Candlepin or 10 -pin? Bowl with the locals at Lanes and Games, or with cocktails (and the occasional star athlete) at Jillian's? If you're not from around here, you may not initially realize that bowling in Boston involves a variety of choices.
What's candlepin? I'm glad you asked! A quick background: Candlepin bowling is the Northeastern cousin to the popular 10-pin version that dominates most U.S. bowling alleys.
Found primarily in New England and Canada's Maritimes region, candlepin features a smaller ball (about four-and-a-half inches) and thinner pins. Each player gets three tries to knock the pins down, and between throws, the pins are not cleared away. Like 10-pin, 300 points is the maximum score for candlepin – although the perfect candlepin game has yet to be played.
You can find both candlepin and 10-pin options at lanes in and around greater Boston – and the places range from local town hangouts to see-and-be-seen clubs (that just happen to have bowling alleys).
Where to Go
Located in Dorchester, Boston Bowl is a city institution, with an active local league. Recently renovated, it now has new scoring machines and flat-screen TVs at each lane. Blogger Lynn of Candlepin Adventures calls it "the definition of convenience in candlepin … They're open 24 hours, have candlepin and 10-pin, an arcade, food, drinks, and pool." Keep in mind that this place is popular with area families (especially for birthday parties).
However, you can reserve lanes online in advance, so make a booking on the Boston Bowl website and then you won't have to wait on arrival.
Central Park Lanes, a fixture in East Boston, is all about candlepin – and all about nostalgia. Pencil-and-paper scorecards, a jukebox with classic tunes, and no-frills prices keep the locals coming back.
It's "great fun, cheap place for a good time with friends," recommends Yelp user Bethany R. Two floors of bowling also mean minimal lines. So, with the extra time and cash you'll save, you can then head to another nearby Eastie must-visit, Santarpio's, for unforgettable pizza. Dinner and bowling, all on the cheap? That's a great date night.
Lucky Strike Lanes, in the shadow of Fenway Park, exclusively features 10-pin bowling, and has more of a lounge feel, thanks to Jillian's, the one-stop entertainment complex one floor down. Switch from your bowling shoes to your dancing shoes, grab a cocktail (or several), and spend a few hours at play. Plan to wait a bit for a lane, especially on weekend evenings – Jillian's and Lucky Strikes are popular with both locals and tourists, and on nights when the Red Sox are in town, the place gets packed. In keeping with the nightclub atmosphere, proper attire is required, so look sharp.
In the heart of the Back Bay, Kings Boston is another 10-pin venue with a high-end atmosphere. After 6 p.m., it's a 21+ venue; during the day, anyone younger than 21 needs an accompanying adult to get in. Proper attire is a must. And while bowling is the main draw, Kings also has a restaurant, three bars, and retro games such as Skeeball and shuffleboard.
More than 30 flat-screen televisions broadcast the current games, too, so if there's a wait for a lane, there are plenty of other diversions to keep you entertained.
Lanes and Games in Cambridge (near the Alewife T station) is huge, with 26 candlepin lanes and 28 10-pin lanes. Despite the plethora of lanes, though, you still may find a wait – the bowling leagues and parties here often dominate the scene. If you have to wait, there's a snack bar, Keno machines, and pool tables – or, if you're a night owl, come by for some late bowling. Lanes and Games is open until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in summer.
For years, Sacco's Bowl Haven in Somerville's Davis Square was the bowling alley that time forgot. Established in 1939 (and untouched for many years thereafter), it was recently renovated as part of the Flatbread restaurant chain.
Today, it's a fun place for candlepin bowling and pizza (although it can get a bit crowded). You can opt for pizza and drinks at your lane while you bowl, or put your name in for a lane and have a bite at Flatbread while you wait for a lane to open up. And be sure to keep your eye out for something unusual: During the renovation updates, there was so much unexplained activity around the Sacco's building that it was featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters (although most of the spooky occurrences ended up getting debunked).
Open Wednesdays through Saturdays, South Boston Bowlarama is a place for candlepin – and for hearing the local Southie accents at their finest. The nothing-fancy setting with do-it-yourself score cards and ball return, cash-only setup, and affordable prices to bowl also gets kudos for its "wicked cheap beer". Come for the bowling, stay for the characters.
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