The bowling strike might be the single most gratifying sporting sound that most of us ever get to enjoy. Just about anyone can, at least once in a while, get an 11-pound ball to hit that first pin just right, setting off a wonderfully destructive and noisy domino effect.
There are dozens of bowling options around the Twin Cities. But picking the right bowling alley for your personality and mood on a given night can be a bit like finding the right ball: You wander around for a while and check the feel of a few different ones — “Oh, this one’s pink!” — until finally your fingers slip right into the holes, a perfect fit. To help you figure out where you belong, Vita.mn dispatched teams of amateur bowling critics to eight different spots around the Twin Cities.
After all, bowling is a chance to indulge your inner troublemaker. Thankless and tireless machines have taken the time to tidy up after the people who came before you, carefully setting up pins, each in its place. Do your worst.
Town Hall Lanes5109 34th Av. S., Mpls. • 612-767-3354 • www.facebook.com/pages/Town-Hall-Lanes
Go here if… you live in south Minneapolis. Like, way south. Once there, you’ll find a 10-lane joint that’s family friendly (in-house root beer!), with bright lighting and a generally cheery wait staff. As you roll, you’ll take note of the nostalgic-themed signs along the back wall, urging you to follow through and, of course, to drink beer. The family approach comes with a bit of a curfew: A sign posted near the lanes warns that no first frames of bowling can start after midnight. If you make it that deep into the night, scoot over to the taphouse side of the building, where they’ll continue to serve Town Hall Brewery’s standbys, seasonals and guest brews.
Flaherty’s Arden Bowl1273 W. County Rd. E, Arden Hills • 651-633-1777 • www.flahertysbowl.com
Go here if… your uncle is in town. Especially if he’s Irish. Flaherty’s is the kind of place that previous generations of Minnesotans will recognize visiting in their youth — indeed, it might actually be the same place. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the alley lays claim to being the oldest family-owned bowling establishment in the country. That history is depicted in the alley’s backdrop, where a series of black and white (admittedly, mostly white) photos capture scenes of fellows hanging out from days gone by. The same scenes can be found still today, with a high rate of mustaches and baldness signaling guys taking a night off from their families. There’s no music, so you’ll have to content yourself with the sounds of clattering pins and chattering bowlers, including a lot of sarcastic clapping. Your uncle loves that kind of humor.
Bryant Lake Bowl
810 W. Lake St. Mpls. • 612-825-3737 • www.bryantlakebowl.com
Go here if… you dress better than you bowl. Let’s be honest: BLB is probably not ready to host a Professional Bowling Association event. With chipped balls, slightly warped lanes and the occasional mechanical failure, 300 is more likely to be your bar tab than your score. But what it lacks in bowling bona fides is more than made up by its style. Servers are quick on their feet, and even quicker with a joke. The food is on par with anything in Uptown. Also important, and undeniable: BLB attracts the attractive and lures the alluring, and just about everyone’s in the mood to chat. A bit of smack talk with the neighboring group can lead to some friendly, flirty competition. You’ll be handed a plain white sheet and a half-pencil to keep score. Pretend you don’t know how, and ask someone nearby for help. That one always works.
Elsie’s Restaurant, Bar and Bowling Center729 NE. Marshall St., Mpls. 612-378-9701. www.elsies.com
Go here if… your best score is higher than your weight. Elsie’s is a bowler’s bowling alley, the kind of stripped-down space that makes even the amateurs want to button on a shirt with a nickname sewn into the breast pocket. Elsie’s features serious league bowling – sanctioned by no less than the United States Bowling Congress, which apparently exists — and some pretty competitive non-league games from its regulars. People come here to score big, so don’t be surprised if the scoreboards around you start filling up with X’s. If you don’t want to watch others succeed, there’s going to be some kind of ball game on the TV next to your scoreboard. If you don’t want to bowl at all, you can retreat to the backroom bar, where you can trade a game of skill for one of chance and try your hand at pull tabs while the colliding pins next door acting as a soothing audio backdrop.
Memory Lanes2520 26th Av. S., Mpls. • 612-721-6211 • www.memorylanesmpls.com
Go here if… You have a split personality. After all, so does this place. Most nights, Memory Lanes is a standard, classic bowling hall, with all the trappings. Its 30-lane facility is bright and spacious, with plenty of room to separate the serious bowlers from the one-timers and screwoffs. The “Flashback Café” serves typical diner-style fare. (The sandwich portion of the menu proudly associates itself with the “Hormel” logo; do with this information what you will.) But, among the young set, Memory Lanes is probably best known for the times when it cuts loose. Every Monday is “Punk Bowl” night, where loud, aggressive bands take up the center lanes and provide a hardcore soundtrack for the night’s bowlers. To some, all that noise might be a distraction. Bowlers with a wild side might find it’s just what they’ve been looking for.
Ran-Ham Bowling Center490 Hamline Av. S., St. Paul • 651-698-0252 • www.crnook.com
Go here if… you prefer charm to class. Just a few years back, there was word that this St. Paul institution might have to close down. Instead, the eight-lane gem was taken over by the owners of its upstairs neighbor bar, Casper and Runyon’s Nook. Bowling here is cheap and popular — on a recent weekend night, each of the eight lanes went from empty to full in 30 minutes. It’s mostly families, but area college kids can also get their kicks thanks to its dive-y vibe and its cheap prices. The bar area off to the side is not for the claustrophobic, with small groups packed in like bowling shoes along the wall. Scores are kept on a big, manual sheet, one that suggests you’ll be sticking around for more than a couple games.
Midway Pro Bowl1556 University Av. W., St Paul • 651-646-1396 • www.midwayprobowl.com
Go here if… you can’t quite figure out if you live in Minneapolis or St. Paul. This alley is easy to miss on your first pass. Wedged into a strip mall location, just next to a Walgreen’s drug store, customers traipse down a flight of stairs to find 32 lanes available. The staff is pleasant but firm as they remind amateurs to please be mindful of the league bowlers nearby. The non-league crowd here is an interesting mix. Young punk girls with lots of makeup stroll past dads taking young boys out for the night. Black and white families bowl side-by-side. As with other nearby University Avenue. businesses, the alley looks forward to the eventual opening of the light rail line. Until then, Midway is encouraging people to put up with the construction headache by offering $2 games every weekday before 6 p.m.
Park Tavern3401 Louisiana Av. S., St. Louis Park • 952-929-6810 • www.parktavern.net
Go here if… you want to play “Choose Your Own Suburban Adventure.” For the city hipster, this brush with honest-to-God flannels and styled goatees might seem like a sociology class. Park Tavern is sports-centric, and the game or games are never far from one’s field of vision: Bowlers can choose to watch from any of five flat-screen TVs posted on the lanes. Off to the right is the “11th Frame” bar, with its pool tables, dart boards and a crowd loud enough to drown out the bowling. Near the entrance is a large, separate sports bar with booths and high-backed chairs. Customers have to choose which of those spots is preferable to purchase beverages, as Park Tavern doesn’t send servers out for bowlers. As for food, expect something that’s either fried and covered in cheese and/or barbecue sauce. You’ll need a napkin before it’s your turn.
MORE BOWLING ALLEYSAMF Earle Brown Lanes: 6440 N. James Circle, Brooklyn Center. 763-566-6250.
AMF Saxon Lanes: 61 W. Little Canada Rd., Little Canada. 651-484-6501.
AMF Southtown Lanes: 7941 Southtown Center, Bloomington. 952-888-9248.
Brunswick Zone XL: 12200 Singletree Lane, Eden Prairie. 952-941-0445.
Cedarvale Lanes: 3883 Beau D Rue Dr., Eagan. 651-452-7520.
Goldy’s Gameroom: 300 Washington Av. SE., Mpls. 612-624-8722.
Gopher Spot: 2017 Buford Av., St. Paul. 612-625-5246.
Lariat Lanes: 6320 Penn Av. S., Richfield. 612-866-5311.
Mattie’s Lanes: 365 N. Concord Exchange, South St Paul. 651-455-3220.
Sky Deck Sports Grille and Lanes: 60 W. Broadway, Mall of America, Bloomington. 952-500-8700.
St. Francis Bowling Center: 426 Osceola Av., St. Paul. 651-209-1902.
Sun Ray Lanes: 2245 Hudson Rd., St Paul. 651-735-3222.
Texa-Tonka Lanes: 8200 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park. 952-935-3427.