Castle Lanes, which was No. 36 on Bowlers Journal International's list of 95 must-see bowling centers, has a cozy Northwoods-Log-Homes-esque interior that invites bowlers of all ages and abilities to relax and perfect their pin-toppling skills. On 24 glossy lanes, bowlers sling new house balls at pins between watching the alley's HDTVs, listening to music with the alley's iPod hook-ups, or surfing the Internet on the alley's free WiFi. Castle Lanes is a smoke-free environment, making it friendly to families and sneezy dwarves. The alley's dedication to an upscale environment filled with top-notch equipment is fostered by owners Phillip Ontko, who is a Racine Bowling Hall of Famer and the Nolan Ryan of bowling strikes, and his wife, who can easily roll a bowling ball up a hill.
Single-seat Formula K go-karts sidle beside two-seaters on Kristof Entertainment Center's family-friendly driving track. After letting the wind tussle hair, friends and families compete on the 18-hole scenic miniature-golf course replete with challenging holes and flanked by waterfalls, fountains, and castles. In batting cages, baseballs and softballs hurl toward bat-wielders, and players send bowling balls careening toward pins across lanes during regular or cosmic bowling. Sports skills are further tested at seven billiards tables that leave ample opportunity for sinking in eight-balls, and the arcade's classic redemption games such as skee-ball facilitate fun and prizes. After exhausting all one's rounds of play, Kristof's Bar reenergizes visitors with Pepsi products and snacks while broadcasting sports on its many televisions.
Within the cream-colored brick exterior of a century-old city building, Papa Luigi’s II marries an Italian restaurant with a bowling alley. Amid the wood paneling, wine-red carpet, and chandeliers of the dining room, taste buds can warm up with the house’s favorite appetizer—sicilian eggplant lathered in Papa’s special marinara sauce. Thin-n-crispy pizzas, which Papa Luigi’s II has been perfecting for 23 years, come loaded with canadian bacon or shrimp.
After meals, guests can adjourn to the newly remodeled, smoke-free bowling alley. Here, shining orbs hurtle down 10 lanes whose automatic bumpers forgive shaky aim, and an automatic scoring system lets bowlers tuck their personal mathematicians back into the trunks of their cars. Between rounds, players can refuel at a pub-style bar by tipping back chilled mugs brimming with imported tap beers and gazing at a trio of plasma televisions. Those seeking a new arena for competition can drop by the game room or rent the upstairs gym for shooting hoops.
Bowling is the great social equalizer—a common ground where grizzled undercover clowns, blue-collar English lords, LARPer librarians, big and tall lingerie models, hordes of hive-minded hipsters, and the other two social demographics that comprise America can unite in common cause and topple a gaggle of stuck-up, inanimate wooden pins. Brunswick has been a household name in this egalitarian pastime almost since the beginning, with a company history that dates back to the 19th century, providing classic American good times to all manner of patrons across the country. And with today's Groupon tying the room together, you'll get to play two games (up to a $10.98 value) in its hallowed halls wearing a pair of freshly disinfected bowling shoes (up to a $4.79 value).
League play, friendly outings, family birthdays—all happily coexist on Lakeside Lanes’ 32 lanes. Of these, 12 are equipped with bumpers for kids or adults who prefer to think of bowling as a giant game of billiards. After league play ends on Friday and Saturday nights, the music grows louder and black light bathes the lanes for cosmic bowling.
The attached restaurant, the Dockside Diner, isn’t particularly near any docks, but the “diner” part is more than accurate. A pair of sock-hoppers dance on the teal and purple striped walls, and chrome railings zip around a checker-tiled room where guests munch wings, burgers, and pizza. An arcade and game room adds more entertainment options with pool tables, darts, and video games.
Throughout the week, Country Lanes offers open bowling hours and league opportunities for bowlers of all skill levels. In addition to indoor lanes, the alley welcomes outdoor revelers with courts for sand volleyball and horseshoes. The outdoor tiki bar keeps carousers stocked with cocktails and draft brews, and an indoor grill fires sandwiches, pizzas, and appetizers such as wonton wraps. A banquet hall is available for parties, and a teen glow-bowl league takes place on Fridays through the summer, allowing bioluminescent youngsters to bowl in their natural environment.
Since its birth in 1949, The Alley, or at least the North Shore ground on which The Alley resides, has come full circle. During its earliest years, it was known as Mary Jane Lanes, a 10-lane bowling center that buzzed with family-friendly competition throughout the 1950s and '60s. That buzzing continued at a much louder decibel level during the 1970s, when Mary Jane Lanes became Minstrel's Alley, a go-to music venue rocked by the riffs of bands such as REO Speedwagon and The Ramones. In the 1980s, after crews restored its lanes and dug out all the burnt electric guitars embedded into its gutters, the building returned to its origins as a family-first bowling center. Today, The Alley has been updated with automatic scoring, projection TVs, and pool tables ready to accommodate guests of all ages. Every Friday and Saturday, though, The Alley detours back through the '70s, as live bands revive the facility's glory days during Rock and Bowl.