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Is Bowling Finally Not Uncool?

“Let’s go bowling,” a friend actually blurted at a get-together recently as the entire room fell into a stunned hush. We didn’t go bowling, as it turned out, but still, the realization that such a cornball thing could even be an option suggested that bowling might finally be slithering back into a spot on the collective radar, as the cognoscenti cringe.

I hope so! I adored bowling as a kid, mainly because I was so inept at real sports that it was heartening to learn I could throw an orb down a lane over and over again and eventually some pins would drop to their death. I felt athletic! Besides, it was a way for me to bond with my generally remote father, who had bowling in his blood and would actually have full, involved conversations with me whenever the topic came up.

But soon enough the world got savvier, and in the 1970s, bowling became as obsolete as tie-dye shirts, granny glasses, and dancing the Twist. Even old people didn’t bowl anymore. It wasn’t until way later that brave entrepreneurs tried to bring a curve ball to all that. In 1997, New York’s Bowlmor Lanes was taken over by a new owner, who jazzed the dive up and made it clubby and glitzy—a bold move, though I was often there bowling with imaginary (or sulky) friends. A year later, the Coen Brothers’ culty The Big Lebowski continued bowling’s blip of a revival, but it was primarily still something to laugh at, not dive into it, and you still couldn’t even say “bowling shoes” without being stoned in public.

But now the bowling-as-clubbing ethic has been accepted enough so that Bowlmor is thriving. (They’ve added a Carnival floor where there was a Tribeca Film Festival “cast party” and a Broadway musical bash, not to mention weekly club kid events). The joint is even opening a Times Square branch this fall. And on West 42 Street, the flashy fun pit called Lucky Strike Lanes has been reeling in perfectly respectable people since it opened a year and a half ago. If anything can take the “un” out of bowling’s uncool status, this place is it. Picture long, sexy lanes studded with twinkling lights. Pins striped in neon. “Chicken pillows” and “tuna lollipops” served by fetching waitpeople. And a private area with four intimate lanes, where bashes have been thrown by trendy designers and entertainers. And no one is that ashamed!

Thanks to places like this—which happens to be part of a growing countrywide chain—a lot of the sting has been taken out of bowling because it doesn’t seem like bowling anymore. It’s basically partying with some occasional ball tossing and weirder footwear.