Jul 06

Boutique Bowling

FT + Pumpkin Publog + TMFD1 comment • 2,356 views

The other night I found myself on a work jolly to All Star Lanes, one of two mini bowling alleys to have cropped up in Soho. All-Star Lanes offers four lanes, a spacious bar, a rather less spacious restaurant, an extensive cocktail menu, Americana on the walls and stereo (lurching between Elvis and the Strokes), and a well-heeled, sometimes noisy office worker clientele. By all accounts it is a lot more tasteful and slick than rival Bloomsbury Bowling. It is also – this is rather important if you’re not sucking on the expense account nipple – a great deal pricier.

I half enjoyed the experience. A night out with likeable workmates: good. Being unusually bad at bowling, even for me: very annoying and I got far too stressed. (Beer calmed me and I ended with a respectable pair of strikes, though I still came last). The atmosphere won a lot of praise from colleagues but it left me a bit cold. I found myself asking – what do I want from a bowling experience?

The answer isn’t “American-style” bowling, I think. For all that ten-pin is a quintessentially American sport the bowling alleys of my youth feel very British in memory. Or mid-Atlantic, let’s say. Like an indoor fairground, or an endless cinema lobby, the tackiness of them is definitely part of the appeal. Stiff and sticky purple carpets; a battered grabber machine; OutRun and Gauntlet video games; MTV on the TVs, back when nobody had it at home; learning how to sit comfortably on bar stools at 12 or 13. A faint unthreatening seediness. In All-Star Lanes, only the naff gutter, spare and strike animations feel like what I think “real” bowling is like.

With burgers £8-9, games £8 or so and beers around £4, All-Star Lanes can harsh the wallet. (There’s no draught beer and the default ‘cheap’ bottle is very horrible Coors). You’d need to be very sure that “luxury bowling” is what you want before you go for it. Or do as I did and get the boss to pay, of course.


  1. 1
    Rick on 17 Feb 2007 #

    Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes is very different from this place. No slick at all your right. Which is great. We went last night. The £3 entry fee is well worth it on a Friday night as they have DJs and bands. Really relaxed and a mixed crowd. Amy Whitehouse was playing pool without any attention from other punters. Drink prices are fair.

    Really cool diner, but was full so we ate our ‘Strike Burgers’ on a sofa. Not ideal.

    Very special place in my mind with a warm atmosphere. What’s also different is the bowling is not central to the venue. I can’t stand noisy bowling lanes. At Bloomsbury glass windows keep the noise down.

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