In pursuit of the best bowling alleys in America
By Kristan Schiller
According to BowlingBalls.US, as many as 60 million Americans bowl at least once a year, which is not surprising when you consider the sport’s remarkable past and the fact that it’s an activity the whole family can enjoy together. Some anthropologists trace bowling’s origins to ancient Egypt as far back as 3200 BC, while the earliest known mention of bowling in America is by writer Washington Irving in his 1819 short story Rip Van Winkle. (The tale describes Rip awakening to the sound of “crashing ninepins.”) The first permanent American bowling site—purportedly created for lawn bowling—was located in Manhattan’s Battery Park, now the center of the financial district. To this day, New Yorkers call this tiny plot Bowling Green.
And so, the sport of bowling is alive and well in America; there’s even an International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas, which brings to life bowling’s colorful history through artifacts and interactive exhibits. Somehow, though, the best evidence of bowling’s staying power seems to be the plethora of crowded bowling alleys across the country. Following is a sampling of some of the best.
With its Northwoods theme, scent of spiced pumpkin and décor of wildlife taxidermy, you definitely know you’re in Wisconsin while at Castle Lanes. Despite the kitsch, Castle Lanes doesn’t skimp on quality. The alley features 24 state-of-the-art lanes, HDTVs and free Wi-Fi and iPod hookups. A major renovation was completed in May of 2008, drawing crowds from miles around. And Castle Lanes has an attraction you might not expect to find at a bowling alley: volleyball. The outdoor volleyball courts have over 1,200 tons of imported sand for your playing pleasure!
Brooklyn, New York
This timeless Brooklyn establishment draws everyone from screaming teens to yuppie moms to sweet silver-haireds. With its spinning disco ball, neon décor and R&B music blaring from ceiling speakers, the old-school atmosphere is the thing, here. There’s a vending machine and a dive bar with five TV’s. On weekends, Melody Lanes hosts “glow bowling” which is basically just as it sounds—bowling in the dark under glowing lights. The always-friendly staff is one of the hallmarks of Melody Lanes; Pete, the bartender, is a famous fixture in the neighborhood.
Gable House Bowl
From the solar panels that provide almost half their power to the recycling of forty tons of glass bottles per year, Gable House is one of the first “green” bowling alleys in the country. A popular meeting place for league bowlers, this bowling alley also houses an arcade and a snack bar and hosts live DJ’s on weekend evenings. On occasion, Gable House offers specials (posted on the website) where everything costs only .25 cents—the food, the game, everything!
Lucky Strike Lanes
In the heart of stylish South Beach and just a stone’s throw from the celeb magnet of Collins Avenue, this bowling alley features 14 regular lanes and six VIP lanes for those too chic to wait. In addition, there’s an area with pool tables, free Wi-Fi and a restaurant with an extensive menu. Open until 2 a.m. weekends, this is an adults-only venue after 9pm. Fun and festive, Lucky Strike is an ideal spot to bring friends for a dose of Miami merriment.
Flatbread Co & Sacco’s Bowl Haven
Founded in 1939, Sacco’s Bowl Haven is a Somerville institution with genuine candlepin bowling lanes and a cult following of local hipsters. In recent years, the joint has been taken over by the Flatbread Co., who has added clay ovens so you can conveniently munch on organic pizza while you bowl. Thankfully, they’ve preserved the low-tech bowling lanes (there are eight) and the nostalgic atmosphere. Ball returns here are powered by gravity and players still use a pencil and paper to keep track of the score.
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Kristan Schiller is a New York-based travel writer and blogger whose articles have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Fodor’s, as well as on Forbestraveler.com and Salon.com.