October 19, 2016

Four Must-See Historic Bowling Alleys

Mahall's Dancing

photo by: Angie Chung/Flickr/CC BY-SA-2.0

Fall is officially upon us, and as the days begin to darken and the weather turns cool, the outdoor activities we’ve all enjoyed for the last six months begin to look a little less appealing.

There is, however, an amazing, all-American, old-school alternative to the summer-time standbys of baseball and barbecues: bowling.

So slide on a pair of those funky shoes, drop a couple quarters in the jukebox, and order a round of beers as we roll one down memory lane with a quick roundup of historic bowling alleys from around the country.

Mahall's Sign

photo by: Steve Snodgrss/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

Mahall's has been credited with helping to reinvigorate Madison Avenue on Cleveland's West Side.

Mahall's Alley

photo by: Angie Chung/Flickr/CC BY-SA-2.0

Bowlers score their games by hand at this two-story, 20-lane alley.

Mahall’s: Lakewood, Ohio

I grew up in this turn-of-the-century streetcar suburb on Cleveland’s near West Side and hit Mahall’s for childhood birthday parties and high school pool sessions when it was still a shabby storefront filled with cigarette smoke. These days, I head there for beers and bowling with my brothers every Thanksgiving.

The 20-lane, two-level, hand-scoring venue was tidied up in 2012, when the new owners removed wallpaper to reveal historic murals and axed a drop ceiling to uncover an original tin lid. Today, the bowling business is complimented by a bar with a music residency stage and a larger performance venue that has attracted acts like Talib Kweli and Wu-Tang Clan-member GZA. This place is the truth.

Holler House Bowling Lane

photo by: Ryan Dickey/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

Holler House boasts the oldest certified bowling lanes in the U.S.

Holler House: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

You may have read about Holler House as part of our Historic Bars series, but this place offers more than just “sticky floors and a bone-rattling jukebox,” as our Katherine Flynn wrote a few years ago. Holler House is actually home to the nation’s oldest certified bowling lanes and has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1908. The pins here are still set by neighborhood kids—they make as much as $100 in tips in a single shift—and there’s no seating in the subterranean lanes. You want old school? You got it.

Rock 'N' Bowl

photo by: Kevin O'Mara/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Rock 'N' Bowl is both a classic bowling venue and a hotspot for the local music genre of zydeco.

Rock ‘N' Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana

As with the rest of NOLA, Hurricane Katrina did her damage, but she couldn’t break the spirit of the city’s best-loved bowling alley. The original Rock ‘N Bowl opened in 1941 and expanded to include a music venue in 1988. The business moved to its current location in 2009, but the traditions remain, including an old-school ball return, scoring table, and tables crafted from the original lanes. Oh, and if you’re looking for some classic Creole zydeco tunes, they’ve got those too.

Bryant-Lake Bowl Exterior

photo by: Joe D/Flickr/CC BY-NC-2.0

Bryant-Lake Bowl is housed in a former Ford garage that dates to 1926.

Bryant-Lake Bowl Interior

photo by: Drew Garaets/Flickr/CC BY-NC-2.0

Bryant-Lake Bowl is also rumored to be haunted by a former garage employee who was crushed by a car.

Bryant-Lake Bowl: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Bowling alleys aren’t typically the go-to spot for intellectual enlightenment, but Bryant-Lake isn’t your typical bowling alley. On top of lanes that date to 1936 (the structure was a Ford garage before that), the venue has its own theater, which offers everything from politically laced improv comedy to salon-style happy hour discussions on science and the environment. But despite all the high-brow offerings, this is still a workingman’s joint. You can roll for just $4.50 a game during the day and on Monday nights $28 gets you two dinner entrees, a bottle of wine, and one round of bowling per couple.

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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