5 Kickass… Chicago Bowling Alleys

chicago bowling alleys

Who doesn’t love a sport you can play with a beer in your hand? That’s what I thought. The number of bowling alleys (I refuse to call them bowling “centers”) in Chicago has dwindled over the last decade or so, but there are still plenty of great places to enjoy “America’s number one participation sport.” Here’s five that really kick ass.

Irving Park Lanes

5708 W. Irving Park Rd, Portage Park

Irving Park Lanes is a traditionalist’s paradise. No music videos, no fog machines, no laser lights — no nonsense. The prices are reasonable if not dirt cheap ($1 game specials on Wednesdays) and the staff are some of the friendliest people you’re ever going to meet. While there isn’t a snack shop, you can grab a soft pretzel or pizza at the bar. The jukebox houses a hodgepodge of music that’ll have a little something for everyone and provide an appropriate soundtrack to your 300 game. Irving offers weekly and monthly leagues, as well as children’s leagues on Saturday mornings. The laid-back atmosphere here can’t be beat — it’s the perfect place for someone who wants to roll a few games without obnoxious pomp and circumstance. Grab a White Russian and imbibe.

Lincoln Square Lanes

4874 N. Lincoln, Lincoln Square

If Irving Park is no nonsense, Lincoln Square Lanes, the oldest operating alley in the city, is no frills. Think of it as a dive bar in which it’s ok to play with your balls. This small second-floor establishment doesn’t have any fancy computers, so it’s a great place to practice your scoring. The real treat at Lincoln Square is the live music. It’s not uncommon to hear some decent dixieland and rock, as well as regular sets by Chicago’s very own Polkaholics. Though not the greatest place for serious bowlers — the lack of oil and charmingly dilapidated lanes might drive one nuts — LSL is a great place to get drunk and laugh at the guy two lanes over whose pants are too tight for his knees to bend.

Fireside Bowl | firesidebowl.com

2648 W. Fullerton, Logan Square

The Fireside is a hard place for me to judge. I find it more notable as a relic from Chicago’s punk/rock past than as a bowling alley. Starting in 1994, owner Rich Lapinski opened the Fireside up to live music in an effort to offset the lack of open bowl revenue. Local bands like Shellac, Tortoise and Alkaline Trio cut their teeth on the small stage, as did touring acts like Sleater-Kinney, The Donnas, Fugazi and Desaparecidos. By 2003 the music stopped, renovations happened, and an effort to reestablish The Fireside as a place for bowling was underway. Now you’ll find a fairly standard bowling experience, slightly heightened by a sense of nostalgia for a few patrons. The bar houses a pool table, a jukebox and $10 pitchers of PBR. In 2010 the owners started booking shows again, but the place is still primarily for bowling.

Bluebird Lanes | bluebirdlanes.com

3900 W. Columbus, Ashburn

One of the few bowling alley’s on Chicago’s south side, Bluebird is a totally affordable option for those below Madison or in the area. Single games run between $2-4 and there are plenty of great specials ($11 per person for unlimited bowling between 8pm and midnight on Thursdays). The two bar areas are great places to slam a few beers and take in a baseball game while munching on some nachos. Damn, that sounds good right now. Bluebird also scores major points for having a pro shop run by Illinois Bowling Hall of Fame member Dennis Campbell. Need your balls drilled? This is the place to go.

Diversey River Bowl | drbowl.com

2211 W. Diversey, Bucktown

Ok, I had to put it on here. Not my style, but if you’re looking for bells and whistles DRB is for you. Boasting “over 2 dozen sound activated intelligent lights, fog machines, strobes and heart pounding Rock and Roll music,” you’re going to have a hard time lining up your shot, but you’ll probably feel cool doing it. The sound system is impressive, and you have to allot extra points for a bowling alley that has it’s own pizzeria (and delivers!). Looking for a place to hold an event? Diversey River has full-service banquet rooms that even offer hook-ups for slide shows and multimedia presentations. So yeah, if you can get your boss to flip the bill your large group is going to have a blast. A word to the wise, or the asthmatic as it were, the fog machines don’t mess around. If you’ve got a sensitive respiratory system then be sure to come before the light show gets into full swing. Prices are obviously a bit higher than the other places on this list, but there are still deals to be had ($1 games from noon to 5 on Mondays).

Photo Credit: John Walker

Gene Wagendorf III

About Gene Wagendorf III

Gene is a writer who has spent his entire quarter century of life as a resident of Chicago. When not exploring the city he can be found wandering flea markets and garage sales or having a cigarette between classes at Northeastern Illinois University, where he hopes to acquire a degree in the next quarter century. His favorite smells are old books and bowling alleys. His poetry (how embarrassing!) can be found in issues of Kill Poet, Ditch, Word Riot, O Sweet Flowery Roses and Vowel Movements.