Garden Street Bowl is a new 10-pin alley in Kennebunk. Photo courtesy of Garden Street Bowl

In New England, going bowling can mean something different than it does in the rest of the country.

The region is the birthplace of candlepin bowling – invented in 1880 in Worcester, Massachusetts – and pretty much the only place the sport is played (as well as in neighboring parts of Canada). In the minds of many Mainers, the smaller-ball version of the sport is the only kind, but declining interest has forced many alleys to close their doors.

Meanwhile, the retro-cool appeal of 10-pin (big-ball) bowling has fueled a resurgence in its popularity in recent years, and you can now find a smattering of hip and often design-conscious alleys that combine the activity with a smorgasbord of other entertainment, often with notably trendy dining options, making for a fun way to spend a day when the weather forces you indoors.

What are the main differences between candlepin and 10-pin bowling? In candlepin, each player uses three balls per frame rather than two, and the balls are much smaller (each ball weighs only as much as one candlepin) and have no holes. The pins are also thinner and don’t get cleared between rolls during each player’s turn. All of that makes candlepin pins harder to knock down, so most bowlers consider it a lot more challenging than 10-pin, and therefore superior.

So as you plan your rainy-day bowling outing, you have a choice between experiencing a regional tradition or having modern amenities at your fingertips. The good news is you can find both types of alleys all over the state. Here are some options near you.

Bowl-A-Rama is a classic candlepin alley in Sanford. Photo couresty Bowl-A-Rama

Bowl-A-Rama

A favorite for leagues and families with tykes, the candlepin spot’s faux-fierce motto may be “Leave no pin standing,” but they give plenty of leeway to those who want bumpers, or who just want to come and knock over a few when ‘glo bowling’ happens on weekends. Craving a little air hockey? The video arcade’s got you covered with a deluge of classic games, and the snack menu—featuring all things fried and finger-friendly—keeps everyone going till the game’s over.

WHERE: 1217 Main St., Sanford

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

INFO: (207) 324-2401, sanfordbowl.com@bowlaramasanford on Facebook

Garden Street Bowl 

Ten lanes of 10-pin bowling, plus bocce, skeeball, pinball and shuffleboard give kids and grown-ups alike a whirlwind of options at this swanky hangout. Between the leather sofas and downlighting, and the on-site gastropub, the vibe is equal parts dizzying rec room and very cool club. Crotux, the aforementioned pub, is a destination in its own right, serving up more than two dozen taps of crafts beer and cider, and fare that’s at least one step more inventive than you’d expect. (To wit: the seared duck breast PB&J sandwich on French toast comes with sweet chili peanut butter and hot pepper jelly.)

WHERE: 1 Garden St., Kennebunk

HOURS: 3-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 3 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, noon to 11 p.m. Thursday, noon to midnight Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday

INFO: (207) 636-7799, gardenstreetbowl.com, @gardenstreetbowl on Facebook and Instagram.


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