley, took his beloved euphemisms to the silver screen — starring in a documentary showcasing the unique person that neighbors have come to love.

“If you create something and creative people embrace it, that’s the reason you did it for,” the bartender of over three decades said. “You are going to make someone smile, you are going to make somebody think, you are going to maybe give someone a new page for themselves to be creative now. Period. Period. Period.”

“The Magnitudinous Illuminous” is a 12-minute film by Maya Tippett and Rachel Mills that took the pair of filmmakers five years of their spare time to create before releasing the work on Vimeo in 2020. The pair starting the project in 2015 after both being regulars at the bar inside the Fifth Avenue bowling alley, one of only a handful left in Brooklyn, where Napolitano was a mainstay. 

“It took us a long time, we both had full time jobs, so we just did it when we could,” Tippett told Brooklyn Paper. “Most people become mesmerized by him, and we were part of this group of people that would show up every week, and we weren’t there to bowl, we were there to just listen to Pete…he was the focus of why we went.” 

The documentarians said they were one of a number of patrons that didn’t go to Melody Lanes to bowl, but rather, to drink, as the illustrious bartender built a following with his words of advice and made-up jargon. His personality is magnetic, said Tippett and Mills. 

“I never made it past the bar essentially because I saw this guy with coke bottle glasses with suspenders, and he seemed like such a throwback,” Mills said.”I just got mesmerized by him.” 

They eventually decided to capture the eccentric bartender on film, so everyone could get a taste of Pete without having to make the trip out to Sunset Park.  

“He’s just like a character out of a movie,” Tippett said. “We wanted people to fall in love with Pete the way that we did, and just sort of have this experience with this guy.”  

“We wanted to give someone who has never been to this bowling alley the feeling and experience of having gone there, like a night at the bowling alley, that evolved into something a little bit more than they expected,” Mills said.

As the pair set off on this mission, they had to convince Napolitano to agree to be filmed, which the pair say took him a little while to warm up to. Once he did, the rest was history. 

“It took a really long time for him to trust us, I think,” Tippett said. “We would schedule a day of the shoot…then he would happen to be sick. Eventually, once he opened up to us, he was like come on over!” 

Napolitano tries to inspire others to use their creativity as he considers himself a fellow creative, having been a drummer in Brooklyn bands for decades — but now the drink-slinger says he “doesn’t need an instrument to perform.”

“I really think it’s about getting in touch with one’s creativity in whatever shape or form it is,” Mills said. “And that’s really what he is about as well and really really brings that out in people.”

Maya Tippett and Rachel Mills filmed Napolitano for five years before releasing their documentary on him.Photo by Chris Bernabeo

“Every creative person, this is dedicated to them, the entire network of who you are gets channeled to one place,” Napolitano said. “Creative people to me have a signature of slowing time down which is nothing more than a representation of the availability of creating something that has resonance.”

He keeps a book of sayings — written in what looks like code to everyone except him — that he’s added to throughout his life to help others channel their talents, and that he uses on the bar’s patrons to motivate them. 

“I could write a little bit but these are soliloquies for me, these are the equations I have created for myself to lead a creative life, all these signs and symbols have something to do with getting to the place of awareness,” Napolitano said. “Myself started to relate to other people, which I didn’t really realize how much it was relating to other people.” 

Napolitano doesn’t have any children but he hopes to have left his mark on his slab of Brooklyn by having encouraged others to unleash their talents to the world, and he’s already lovingly missed by many as he hasn’t been behind the bar since before the pandemic. 

“When you deliver what you have within yourself, and someone you don’t know responds to it and you put a smile on their face all you have to do is reach one person, and the responsibility you have now to continue what you do, should never be a burden within,” Napolitano said in the documentary. “That’s the honor, that’s the greatness, that’s the magnitudinous illuminous — words I made up that I can’t spell but I really think that it means something really good.”