Time travel might not be possible yet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn back the clocks at Harvard Bowling Lanes, an old-fashioned alley offering 14 candlepin lanes, vintage decor, and the tactile joys of paper-and-pencil scoring. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the old-school facility does a complete 180, transforming itself into a futuristic cosmic bowling alley saturated in colorful lights and music. After any cosmic or traditional bowling session, the alley invites guests to continue the competition in a vibrant onsite arcade that, unfortunately, does not feature old-timey games such as hoop-and-stick and stick-without-hoop.
Boredom meets its demise at Acton Bowladrome, a multifaceted complex owned by a family that has been entertaining other families for more than 40 years. There, 16 synthetic candlepin-bowling lanes speed balls toward rattling glory as friends, leagues, and parties rack up high scores. Away from the smashing pins, the Bowladrome's onsite, ‘50s-style restaurant, Burgerdrome, takes taste buds on a ride through time with burgers, shakes, pizzas, and views of the alley from its polished counter, bright-red booths, and checkered floor. Those vintage vibes continue into the arcade, filled with titles such as Guitar Hero and Bed Monsters, and the Retrocade, where gamers swap quarters for classic-game play and the chance to beat the Fonz’s high scores.
South Boston Candlepin challenges bowlers to take aim at pintsize pins during rounds of a New England–born variation on the traditional lane-based game. On the alley’s hardwood lanes, bowlers roll 2.5-pound candlepin bowling balls that lack the holes and molten centers of their 10-pin counterparts. Developed in 1880 by a Massachusetts bowling-alley owner, candlepin bowling tasks participants with dispersing crowds of pins that are thinner than standard 10-pin targets and weigh just a little more than the balls that hunt them. While honing curves and picking up spares, bowlers compete in 10-frame games until someone usurps victory or starts cooing to the tiny balls like they're infants.
Lucky Strike Lanes' polished, retro-sleek atmosphere and state-of-the-art technology lets sphere-hurlers pitch heavy urethane baseballs down a slick aisle toward precisely placed whitewashed wooden sticks in the high style of a '60s ad executive or a top-hatted cartoon penguin. Each of the alley's colorful, state-of-the-art bowling lanes comes with electronic scoring, customizable presentations, and psychedelic lighting. Diehard sport devotees, meanwhile, can catch up on the day's sporting matches at the bar, where high-definition plasma screens broadcast the heart-pounding action of championship Chinese checkers with flawless clarity. Or retire to one of the 12 pool tables for an evening of hustling and counter-hustling.
Inside Kings, it can be hard to pinpoint the source of clattering sounds and uproarious cheers. The noise might stem from the bowling section, where glowing squares of abstract, retro wall art bookend the alleys. It might also come from ricocheting billiard balls, a well-aimed skee-ball, or a shuffleboard shot in the game room. Maybe someone spotted a celebrity—Bill Murray, Salma Hayek, and Lady Gaga are all on an extensive list of past famous visitors.
Wherever their origins, the telltale echoes of competition and camaraderie beckon to guests throughout the venue. They're accompanied in the air by the scents of comfort food, from staples such as sesame ginger wings to inventive fusions such as cheeseburger spring rolls. Sweeter aromas waft from multiple bars as the staff flavors martinis with gummy bears, pop rocks, and ice cream instead of the traditional fixings, olives or entire lemons on toothpicks.
As for sights, the surroundings blend vintage flair with luminous technology. More than 30 high-definition televisions line the space, broadcasting sports games and bowling scores. Though the game-room amenities differ slightly based on the town—Boston's Back Bay has six Brunswick Gold Crown pool tables, and Dedham boasts four miniature-roller-ball lanes—each Kings location hosts group events, including parties and corporate getaways where you can finally laugh at your boss's ridiculous shoes. Weekly themed nights for the public also encourage dancing, karaoke, and trivia.
Joyous sounds reverberate off the walls at Mason Recreation Center, a decades-old entertainment emporium managed by a staff committed to keeping its guests entertained. Pins clatter on dozens of lanes designed for candlepin bowling, a variation on tenpin bowling that uses smaller balls and cylindrical pins that are not cleared away between frames so bowlers can hear their faint screams. The staff engineers the fun activities, hosting open bowling, overseeing league competition, and throwing birthday shindigs in private rooms. On several tournament-size tables, billiard balls clack against one another, and in the onsite arcade, video games bleep and purr like robots napping on magnets. In warm weather, the staff unfurls an 18-hole miniature golf course and opens an onsite sweets station that serves freshly scooped ice cream.