Bowling is the most fun bar sport out there, and because you and your friends are all evenly matched, bragging rights are ripe for the snagging. A lot has changed since high school, though, when you used to hit the lanes after class in your ’67 Camaro (wait, what year is it?). Kids aren’t allowed, soda pitchers are now full of IPAs, and the debate isn’t cheese fries vs. onion rings – it’s gritty Brooklyn cool vs. swanky Manhattan chic. Take your pick and stay for bonus frames at the city’s 5 best bowling alleys.
Bowlmor – Times Square
Despite the crowds and blazing neon glow outside, sometimes you want your pin-knocking environment to feel as much like a nightclub as possible. Bowlmor at Times Square fits the bill. Dress to the nines and roll up to a themed lane. Chinatown has golden dragons slithering on the walls, while the Prohibition lanes sport a fake hat shop and projected gangster movies. A waitress quickly bops over for cocktail orders, like crisp speakeasy sangria or a sweet “Jack the sipper” – Jack Daniels, Chambord, and cola. To bumping club tunes, snack on cheddar chicken BLT sliders and coconut shrimp from the Stadium Grill (what NYT calls a “sports bar for foodies”) and you’ll forget you’re technically at an alley – until the thunderous crash of the next strike.
Brooklyn Bowl – Williamsburg
At this warehouse-sized Williamsburg behemoth, folks don’t just stop in for a pickup game, they catch stellar sets from the likes of Kanye West, Fall Out Boy, and Snoop Dogg. Where else can you throw down a ball or two, nosh on a full menu from Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, and then catch an amazing show in an adjacent 600-person concert venue? Once you’re set up at a lane with a long, luxe black couch and a band’s thumping tunes on the stage behind you, start with the Theresa French bread pizza – a delectably fragrant pie, topped with butternut squash, mushrooms, roasted garlic, and pine nuts – and then craft a bona fide fried chicken platter from white and dark meat pieces. Wowed by all the tunes, chicken, and pins? Well, we forgot to mention the 10 Brooklyn beers on tap. Commence head explosion.
Lucky Strike – Hell’s Kitchen
Just because bowling shoes are grimy doesn’t mean your night needs to be. Lucky Strike over in Hell’s Kitchen treats everyone in your party to a lounge experience: plush sofas and Pop Art, 26 lanes, and an unexpected craft cocktail menu. The dew dropper – with Irish whiskey, lemon, and apple juice – is the grown-up fruit juice you never knew you needed. No kids allowed here on your evening out, and with a quietly enforced dress code, your frames at Lucky will glide seamlessly between bouts of upscale barhopping. If the pins don’t go your way, don’t fret: Challenge one of your buds to pool or ping pong and be sure to end the night on top.
The Gutter – Williamsburg
Blink and you’ll miss the Coca-Cola sign on this industrial block in Williamsburg. It flags a huge garage space where eight beat-up vintage lanes live next to a homey, wood-paneled bar straight out of your uncle’s Wisconsin hunting shack. The lanes are taken from an Ohio alley from the ’70s, and the unrefined digs welcome that same down-home charm, where cheap pitchers of beer aren’t just available: They’re encouraged. Pour out some brews or hit up some always-drinkable Narragansett lager – and start reliving the strikes of your high school glory days.
Frames – Garment District
Another prim-and-proper Midtown alley for the lounge set, Frames went ahead and put a dance club right next to their lanes, just because they know how much you love to dance. The separate VIP lanes – two side-by-side, decked with white leather sofas – are definitely the way to go, so dress up and drink in their blue, otherworldly Kubrick glow. Order a cocktail pitcher or beer tower for your crew (that’s right, a tower) and choose from about a million apps and sides on the Team Builder menu, like wild mushroom spinach pizza bites. Before you know it, you’ve built the perfect evening from the ground up.