Pool halls in Boston make a popular winter refuge for teens and university students (though some have age requirements of over 18 or 21). Forget Paul Newman and smoky interiors: Boston likes its billiards halls swanky and well lighted, with polished brass and dark wood. Many of them do double duty as bowling alleys. Be forewarned, however, that in New England bowling is often "candlepin," with smaller balls and different rules.
It was back in 1880 that Justin White trimmed the size of his pins at his Worcester, Massachusetts, bowling hall, giving birth to candlepin bowling, a locally popular pint-size version of tenpin bowling. Now played almost exclusively in northern New England and in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, candlepin bowling is a game of power and accuracy.
Paradoxically, candlepin bowling is both much easier and far more difficult than regular bowling. The balls are significantly smaller, weighing less than 3 pounds. There are no finger holes, and players of all ages and abilities can whip the ball down the alley. But because both the ball and the pins are lighter, it is more difficult to bowl strikes and spares. Players are allowed three throws per frame, and bowlers may hit fallen pins (called wood) to knock down other pins. There has never been a perfect "300" score. The top score is 245. Good players will score around 100 to 110, and novice players should be content with a score of 90.
Among the handful of alleys in and around Boston, many maintain and celebrate their own quirky charm and history.
Boston Bowl. Open 24 hours a day, Boston Bowl attracts a more adult crowd. It has pool tables, a game room, both 10-pin and candlestick bowling, and a restaurant and bar. 820 Morrissey Blvd., Dorchester, Boston, MA, 02122. 617/825–3800. www.bostonbowl.com.
Needham Bowlaway. Founded in 1917, this tiny alley's eight cramped lanes are tucked away down a flight of stairs. Fans say Bowlaway is like bowling in your own basement. The charge is $25 per lane per hour ($20 before noon weekdays). Note that this is a drive-to only destination (no subway station is anywhere nearby). 16 Chestnut St., Needham, Boston, MA, 02492. 781/449–4060. www.needhambowl.com.
Sacco's Bowl Haven. The '50s decor here "makes bowling the way it was, the way it is." Run by the fourth generation of the Sacco family, the alleys include a Flatbread Company pizzeria. Its 10 lanes are open all day until midnight and run $25 per hour. 45 Day St., Somerville, Boston, MA, 02144. 617/776–0552.
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