photo: courtesy of Bridget Montgomery
Staying active during a Chicago winter is about as easy as choking down a fourth slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. The unplowed streets and sidewalks make biking, running and pretty much every other outdoor pastime into a full-on obstacle course. Fortunately, there is one way to stay entertained and (somewhat) in shape during the blistering cold months: bowling. Whether you're a strike machine or require bumpers in your gutters, these local lanes should be right up your alley.
Keep your own score at Lincoln Square Lanes
Diehard bowling fans will love the vintage touches in this old neighborhood haunt. The place has been in business since the early 1900s and, while it's undergone a number of renovations and maintenance, Lincoln Square Lanes still keeps the majority of its natural elements intact. The intricate tin ceiling and hand-painted recreational mural are great examples, but our favorite is the manual scoring system. That's right, you'd better brush up on your high school math before heading over, as you'll be doing it all by hand (and no cheating!). The space has 12 lanes, so you can bet it fills up quickly, especially on weekends. But you're in luck if you can scrounge up 20 friends or so, as the lanes take reservations for large groups.
Bowl in style at Lucky Strike Lanes
If bowling were ever a see-and-be-seen event, this would be the place to attract a stare. The strictly enforced dress code means you've got to leave your Nikes and jerseys at home in order to blend with the well-clad crowd. While you're going to the trouble to gussy up, you may as well plan on dining in Lucky Strike's posh restaurant, or at the very least, treat yourself to a glass (or bottle) of red in the wine bar, complete with five fireplaces. Lucky Strike also hosts DJs and electronic art shows to keep you entertained while you're waiting for your next frame.
Get nostalgic at Southport Lanes & Billiards
Typically in bowling alleys, you'll find a bar tucked somewhere off to the side, or nestled in the venue's back corner. But at smaller neighborhood spots like Southport, it's the bowlers that are secluded in their own little section of the sizable bar. Such a small number of lanes (there are only four) makes it possible for the place to maintain an old-school charm with nostalgic elements like pinboys, who manually reset each frame. The small space, which also features plasma TVs and a pool table, has room for about 70, while the main bar can cram in a couple hundred more. When the table in the bowling room is full, venture to the back of the bar, where you'll find six more Brunswick Billiards tables.
Feast on fried fare at Waveland Bowl
Even though this is the biggest bowling alley in the city with 40 lanes, don’t be surprised if you still have to wait a while for your turn. Kill time by joining the pool sharks at one of Waveland's billiards tables ($8-$20 per hour), or fuel up at the venue's Alley Dog restaurant. The grub is what you'd expect, and exactly what you'd want in the fun fast-paced atmosphere: beer-battered onion rings, cheese fries, mozzarella cheese sticks and fried mushrooms. While it's still cold outside, we recommend a bowl of Alley Dog's made-to-order "thick and meaty" chili.
Sip fancy cocktails at 10pin Bowling Lounge
This swanky bowling lounge's close proximity to Chicago's House of Blues makes it a popular spot with tourists and River North locals alike. Signature cocktails like the 10Pin-tini with pomegranate and raspberry make it difficult to focus on the task at hand, but the crowd doesn't seem too concerned. They're too busy kicking back in 10Pin's Cosmopolitan and Martini lounges, nibbling on gourmet pizzas, salads and barbecued meats. After indulging, don't forget to play a game or two on one of the venue's 24 lanes.
Rock out at Diversey River Bowl
With a full bar, weekly food, drink and bowling specials, Diversey River Bowl appeals to a wide variety of bowlers. Weekly deals, like 15-cent wings and $1 games (per bowler) from noon-5 p.m. on Mondays reel in a hungry crew, while Tuesdays offer group-friendly rates of $15 per lane for a minimum of five bowlers. Throughout the week, Diversey River Bowl appeals to a younger crowd with its sound-activated light show, featuring fun party effects like fog machines and strobes. The place is also home to over six different leagues including the Miller League, the Niteowls and a late-morning league for the little ones. Those with an interest can sign up directly on the website [www.drbowl.com], and if you're still looking for your first strike, lessons are available through the attached Action Pro Shop, where you can also pick up your own ball, bag and shoes for $99.95.
Show off at The Fireside Bowl
This Logan Square industrial space has undergone many changes over the years, having functioned as an ice factory and popular music venue—underground ska, punk and indie bands including Alkaline Trio and Death Cab for Cutie performed here before hitting it big. Now, the Fireside focuses mostly on bowling (you might see the occasional cover band take the stage) , but it's still a spot for star-hunting; the bowling scenes from 2006's "The Break-Up," featuring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, were filmed here.