Retro Bowling in St. Louis

Lace up some funny-looking shoes, and head to these offbeat bowling spots.
Kim Cross / Photography: Amy Jo Young

I don't normally make a habit of hanging out in dark alleys. But in search of indoor fun in The Lou, that's where I discovered the joys of two-toned shoes, candy-colored cocktails, and that fifties sensation: bowling. Here are my favorites in St. Louis.

Pin-Up Bowl: Style to Spare
Sweet dreams are made of this / Who am I to disagree? I've traveled the world and the seven seas (okay, four of them), but I've never encountered a bowling alley with a row of Annie Lennoxes mouthing tunes from TVs above the lanes. Here at Pin-Up Bowl, a swanky alley and martini lounge in The Loop, it's not about whether you win or lose, but how cool you look playing the game.

Retro pinups are part of the kitschy theme, but the Betties are fully clad and about as tasteful as pinups can be (so please remove your mind from the gutter). When you're done with the alley, sidle up to the bar for a wild cocktail in an unnatural color. The scene draws an eclectic, mostly yuppie crowd that reaches critical mass after midnight (the alley is open until 3 a.m., and most bars close at 1:30 a.m.).

Though the party scene makes for a lively night out, serious bowlers may prefer to take their game elsewhere. "It's bourgeois," sniffed one. Fair enough. Everybody's looking for something. 6191 Delmar, St. Louis, MO 63112; (314) 727-5555 or www.pinupbowl.com.

Saratoga Lanes: Old-school Cool
Three strikes and you're in with the purists at Saratoga Lanes, the oldest functioning bowling alley west of the Mississippi. Pretty it ain't, but this alley is the real enchilada: forties lockers, paper-and-pencil scoring, and original Art Deco benches with built-in ashtrays (still liberally used). Built in 1916 on the second floor, with a smoky bar and several pool tables, this alley is known for its gritty authenticity.

For $3 a game, you can roll alongside twentysomething alley cats doing "the vampire" (two fingers, no thumb) and throwing simultaneous strikes. Tim, a friendly, gravelly voiced employee, took me back behind the lanes to see the the mechanical wizardry. "There's about 2,500 moving parts in these machines," he warned me. "Watch your hair." 2725 Sutton Avenue; (314) 645-5308.

International Bowling Museum: Offbeat Wonders
The oldest known evidence of bowling dates back to 3200 BC: a crude ball and a set of rudimentary pins discovered in an Egyptian child's tomb. Henry VIII was a bowling fan, but he outlawed it because of the gambling. Rip Van Winkle contains the earliest mention of the sport in American literature.

Who knew? The International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame chronicles the sport's intriguing existence. The museum makes a fun jaunt if you're downtown near the stadium--the Cardinals museum is in the same building. 111 Stadium Plaza Drive; (314) 231-6340 or www.bowlingmuseum.com. Admission: $7.50 adults, $6 ages 15 and under.

"Retro Bowling in St. Louis" is from the November 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.