I don't recall much from my college sociology class, but I do remember the professor always rambling about some book called Bowling Alone. It's a study about how we humans just don't get together in groups the way we used to. People once belonged to bowling leagues, the author said. But today, we bowl alone. And since Nintendo Wii came into the picture, when's the last time any of us went to a real live bowling alley? • We scoped out a crop of local venues that are a step up with sophisticated decor, bar service and fun theme nights. The next time there's a lull in your social calendar, head for a night of summertime fun in the A/C. But whatever you do, don't bowl alone. — Dalia Colón [email protected]
Alley at Southshore
10221 Big Bend Road, Riverview, (813) 672-8353; funatthealley.com
Big but not overwhelming, sleek but not snooty, this facility brought some excitement to East Hillsborough nightlife when it opened last March. The 45,000-square-foot building houses not only bowling but also a restaurant, ice cream parlour and 5,000-square-foot arcade.
The bowling: Fridays and Saturdays from midnight to 2:30 a.m. are cosmic bowling, where white wooden lanes and flashing lights manage to look chic. $12 gets you shoes and unlimited cosmic bowling in the comfortable main room. Hanging next to every scoring screen is a flat-screen TV showing music videos. Singing along to All-American Rejects, Ne-Yo and Estelle kept us entertained while we awaited our turn. For $3 more, upgrade to the VIP room, which features couches, larger video screens and closer access to the bar. It has only eight lanes, so if you eat first, give your waiter the $15 to reserve one for you.
The grub: Alley Kat's Pub and Grill is cheap, with most of the sandwiches, salads and chicken wings under $7. There's also a breakfast menu. There's a decent selection of extra-cold beer ($3.25 for a large or $7.25 for a pitcher), plus a handful of wines and a few odd-balls thrown in for variety; we liked the Wild Blue blueberry lager.
Prices: Regular bowling is $2.50-$3.95 per game or $12-$16 per hour for up to six bowlers. VIP lounge is $2.50-$4.95 per game, or $12-$29 per hour for up to six bowlers. Shoes $3. Wednesdays during the summer, enjoy cosmic bowling from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $6 and includes shoes or, if you prefer, this is the only time bowlers are allowed in stocking feet.
AMF University Lanes
13109 N 56th St., Tampa, (813) 985-4468; amf.com/universitylanesfl
A favorite hangout of USF students, this alley offers a decor that's disappointingly uncollegiate, save for a "Bull Pen" sign on the bar refrigerator. In the over-21 room, grown-ups can enjoy friendly bar service, more than a dozen TVs and a juke box.
The bowling: Lasers, black lights, fog machines and colorful disco balls set the scene for Xtreme Bowling. It's 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, and 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays, but depending on when the leagues finish, it may start later. On the scoring screens, a cool feature is a speedometer that tells you how fast your ball is rolling.
The grub: Service can be spotty depending on how busy the kitchen gets, but the food we tried was worth the wait. Mozzarella sticks were perfectly cooked, and the buffalo chicken sandwich was just crispy enough. The drink menu, which includes sangria, margaritas, wine and marvelously cold beer, made our hourlong wait for cosmic bowling tolerable. Pitchers of Miller Light are $6.96.
Prices: Regular games are $3.75-$5.00 plus tax. Shoes $4.28. Tuesdays and Thursdays are Quartermania: From 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., cover is $10 per person with 25-cent games, $1 draft beers and $1 hot dogs. Every Monday, employees of restaurants, hotels, amusement parks and the like get free unlimited bowling and shoe rental from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Bring your work badge or pay stub as proof.
8668 Park Blvd., Seminole, (727) 392-2271; seminolelanes.com
With 60 lanes and friendly service, this is a favorite Pinellas County hangout. Non-bowlers can enjoy a newly remodeled karaoke lounge and a video arcade with four pool tables and two air-hockey tables.
The bowling: If Top 40 tunes aren't your thing, stop by Wednesdays from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Country videos play on 10-foot screens. Wednesdays also happen to be galactic night, with lasers awkwardly juxtaposed against videos of cowboys and country girls. $11 includes unlimited bowling and shoes. For cosmic flavor minus the country, stop by mainstream galactic bowling night Fridays and Saturdays from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. It's $13 for all you can bowl, including shoes. Watch out for the smoke machines — the smoke occasionally obstructed our view of the pins.
The grub: The cafe serves so-so hoagies, burgers, pizzas and the like. But the real attraction is KJ's Lounge. Tucked into a remote corner of the building, the lounge feels like a standalone pub with a full liquor bar, high-top tables, dance floor and three 42-inch televisions. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30 p.m. to close, things get pretty nuts during karaoke with DJ Pete. Participants are entered into an hourly drawing for a free drink at the bar.
Prices: Open bowling for adults is $3.00-$4.05 per game. Shoes $3. Ask about specials, including $1.50 games Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
405 Patricia Ave., Dunedin, (727) 736-1282; dunedinlanes.com
Tucked into the North Pinellas 'burbs is a surprisingly progressive bowling alley. We say this for a few reasons: (A) It puts on a pretty rad cosmic bowling night, with smoke, laser lights and music by artists like the Ting Tings, Keri Hilson and Flo Rida. And (B) Three words: Gay bowling night. It's the first Thursday of every month. $10 includes shoes. Drag queen Melanie Minyon hosts. Get deets at myspace.com/gaybowlingnight.
The bowling: Cosmic nights — Fridays and Satrudays from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. — it's $14 per person for unlimited bowling, shoes and karaoke. DJ Mark McKay intermittently leads the crowd in synchronized bowling (everyone throws a ball at the same time) and "flashback music trivia" for glow necklaces and other prizes.
The grub: Chatterbox restaurant is a throwback — a greasy spoon with cheap eats. Then there's wood-panelled karaoke room. The scene feels obsolete in a strangely comforting way. Karaoke goes on only during cosmic bowling nights. Beer is $3.50 for 16 ounce bottle.
Prices: Games are $3-$3.50. Shoes $3.
615 Channelside Drive, Tampa, (813) 514-2695; splitsvillelanes.com
Many of the places on our list are bowling alleys that happen to have a bar or restaurant inside. Splitsville is a 27,000-square-foot club that happens a few bowling lanes inside. You'll find waiters in retro-style shirtsand vintage photos on the wall. What you won't find are many people actually bowling; with only 12 lanes, you may have to wait. Most folks are drawn here for the swank, which starts with an age limit (after 8 p.m. it's 21 and up nightly) and a dress code. Inside it's a cavernous lounge with red velvet curtains, two massive bars, good-looking bartenders, plenty of TVs and a half-dozen pool tables. On weekends, DJ Terrell (Fridays) and DJ Figment (Saturdays) crank up the music, which seems to get louder — as do the tipsy folks packing the small dance floor — as the night progresses.
The bowling: If you're set on bowling, come on a weekday afternoon. We stopped by on a Saturday at 10 p.m. and were told there'd be at least a two-hour wait. The good news is that when you put your name in, staffers take down you cell number and call you when your lane's ready.
The grub: Bowling alleys and clubs aren't known for their epicurean finesse, but this hybrid churns out amazing food and drinks. We tried the barbecue chicken pizza ($11), a piping hot, messy masterpiece. Where else can you say, "I'll take a size 8 shoe and the spicy edamame ($5)"? The bars stock all your top-shelf faves. And here's the crazy part: Service is fast and attentive. Here, the cool kids order the "big bowl," a mixed drink served in a 64-ounce glass ($21), and share it with multiple straws — which reminds us: bring a few dollar bills to tip the restroom attendant.
Prices: Everyone likes to gripe about how expensive Splitsville is, but the bowling itself is pretty reasonable. Sunday through Thursday it's $4.95 per person per game. Friday and Saturday after 6 p.m. it's $5.95 per person per game. Shoes $2.95. For a higher rate, you can call to reserve a lane that'll be ready when you walk in the door. Remember parking money, too.
Ten Pin Lanes
1453 Pasadena Ave S, St. Petersburg, (727) 381-1010; littlecenters.com
With Florida Orange Grove and Winery down the street and the Don CeSar a 10-minute drive away, this bowling alley is perfectly positioned for a day of kitsch with your out-of-town guests. It's pink on the outside with an under-the-sea theme on the interior walls and plastic furniture on the patio. On Saturday nights the lights stay on, setting the mood for family-friendly fun. Sing along to tunes by Janis Joplin, the Beatles and other oldies.
The bowling: Saturdays from 7 p.m. to midnight, leave your pride at the door and get into Strike It Rich, a game that pays you a little cash for knocking down certain colored pins on a strike. I won 75 cents, which didn't exactly make me a baller, but it did make the game more exciting — as did the ball speedometer. But Ten Pin Lanes carries the communal feel a bit too far with family-style seating: You share a wooden bench with the adjacent lane, which at times means awkwardly cutting in front of your neighbors. If bowling isn't your thing, enjoy pool, air hockey, darts or karaoke in the bar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. First place wins a small cash prize. Also check out Glow Bowl on Fridays from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The grub: The fare includes burgers, salads, nachos and the like. Drinks at the Locker Room Lounge are decent; our strawberry daiquiri — a rarity at a bowling alley — was satisfying, but our Corona wasn't quite cold enough. The real annoyance is the cup-holder situation. Larger drinks don't fit, which means you must either hold your drink the entire time or set your glass on a counter behind you.
Prices: Games are $2.41-$4.23 per person. If you're renting shoes ($3), be prepared to fork over your own footwear as collateral.