Standing outside of 58 Alder St. in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, you wouldn’t necessarily hear much of anything. And that’s a surprise, considering that inside there’s likely a raucous bowling tournament underway, or a live show, a fundraiser, and, on any given night, a lively bar scene.

Since its opening back in 2010, Bayside Bowl has become somewhat of an entertainment institution in Portland. On cold winter nights, this is the place where groups of friends meet to warm up with pitchers of beer and a few strings on the lanes. But it’s also a spot to catch live music, support local nonprofits and, if that’s not enough, to chow down on way-above-average bowling alley grub.

The island bar seats about 18, but there’s ample seating throughout the dining area, with tables and seats against the wall and a long counter that overlooks the lanes.

In the early evening, the lanes are a mix of first-come-first-serve patrons, in addition to nightly league teams. The bar might be empty, but by 7 or 8 p.m. the seats fill up with a diverse crowd – buddies waiting for a lane to open, a young couple meeting for dinner after work, or some regulars who idle around the bar watching a game on the flat-screen TVs. Co-owner and former state Rep. Charlie Mitchell is often seen making the rounds, bouncing from bar to kitchen, or checking out the action with the bowling tournaments.

Beer is emphasized on the drink menu, with 12 beers on tap and a special beer list on the chalkboard behind the bar that features local brews. There are daily happy hour specials and pitchers of Moosehead for $10. On the same chalkboard, dinner, soup and dessert specials are listed.

Here, you won’t find greasy chicken strips and industrial French fries served on paper plates. The menu boasts more gastro pub fare but pays tribute to what some might want and expect at a bowling alley, such as the Bayside Nachos or BBQ Pork Cigars. A recent dinner special was fried chicken with pickled green tomatoes, watermelon and hot sauce. And then there’s the falafel salad on a bed of spinach, or the veggie stir-fry bowl, or mac ’n’ cheese that can be modified with soy cheese and augmented with roasted garlic.

Bayside Bowl seems to have thought of everything, short of installing a swimming pool. The bowling theme simply laid the groundwork for what has sprouted a hip, boisterous meeting ground for the young, old, and everyone in between.

Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer.

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