Where the Balls Are

Photos by Wild Don Lewis
First things first.

I am not a bowling aficionado. In fact, some might say I suck. I don’t have good form, my fingers often get stuck in the holes (’cause I play with the lightest of balls, which I think are, uh, made for kids). I only throw strikes by accident, and I spend my fair share of time in the gutter. Still, I really love to go bowling with friends. In fact, before it closed down a few years ago to make way for a school, Hollywood Lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard was a regular hang for me and a crew of pals every Sunday afternoon. The guys who organized it were actually quite good bowlers (some even brought their own balls from home), but for most of us, it wasn’t about the game itself, but about having a place to gather, relive Friday and Saturday’s debauchery, sip some hair-of-the-dog brewskies and get ready for the week ahead. Hollywood Lanes was definitely a dive, but that’s what made it the perfect unassuming spot to take over. Are there any more spaces left that retain this kind of old-fashioned, run-down charm? As you’ll read below, the answer is, for the most part, no. But while the scenery is definitely different from the good ol’ days, bowling remains the one sport you can compete in while getting buzzed (it actually improves my score) and socializing at the same time, ensuring its popularity perhaps forever. Here’s a tally of the spots sure to bowl you over whether you’re looking for family fun, a hot date place, a beat-throbbing alternative to the club scene, or a place to bring out your inner Bill Murray from



All Star Lanes

Many may remember this Eagle Rock spot as the home of Bowl-O-Rama, the raging rockabilly shindig where greaser bands, tattoo artists and vintage clothing vendors would congregate every Saturday night. The parking lot was always filled with the cherriest rides and the cutest Bettie Page look-alikes, and even though the promoters stopped the event years ago, you’re still likely to see these spiffy retro types frolicking about the lanes, especially on Sunday nights when live bands play in the adjoining bar. All Star was in danger of being demolished last year, until it was saved by a new owner who vowed to keep it going. Unfortunately, to stay competitive, it had to be refurbished. Though it was known as one of the last alleys to retain manual scoring, its new owner put in an automated system and remodeled the lanes. The adjoining bar still has the old divey feel, and when it’s not jumping and jiving on Sundays, it’s a rip-roaring karaoke joint.

Gutter ball: They’re thinking of remodeling the bar, too.
Strike!: There’s an adjacent Chinese-food restaurant and arcade.
All Star Lanes, 4459 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 255-5766.

Jillian’s Hi-Life Lanes
This chaotic bowling chasm at Universal CityWalk just might be responsible for the whole bowling-alley-as-hot-spot trend. It was one of the first to meld clublike lighting and super-loud music with the game, which was cool when it was the only place, but it now seems passé. After a big blockbuster at the nearby movie theaters, it still makes for an upbeat night topper, but don’t even think about getting a lane (there are only 10 of ’em) during the weekend unless you like waiting a long-ass time while watching touristy families argue or pubescent Hot Topic-garbed tarts acting wild ’cause their folks aren’t around.

Gutter Ball: Always too crowded at night.
Strike!: Good grub and strong drinks.
Jillian’s Hi-Life Lanes, 1000 Universal Studios Blvd., Universal City, (818) 985-8234

Lucky Strike Lanes

The brainchild of two former Jillians execs, Lucky Strike might be a little confused about exactly what kind of vibe it’s going for, but it still manages to strike an inviting balance. On the one hand, it’s got an old-timey name and logo and more subdued, ’60s-flavored décor, but on the other, it’s obviously aiming to be a hipster hole on par with the club hordes that keep popping up throughout Hollywood. Hell, even velvet-roper Brent Bolthouse threw parties here on a regular basis when this alley first opened. The music is mostly good rock and indie stuff, the bar is nice and big with a great view of the lanes, and the whole space is filled with super-comfy, plush couches and chairs. The art projected above each lane might be a little pretentious, but this mall-walled room does have an authentic, old-school touch that deserves big props: The bar top is an actual lane salvaged from our beloved Hollywood Lanes.

Gutter ball: Traffic.
Strike!: You don’t need to put all your pins in one basket when you come here, since there are a zillion things to do and see nearby.
Lucky Strike Lanes,6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood and Highland Complex, (323) 467-7776

 Arcade fire and
cheers at Pinz.

Matador Bowl
If you’ve got a kid and Chuck E. Cheese is just a little too, well, cheesy, this Valley facility provides an equally animated alternative with party packages and their trademark “Cosmic Bowling” experience, in which black lights, fog machines and strobes transform each lane into an extrasensory circus. Giant screens showing MTV videos hang above the lanes, too (the Bravery was on when we popped in, not that the 7-year-olds celebrating their birthdays had any idea who they were), and every table is filled with balloons, pizza, sodas and candy. It’s no wonder kids these days have short attention spans. Brunswick employees also serve as party clowns of sorts, leading the kiddies in games and dancing (like the “Cha Cha Slide,” a hip-hop “Hokey Pokey” dance that’s also projected on the screens). The cost of these birthday blasts: $17.95/child (minimum of 10).

Gutter ball: If you’re looking for some weekend afternoon fun that’s not “cosmic,” you’re out of luck; these parties kind of take over the whole building.
Strike!: Babes will never be bored at this one.
Matador Bowl, 9118 Balboa Blvd., Northridge, (818) 892-8677.

Pinz Sports Center

This colorful entertainment center is known as the bowling alley to the stars. The Hollywood gloss of the place is almost blinding as soon as you walk in, where, just to the left of the door, stand the “personal lockers” of Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake and (the less contemporary hot duo) Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, their names jumping out at ya in glitter-specked letters. We’re told they never actually use ’em, though. Back in the ’50s, before it was remodeled, Pinz, which is adjacent to Jerry’s Deli, was said to be a favorite hangout of James Dean, and these days it’s a frequent tabloid stakeout space, thanks to Cami and her man’s regular date nights, and to romantic outings by the likes of Halle Berry and her new guy. Pinz’s “client list,” touted in its brochure, includes Gene Simmons, Nelly, Adam Sandler, and Shaquille O’ Neal — whose humongous shoe is actually encased and hanging on the wall. Like the rest, Pinz has giant screens showing videos and various TV programming above the lanes, but the music is chosen by bowlers via a jukebox full of fun (if not exactly eclectic) hip-hop, rock and pop faves. Four times a week the scene gets jiggier, with Pinz rock-’n’-bowl hours, which, like cosmic bowling, feature flashing lights and special effects, geared toward a more teenybopper crowd. The place is currently in the midst of adding on “The Club at Pinz,” complete with bar, lounge and dance floor. Paris Hilton, in pink designer bowling shoes with matching ball and bag, can’t be far behind.

Gutter Ball: It’s a bit pricey.
Strike!: Jerry’s Deli will deliver matzo ball soup, to go with your theme, right to your lane. And they’ve got groovy Day-Glo bowling shoes.
Pinz Sports Center, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 769-7600

Shatto Lanes
Now that All Star is all new, this K-town staple, which retains its simple and somewhat sleek ’60s look (a giant sign above the lanes that reads “Bowl for fun and health!” is flanked by images of stick figures doing various Olympic Games–type sporting activities) is probably about as old-school as you can get without driving out to the boondocks. The 39-lane facility is frequented by a disparate mix of old folk and teens. According to the clerk behind the desk (whose job description includes “spraying stinky shoes after each use”), the teen crowd used to be a bit of a problem until Shatto upped its security. Signs plastered about the place warn underagers that they must be accompanied by an adult after 10 p.m., especially near the expansive video-game area, which seems to be more popular than the lanes, at least during the day.

Gutter ball: Dark and scary underground parking lot. Alley often gets taken over by leagues on weeknights.
Strike!: No chaotic disco lighting or blaring beats here, this one’s mellow. A great option for older and younger, more serious bowlers averse to the self-conscious scenes at the newer alleys.
Shatto Lanes, 3255 W. Fourth St. at Vermont, (213) 385-9475.

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