In Southern Maine, you can find a bowling alley – or center, as they now prefer to be called – with the atmosphere that feels right for any outing. The first and most important choice is probably between candlepin (small balls) or 10-pin (big balls). But then, do you want an arcade and prize redemption? Rock music and a glow-in-the-dark party vibe? Practice time with co-ed leaguers? Or a classy dinner and bowling date night with a romantic view? All these choices are available – if you can only get a lane. And we have tips on that too.
WHERE: 58 Alder St., Portland
HOURS: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to midnight Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday
TYPE OF BOWLING: 10-pin
SPECIAL EVENTS: The Professional Bowling Association (PBA) League Maine Event, April 2-3; plus other eclectic stuff like live music, films, and election night parties
AMENITIES: 12 lanes (with eight more to be built in the spring), a full restaurant and bar, and two Skeeball lanes.
INFO: baysidebowl.com, 791-BOWL
WHAT MAKES IT WORTH THE STOP: ESPN approves.
Bayside Bowl is the sort of place where more people come in with bowling bags than without. But don’t be intimidated just because ESPN films the pros here in April. On a Saturday morning, you’ll still see kids’ birthday parties.
“When people think of professional bowling, that’s 10-pin,” said Carlin Whitehouse, who described his job as “10-pin ambassador.” “And we’re the only PBA [Professional Bowling Association] visit in New England.”
Bayside Bowl was built in 2010 to house a league that started in 2008. “It already had its community when it opened,” explained managing partner Charlie Mitchell said. “People are here to practice and play. We’ve had such a huge demand for leagues [Sunday through Thursday] that it’s harder to maintain open space for walk-in business.”
And so, guests check the “lane forecast” online, make reservations, or take a pager and hang in the rather hipster restaurant (check out the menu online).
“We’re developing a whole new bowling base,” Mitchell said, mentioning that staff from many of Portland’s restaurants and breweries bowl on Sundays.
“It’s a younger demographic,” Whitehouse said. “And all our leagues are co-ed.”
WHERE: 725 Broadway, South Portland
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Sunday
TYPE OF BOWLING: 10-pin
SPECIAL EVENTS: Live music most Tuesday and Wednesday nights (check the website for details)
AMENITIES: Restaurant, bar, and what can best be described as bowling concierges
INFO: easydaysopo.com, 200-2226
WHAT MAKES IT WORTH THE STOP: The sort of restaurant and bar you’d visit even if you weren’t bowling. Except they’ll serve you while you’re bowling.
Easy Day was founded by a former U.S. Navy Seal, Chris Tyll, who says, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
Unless you’re at Easy Day, of course.
You don’t even have to get up from your game to go get a beer. They’ll take care of that for you.
“We make sure you have everything you need on the bowling side, and we get them set up with a service for their food and drink needs,” said bowling supervisor Nick Blanchard. “All they have to do is have fun.”
The only trick is getting one of the 10 lanes. Call ahead for a reservation more than a day ahead of time, or call a half-hour in advance – when you’re leaving the house, maybe – to see if there’s an opening.
After being open just two years, “we haven’t had a perfect game,” Blanchard said. But they do have a 251 Club. Get a score of 251 or higher and you get your name on the board, a discount on bowling and a sweatshirt with your name on it.
“It’s a high-energy place,” said manager Gene DiMillo. “At the same time, though, we have the dining room out back that’s a little quieter and overlooks the Fore River. It’s beautiful.”
WHERE: 867 Riverside St., Portland
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday,
TYPE OF BOWLING: 10-pin
SPECIAL EVENTS: bowling-and-laser tag parties, comedy nights, karaoke, paint night
AMENITIES: 22 lanes, game room, laser tag, snackbar, and a full bar (a restaurant expansion is in the planning stages).
INFO: sparetimeportland.com, 878-2695
WHAT MAKES IT WORTH THE STOP: Two words: laser tag.
Walk into Spare Time and the sensory overload is immediate. In a good way.
But first, the bowling. There are 22 lanes of 10-pin and lanes are first come, first served, and the trickiest time to get one is on weekdays during dinner hours. That’s when leagues are in play, so definitely call ahead to find out if it’s worth the trip if you have a hankering to bowl between 6 and 8 p.m.
“The energy here is awesome. Everyone just wants to have fun,” said event coordinator Kylie Sebert. “It’s fun to be part of someone’s birthday that they’re going to remember for a long time. And people have been loving the laser tag. … Adults are so hesitant about laser tag, but it ends up being their favorite.”
Seeing serious corporate groups come in and “loosen up and have a good time,” is one of the perks of the job, Sebert said. “It’s a good stress reliever for people.”
Everything about Spare Time’s game room is oversized, and there are 56 games, according to Game Warden Dianne Burns.
WHERE: 382 U.S. Route 1, Scarborough
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 1 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
TYPE OF BOWLING: Candlepin
SPECIAL EVENTS: Rock-N-“Glow” Bowl every Friday and Saturday night; leagues for all ages
AMENITIES: 20 lanes, snackbar, and full-service bar
INFO: big20bowling.com, 883-2131
WHAT MAKES IT WORTH THE STOP: Bowling harkens back to simpler times, and The Big 20 keeps that retro, small-town vibe without sacrificing digital convenience.
“We know our regular customers by name – and their shoe size,” said Rick Jones, one of the owners of The Big 20, as well as the president of the Maine State Candlepin Association.
This bowling center was built in 1950, and though it’s fully automated, Jones says, “renovations have tried to capture a retro feel.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to ever find The Big 20 without rows of cars outside. “We’re always busy,” Jones said. Leagues play six days a week – from age 4 all the way up, and all different times of day. “And it’s not just about bowling anymore. It’s about some form of entertainment.”
The entertainment includes Rock-N-“Glow” Bowl every Friday and Saturday night, arcade games, bumper bowling for the little ones, and – for the adults, of course – a full-service bar.
WHERE: U.S. Route 1, 812 Portland Road, Saco
HOURS: Opens at 9 a.m. daily; see website for closing times (and extended hours for school vacations)
TYPE OF BOWLING: Candlepin
SPECIAL EVENTS: All-You-Can Bowl; Glow Bowl; leagues; Bumper Buddies for ages 3 to 6 (next session starts Feb. 25)
AMENITIES: Automated scoring, prize redemption, an arcade, a snackbar, and a billiards room.
INFO: vacationlandbowling.com. 207-284-7386
WHAT MAKES IT WORTH THE STOP: With 32 lanes, there’s a whole lot of bowling going on.
Vacationland is double or triple the size of some of the trendier bowling centers in the area, making it considerably easier to get in. Even so, you’re welcome to call ahead and may be put on a waiting list.
Getting on their email club list is an even better idea.
“Once they join this club, they should never have to pay full price,” said program director Kim Trask, who has worked there for 25 years. “We send them coupons.”
Through March, there are other ways to save a buck and help the community, too. Bring in a pair of gently used winter boots and get a free game and shoe rental. Bring in a non-perishable food item for the Saco Food Pantry and get free shoe rental.
There’s All-You-Can-Bowl on Friday and Saturday nights (8:30 to 11 p.m. for $10 per person including shoes) and Glow Bowling on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights ($4 per person per game, plus $2 for shoe rentals). There’s also an Early Bird Special on Sunday mornings for bowling at $1.50 a game. You can’t beat that.
Candlepin is a great way to introduce kids to bowling without them bowling themselves over. Here are few more recommended candlepin centers.
BRUNSWICK: Bowling Bowl, 7 Dunlap St., bowling-bowl.com, 725-5241, 7 lanes.
SANFORD: Bowl-A-Rama, 1217 Main St., sanfordbowl.com, 324-2401, 20 lanes.
WESTBROOK: Colonial Bowling Center, 399 Main St., Colonial Bowling Center, 854-8936, 16 lanes.