Bowling is a curious thing. There are some who just cannot take it seriously as a sport. I suppose there’s some logic to this, as far as the athleticism of it all goes. After all, when Homer Simpson is one of the most famous proponents of the game, that doesn’t say much for the athletic prowess needed.
When it comes right down to it, though, none of that really matters. The general appeal of bowling is how very accessible it is. You can go hyper competitive and shoot for cash prizes in tournaments and leagues, but you can also have some great fun on the lanes with friends.
Children are totally welcome to join the fun too, with guards on the lanes and the little chute to help that get that ball to the pins. Bowling is truly the E for Everyone of sports.
It’s a game you can take just as seriously as you like, because it’s so versatile. All of these factors have made bowling incredibly popular, with a whole variety of lanes all around the world. Some are smaller places incorporated in shopping malls and arcades, while others are as lavish as five star hotels (or even part of five star hotels themselves).
To stay true to that fun-first spirit, a lot of these alleys are totally nutso. Let’s check out some of the world’s most unusual and unique bowling alleys. From hilarious fish-themed alleys to lush mountain locations and bowling at the White House, there’s not going to be a dull moment in this rundown.
As a Londoner myself, I’ve noticed a huge trend for Americana in the capital of late. Classic USA diner experiences like Ed’s and Five Guys are cropping up everywhere, the burger-and-shake menu is more popular than ever. It’s just an irresistible aesthetic around here.
The All Star Lanes bowling franchise takes this theme and runs it right to the dang end zone. They have several establishments across London, each kitted out with classic retro USA art and such. That unmistakable vibe is everywhere in All Star Lanes, making it the very last word in ‘British’ bowling with a grilled cheese twist (yep, that is on the menu).
As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery. That classic hairstyle The Rachel was everywhere back in the nineties, during the heights of Friends fever, which is nothing but a compliment. Sometimes, though, you just need the original.
Let’s cross over to America itself, then, where Los Angeles plays host to a bowling alley which is classic USA in every sense of the term. As Los Angeles Eater reports, Highland Park Bowl is a building that was recently renovated. It’s now thoroughly in touch with its Prohibition-era roots, proudly displaying all manner of art and other doohickeys from the era. Just about everything from the time has been renovated or repurposed, making for a setting like no other.
The magnificent Highland Park Bowl may be pushing things to extremes, though. You don’t have to go all the way back to the late 1920s to get yourself a slice of vintage, authentic pie. Not at all.
Next up, we have the fantastic Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n Bowl. This New Orleans venue doesn’t let customers grind their own chuck, you understand, but that’s certainly on the menu. Good ol’ fashioned food, good ol’ fashioned scoring (no scoreboards here, pen and paper is the way to go) and a stage for nightly live music (which can be seen from all 18 lanes). What more could you ask for?
So, yes. As much as bowling can be seen as a fun-first sort of game, it’s also a sport. Quite an intense one at that, too. I guess it’s the same with something like soccer. You can be playing in the world cup, or you can be having a casual kick-around with your friends after school.
When it comes to bowling arenas that cater to both sorts of players, The Goodnight is up there with the best. This venue, in Austin, Texas, is kitted out with authentic, vintage lanes and balls. It also boasts a huge mural, depicting characters from various bowling-related realms. It’s a place for aficionados of the sport, but also provides a huge deck, with live music, pool tables and lounges for casual fans.
Ah, yes. Now this is how it’s done. As any traveller knows, it can be tough to find a hotel that truly stands out. My partner and I adore a quaint little family-run place on the English coast, which boasts differently-themed décor in every one of its rooms. That sort of old-fashioned charm is tough to find.
If that’s the sort of thing you’re into, bowling fans, you’re going to dig Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill. This Tacoma restaurant is fully dedicated to its underwater vibe (of course they serve seafood), to the extent that the ball returners are the mouths of sharks, crocodiles and such.
So, as I say, bowling provides ample opportunity for children to join in. With those guard rails to ensure that wayward shots still reach the pins, and chutes available for little ones to roll the ball down, there’s never really a need for children to be excluded.
The Ten Paw Alley embraces this concept to the fullest. Located at Great Wolf Lodge, Concord, NC (with other branches across the country), Ten Paw Alley is designed with family fun in mind.
The bowling balls and lanes are reduced in size, and no special bowling shoes are required. Adults may experience an odd Gulliver in Lilliput sort of feeling, but that’s to be expected.
As I say, then, I’m a huge fan of unusual places that adopt a theme and stick with it. With all the big, charmless chains in the world, it’s always great to find an independent business that goes all the way.
The Mine Shaft Bowling Alley, of One Ski Hill Place, Colorado, certainly achieves this. It’s a private alley with only two lanes, free for guests of the resort to access. It’s all wood, Ye Olde-style mining lanterns and general nostalgia. I’m not sure how the idea for this sort of thing came about, but I’m certainly all over it.
Next up on our world tour of the most curious bowling alleys you’ll find anywhere: France. In Paris stands the Bowling Mouffetard, a place of great mystery and intrigue.
A place of contrasts, too. On the one hand, it’s a quirky location for children’s birthday parties, fully equipped with all the entertainment you’d expect of such. At the same time, though, there’s quite an intense vibe about the Mouffetard. There’s a powerful sense of the eighties about it, with its dramatic lighting, along with security patrols to ensure that nobody is drinking on the lanes (and to enforce the place’s famous ‘no hats’ rule).
As a huge fan of going to the movies, I often have to try and explain my enjoyment to non-believers. It’s about more than just the film itself, but the experience as a whole. It’s often as super pricey experience, granted, but it’s one that I love to treat myself to.
The same is true of some of the world’s most impressive bowling alleys. You’re not just there to bowl, you’re there to enjoy the ambience and everything else. Los Angeles’s XLanes does everything else like nobody else, offering an extensive arcade, pool, karaoke, darts and more in one super-fun venue.
That’s the key to this whole thing, in my eyes. It’s curious, how going bowling and bowling can signify two different things, but it really does. As I said in the last entry, you’re not there just to bowl. This is why alleys tend to be connected to shopping arcades and malls. While the bowling may be the main event, there’s much more on offer too.
The Manhattan Superbowl in Sydney, Australia is just as much a nightclub as it is an alley. As such, there are theme nights offering a whole eclectic range of music to enjoy. A world class experience.
Crossing back over to London now, to the heart of Piccadilly Circus. The area is known for its many big (and fairly darn expensive, much of the time) businesses, as well as some truly lavish hotels. One of these is the Ham Yard Hotel, a five star establishment just a minutes from the centre.
Needless to say, such a beautiful setting has a dang impressive bowling alley to match. It’s a 1950’s original imported from Texas, and it’s proud of its roots. So much so, the walls are adorned in all sorts of antique bowling memorabilia. It’s a fantastic place.
Now, the Ham Yard Hotel and its magnificent collection is one thing. However, maybe you’re one of those super-rich high-fliers who turn their noses up at those sorts of experience. For those with a bank balance that rivals Kanye West’s, only the very pinnacle will do. In which case, feast your eyes on the Ritz-Carlton of Riyadh.
This Saudi Arabian hotel is just pure decadence. The décor is impeccable, with absolutely no expense spared. The resort is also home to the Strike Bowling Alley, a big, bold, family-friendly alley that serves smoothies and mocktails. US diner-style food is also served.
We’re setting the bar pretty dang high right here, friends. Pretty dang high indeed. The Ham Yard Hotel? The Riyadh Ritz-Carlton? You don’t even understand how far out of my league we’re going here.
Even with all of that said, though, there’s always something more you can do. Something more indulgent, more impressive. With that in mind, how about a spot of bowling at the White House itself?That’s right. According to Concrete Playground, an overnight stay at the White House costs around $400 per night. For this not-so-princely sum, you also gain access to one of the building’s two bowling alleys. It is, of course, appropriately decked out in red and blue, with all kinds of patriotic paraphernalia.
So, yes. We’ve seen some magnificent buildings over the course of this rundown, there’s no doubt about that. The sheer scope of them, the scale of them, the pure decadence of them… it’s truly impressive.
Having said that, there’s one thing that’s even more impressive: when nature herself puts on a show for us.
Pontresina, Switzerland is home to the glorious Grand Hotel Kronenhof. In this 19th century Neo-Baroque building, you can bowl against a phenomenal backdrop of the Engadine Mountains and Bernina Glaciers. Extravagant Swiss delicacies are served while you do so, naturally, making for a phenomenal and incomparable experience.
Personally, I’m quite new to the whole concept of cruising. My wife-to-be has always loved this sort of vacation, but I was only convinced to join her on my maiden cruise last year. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m eagerly awaiting my next cruise in August.
Why am I telling you this? Because some of the mod cons that these vast ships come equipped with are just extraordinary. The Norwegian Cruise Line has a classy bowling alley in its Bliss Ultra Lounge, one of the very few opportunities to enjoy this great sport at sea. Something for cruise fans to keep in mind.
Well, dang. If you’re not a fan of bright, pulsing lights, you might have to pass on this one. If you don’t have any issues with neon, though, you’ve got to check this one out.
Another of London’s biggest bowling attractions, Queens, Queensway has an atmosphere all its own. It’s one of more competitive bowlers, again, but it also offers features unlike any other alley. One of these is its ice rink, and the ice karting races that are held there! MeatLiquor are also on hand to ensure that your refreshments are up to standard. This one is truly unique.
On our way through this rundown of some of the planet’s greatest bowling alleys, we’ve identified all kinds of factors that make alleys worthy of the name. The facilities play a part. As does the setting and location itself. Unusual attractions and non-bowling entertainment is important too (did I mention those ice karting races?).
Sometimes, though, you want to go for a simple, grand gesture. How about simply being flat-out declared the biggest bowling alley in the world? In 2009, Bowling Digital reports, this honour was bestowed upon Japan’s Inazawa Grand Bowl.
The alley boasts 116 consecutive lanes on one floor, with no supporting pillars. It occupies a total space of over 182,000 square feet!
We’ve already spoken about the appeal of all things ‘classic USA.’ All around the world, you see gleaming white-and-red diners playing classic rock and serving burgers and fries, with jukeboxes and portraits of Elvis on the walls. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and we all like to try and keep these priceless old times alive.
For that truly authentic experience, Montana’s Silver Dollar Saloon is a tough one to top. It’s a genuine old-style saloon through and through, offering shuffleboard, darts and a fantastic Western-themed bowling alley. It’s fantastic.
Are the barstools designed as saddles? You’d better believe they are, partner.
What is it about Los Angeles that makes it such a bowling hotspot? I couldn’t really tell you, but part of it must be the draw of the celebrity connection. Everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of celebrity culture, and these people have a huge influence on our lives. They’re attracted to these huge, lavish places, and so, in turn, are we.
Pinz is another LA bowling alley, in the Hollywood Hills. The star-studded Pin Wall of Fame is covered with signatures from the rich and famous, who frequent the place for its incredible production values. The sound system, screens and other entertainment are absolutely state of the art here, as you’d expect.
Naturally, a game as popular as bowling has been over the ages has seen some variations. New takes on the idea. Some have taken off in their own right, such as the interesting duckpin bowling. In this take on the game, then pins are much smaller than those used in ten-pin bowling, as is the ball (a little larger than a softball). The bowler also gets three bowls per frame, in contrast to the two allowed in standard bowling.
The definitive place to enjoy this take on the game is Indy’s Atomic Duckpin Bowling in Indianapolis. It’s located on two dedicated floors of the Fountain Square Theatre Building, offering vintage lanes for children and adults and an impressive display of vintage bowling equipment and memorabilia.