On a roll in West Philly

In many ways, bowling is the perfect group activity. People of all skill levels can play together—the league player can take the lane alongside a novice—and for the most part, it’s still a reasonably priced activity. Also, it’s rare that anyone gets hurt (though you may get a sore muscle or two from crouching and hurling an eight to 14-pound ball down an oiled lane).

Now University City has its own bowling lounge, Strikes, located at 4040 Locust St. Strikes bills itself as a “family-friendly” destination, but on the weekends it looks and sounds more like a club, as it’s packed with young people drinking to the thumping sounds of Top 40 hits.

First impressions

My bowling partner, Dave, and I set out on a blustery Sunday afternoon to enjoy some old-fashioned fun. The cavernous room with exposed ductwork and high ceilings appears at first glance to only have four small bowling lanes. Not much of an alley, I think.

Turns out there are several more lanes around back, but our friendly attendant says he’ll put us on a lane up front where it’s “quieter.” Maybe we look as though we don’t want to be disturbed during our game (though I’d like to think he takes us for serious players who require a certain amount of concentration). The irony is, nowhere in Strikes is exactly quiet, with pop music following our every move.

We opt for two games, and with shoes for one of us (I’ve brought my own), the total comes to $23. That’s $5 per game, per person and $3 for shoe rental. The prices climb on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights after 8 p.m., to $7 per person, per game. From 2 to 4 a.m., Thursday through Saturday, it’s a mere $3. If early morning bowling is your cup of tea, the per-person cost is the bargain price of $3 from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

We haven’t even opted for food or beverages yet and already we’ve spent close to $25. Students with I.D. can save $1 off the per-game price, but as far as I can tell, there’s no discount for children.

Lacing up

While Dave taps our names into the computerized scoring system, I lace up my shoes and survey the surroundings. A wall of windows faces Locust Street, letting plenty of natural light spill onto the four lanes up front—something you rarely find in a bowling alley. A few pool tables ($13 per hour, per person) sit behind the front desk and beyond those is the entrance to the remaining lanes and the bar.

I take my 12-pound marbled red ball from my bag (a gag gift of sorts from a friend that I’ve used over the years with surprising frequency) and Dave picks out a 14-pound orange ball that has seen quite a few strikes in its day. We’re set to go.

I walk up to the lane, bend low to the ground and let the ball roll. The floor is so heavily waxed I almost slip and fall. Bowlers everywhere appreciate a waxed lane, as the ball seems to roll faster and more smoothly down it, but this seems excessive. Needless to say, my first few rolls aren’t my best.

Our lane is flanked on one side by a low half-wall that separates the lanes from the front desk, and as we progress through our games, we remark how closed-in we feel.

Technical glitches

We experience a handful of technical glitches as we play—one of the casualties of computerized scoring—but we quickly figure out how to correct our score in the computer. Nevertheless, it’s a distraction, made worse by the fact that the lights shining on the pins turn off before Dave can finish his 10th frame in our second game. He gamely rolls anyway.
As we’re leaving, we check out the many nightly drink specials—from bargain pitchers of Bud to Sam Adams bottles for $2—and decide maybe we’ll be back some Saturday for a nice, quiet early-morning game.

Strikes Bowling Lounge is located at 4040 Locust St. and features daily drink specials, party packages and a full-service restaurant. For more information, call 215-387-2695 or go to www.strikesbowlinglounge.com.

Originally published on January 26, 2006