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Tacoma by the balls

A frame-by-frame guide to bowling in T-town

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In order to write the definitive all-Tacoma bowling guide, I visited six local alleys in a stretch of barely 24 hours, a weird and wondrous saga that showed me a new side of Tacoma and myself and from which I am still recovering. Next time we run into each other at the bar, I’ll tell you all about it — whether you ask or not. But right now, we have to talk some bowling.

Bowling is changing. Along with everything else, I know. Today’s bowling alley is called a “bowling center.” It is an entertainment smorgasbord. No longer are we content just to bowl, eat fries and suck suds. We also must shoot pool, throw darts, gamble, watch television, play pinball, and perhaps golf. Big bowling centers, of which Tacoma has several, are like airports, malls and multiplex theatres; they are alternate universes with manufactured light and air and a strange artificial society that begins and ends at the big glass doors. But, that being said, they are also confoundingly and wonderfully homey. No amount of digitization, Formica and disco lighting can expel the “alley” from the “center.”  The old farts in suspenders still arrive every morning. The décor — despite all efforts, or because of them — remains delightfully tacky. The gleaming lanes, the colorful balls and the silly shoes endure.

But not all bowling centers are big and garish. Some, called “boutique centers,” are intimate and even tasteful. Chalet Bowl in (where else?) Proctor is a good example.  Billy Frederick, Chalet’s young owner, told me that Washington’s oldest bowling venue will soon host a wedding reception, which will be catered by neighboring wine bar Pour at Four. Chalet Bowl also hosts business meetings, using the flat-screen scoring monitors to show PowerPoint presentations. But the crew still runs things from that funky, shingled shack in the back. And they still sell nachos. And rolling a turkey makes even Modern Man dance.

So get your ass out and bowl. Doesn’t really matter where to tell you the truth — all are fun and affordable. Still, each has its own personality. These rankings, based on my highly erratic scores — a method at least as scientific as eenie meenie — are your road map.  

Pacific Lanes Bowling Center

My score: 167
All you need to know about Pacific Lanes is this: two bars. That’s right, all your bar hopping needs right there under one roof. The North Pacific Ultra Lounge is the quieter, classier of the two, while the South Pacific Sports Bar has a rowdier rep. I asked co-owner Tim Brunner if the arrangement was designed to reflect the North-South dichotomy in Tacoma, or, for that matter, the nation. I believe his exact reply was, “Um.” I was pleased to discover and quick to order Kokanee on draft — a favorite east of the mountains, but a rarity, sadly, in T-town. With some of the best beer and drink prices in town, you can’t go wrong at Pacific Lanes. And did I mention you can bowl there?
[7015 South D Street, Tacoma, 253.474.0594, www.]

Paradise Village Bowl

My score: 159
In my experience, places billing themselves as paradises very seldom are, unless paradise to you means mosquitoes, strippers with cellulite or a vibrating bed by the interstate. So I was pleased to encounter none of these things at Paradise Village Bowl in Parkland. Instead I encountered a super friendly staff and a modern facility with all of the requisites: 32 lanes, arcade, restaurant, lounge, banquet room, nine million different kinds of pull tabs, etc. It’s not quite as sexy as its sister center, Bowlero, but scoring’s easy. I speak from experience.
[12505 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma/Parkland, 253.537.6012,]

Narrows Plaza Bowl

My score: 116
Narrows Plaza Bowl is as close to posh as bowling gets. On a hotel scale, it falls somewhere in-between La Quinta and Hotel Murano. Best Western, let’s say. Like Bowlero and Chalet Bowl, it features fancy flat-screen scorers with extra screens for ESPN. (I’m thinking Big Lebowski night.) And with 40 lanes, it’s the biggest alley in town. My favorite feature, though, is the mural. Tucked in the back by the first-rate Good Times Lounge, the utterly incongruous picture of singing and dancing hippies shows that not even the slick Narrows Plaza is immune to the self-ironic flourishes that forever render bowling alleys kitsch. In a good way.
[2200 Mildred St. W., University Place, 253.565. 1007,]

Bowlero Lanes

My score: 115
Weekly Volcano boss Pappi Swarner agreed to let me write this story only on the condition that I check out Bowlero in Lakewood. Just driving up I knew immediately why: like our beloved Pappi, hardly the “bowling guy” type, Bowlero has some serious style. With its California Modern architecture and super spiffy decor, no other alley can touch it for cool.  Big, bright, clean and contemporary, Bowlero features 32 lanes, pool tables, a crazy arcade, a restaurant, and a lounge. And, speaking of cool, let’s not forget the Omaha Room, where cool is the rule as serious poker is played day and night (and morning, as I witnessed), just like in Omaha. Omaha? I have no idea.
[3852 Steilacoom Blvd. S.W., Lakewood, 253.584. 0212,]

Chalet Bowl

My score: 95
At just 12 lanes (call ahead to reserve one), Proctor’s Chalet Bowl is by far the cutest, littlest alley in T-town — a perfect fit for cute little Proctor. (And, I suppose, my cute little score.) Hosting around 350 birthday parties a year, it’s a true family favorite. Within walking distance of my house, I’ll definitely bring the runts by for Kids Bowl Free — a program through which local alleys offer two free games to every child every day, all summer long. To register and learn more, visit
[3806 N. 26th St., Tacoma, 253.752.5200, www.]

Tower Lanes

My score: 88   
With an atmosphere wobbling somewhere between retro and nouveau, this Sixth Avenue landmark combines bowling with mini-golf the way a Krispy Kreme burger combines ground beef with donuts. One word: genius. While the outside could use a squirt of BOTOX, the owners have done a nice job updating indoors. Wisely, they’ve left the classic Tower Inn restaurant and lounge alone, and to up the vintage quotient even more, they host an antique car show every Saturday night. They’re open 24 hours, just like the sign says, and their Pizza, Beer, Bowling and Mini-Golf league is just one more reminder why America is the greatest nation on earth, ever.
[6323 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.564.8853, www.]

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Comments for "Tacoma by the balls" (3)

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volcano/customer our business with u said on Jun. 18, 2009 at 1:14am

me and my wife are owners of a small business here in tacoma and we advertise with you, no more! we are league bowlers and we over heard not at one but two centers on what you people have recently printed about our local bowling centers, and there rating or score was based on a game bowled by someone from you people. basically what it tells me and my wife is, at any given time, our business could become the butt(your ass) of a joke, no thank you our business with you is no more.

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Sarah said on Jun. 15, 2009 at 10:41pm

Where\'s the review of Lincoln Lanes? Did you skip them or are they out of business??

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LOCAL LEAGUE BOWLERS said on Jun. 17, 2009 at 2:47am

sara fyi lincoln lanes is no more. for some(the new owners) the property for there business(HONG KONG SUPERMARKET) has become more valuable. now, very very sad your recent article on local bowling centers as well as the sport in general for our city. theres alot one could say, or for that fact many could say about each of these bowling centers that would just make FOR A VERY BAD RETRACTION ON YOUR PART, a lot of people not just bowlers or bowling center employees or for that matter bowling center owners know the real score. your scoring system just doesnt give justice to the value not only in $$$$$$ on these centers, value to its owners but to the city of tacoma and the community and there specific location. your articles on each center has some of the most funniest lies and contraction that makes for good bowling center humor. its not hard to tell who your little what ever u call it (TABOLID) favors and dont favor. QUOTE-DOESNT REALLY MATTER WHERE TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH- for everybodys fyi the word modern is used-to some not in the guardian used but in its owner DAVE, much more of what center owners should be compared to others in the ------, and did i mention you could bowl there-with ther modern up to date conditioning equipment, staff, and overall knowledge, yes with remote control you can bowl there, but try and get a drink everyday or night in each of its two bars?, self ironic flourishes and dancing and singing hippies-this is not the 50\\\'s or the 60\\\'s guys, its all GANG related in there center i guess location, i\\\'ll skip the unpleasant actual number of GUNS removed there in one year by on duty police and the actual number of gang related fights, now value thats were its at, or should one say it has no value in the cities assessors office, pacific lanes lane machine has more value than this centers building assessed value, its in the \\\"score\\\", i have no idea-indeed you don\\\'t, one of the most funniest things talked about in this center is paper or plastic still covering one of the mens urnals, when asked among bowlers, no answer was given on when there last equipment or modern architecture and decor was done, for being called a sister center with paradise its got to be with a different mother, call ahead to reserve one,-a parking spot or is that to bowl on a Monday when there not open, value now thats a owner with a different first name(its in the score) or within the last 3 years foreclorsure twice, the kids bowl free all summer long is a nation wide program to help make this sport grow, not just chalet bowl, that makes for a much better FRONT PAGE ARTICLE, why america is the greatest nation on earth. TOWERS-america us our community is \\\"24 HOURS\\\", genius, the volcano compares this centers bowling and mini-golf as if its nothing more than a bad combination for getting a donut with a side of beef, with a 6-figure revenue i think its called MEAT, and a business with owners that are welling to feed the community, making it grow, and giving back to the community for which they are a part of. NOW FROM WHAT I KNOW ABOUT BOWLING IN EACH OF THESE CENTERS, SOMEONE NAMELY MARK THOMAS DEMING SUCKS AT BOWLING, JUST THINK OF JUSTICE AND YOUR RATING SYSTEM AND \\\"WHAT YOUR AVERAGE TURNS OUT TO BE AFTER 6 CENTERS\\\" BACK AT U QUOTE \\\"FAVBROYP\\\" THE VOLCANO\\\'S SCORE OR RATING BY SOME WOULD BE ABOUT 13.

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