Upscale alleys are tweaking the blue-collar game of bowling
The arrival of Hollywood-based Lucky Strike Lanes marks yet another step in the hipsterization of bowling, an old-school sport that's typically associated more with beer bellies than low-rise jeans.
The new River North alley—not to be confused with Chicago's original Lucky Strike, which recently changed the name of its three locations to Seven Ten Lounge—is shooting for an upscale clientele. Most of the well-dressed crowd here would never deign to sling balls on league night under the fluorescent lights of lanes that were around when "midcentury modern" simply meant "modern."
If the thought of sipping Shiraz between frames makes you want to hurl, don't fret. The city has lanes to fit every vibe. So lace up your rented shoes (if you dare) and see if you can still break a hundred.
Bowl like a movie star
The aforementioned Lucky Strike Lanes is 36,000 square feet of low-lit, throwback cool. There's a wine bar, fancy foods (like ancho-citrus chicken skewers), a dress code and a 21-and-over policy that goes into effect every night at 9. Best of all, it rotates in new bowling shoes about once a month, which is good news for those of us who never trusted that disinfectant spray. 322 E Illinois St at Columbus Dr, 312-245-8331. Single game $4.95–$6.95; hourly rates $45–$65. Shoes $3.95.
Rock and bowl
Lucky Strike Lanes landed with a splash, but it didn't invent the upscale bowling concept. In the House of Blues hotel, 10pin started calling itself a "bowling lounge" when it opened its 24 lanes in May 2004. Like Lucky Strike, 10pin sports ritzy eats and top-shelf booze, plus a club-quality sound system and a ton of flat-panel video screens—the perfect distraction for those in your party who find bowling a bit dull. Although the shoes might not always be brand new, you can upgrade to "cool" kicks (slick-bottomed wing tips) for an extra buck. 330 N State St at Kinzie St, 312-644-0300. Single game $4.95–$6.95. Shoes $3.95–$4.95.
Unlike the cooler-than-thou lounges, North Center's Timber Lanes keeps the whippersnappers at bay with a lack of bells and whistles. And we're not just talking about smoke machines and dancing lights—the alley's eight lanes don't even have automatic scoring. You'll have to learn how to count up the pins yourself to play here. Those who do will be rewarded with a mellow, hipster-free experience, and a surprisingly good jukebox stocked with heavy hitters, including Metallica (the early stuff, dude) and Black Sabbath. 1851 W Irving Park Rd between Ravenswood and Wolcott Aves, 773-549-9770. Single game $2–$2.50. Shoes $2.
Trip out disco style
Whereas most bowling alleys reserve a couple of weekend hours for the black lights and Led Zep tunes commonly known as "Rock 'n Bowl," Diversey River Bowl turns the lights down low at the drop of a hat. Every night except Mondays, the fog machines kick in, the "intelligent," sound-activated lights flare up and a DJ busts out the classic rock. These lanes also set themselves apart with unusual leagues, including a couple of late-night groups, a league for Cubs fans, and something called "Sexxx, Lies & Videotape," which is open to singles, couples and naughty ones. And you thought the idea of sharing shoes was nasty. 2211 W Diversey Ave at Logan Blvd, 773-227-5800. Hourly rental $19–$32. Shoes $3.
Bowl in a bar
All bowling alleys have bars, but the Chicago locations of Seven Ten Lounge give over more space to eating and drinking than to bowling. Each is equipped with only eight lanes (two rooms of four lanes apiece in both locations). The tavern-cum-alleys split the difference between bowling's old and new schools: They're not as self-consciously hip as the dance club–style joints, but they're more sophisticated than the snack bar and league-night places. 1055 E 55th St between Ellis and Greenwood Aves, 773-347-2695. Hourly rates: $16. Shoes $2. 2747 N Lincoln Ave between Schubert Ave and Diversey Pkwy, 773-549-2695. Hourly rates: $20. Shoes $2.