The Ultimate Guide to Candlepin Bowling in and around Boston
Up for a challenge? Try your hand at the beloved New England bowling tradition at these local alleys.
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New England is rife with unique traditions and entertainment— from munching on Fluffernutter sandwiches to belting out “Sweet Caroline” to sporting duck boots, rain or shine. But while many of our customs have become commonplace outside of the region, one rainy-day pastime has remained a uniquely New England oddity: candlepin bowling. (Or, as many locals like to refer to the game—”real bowling.”)
First played in Worcester, Massachusetts around 1880, candlepin bowling is usually credited to the genius of local billiards parlor and bowling center owner Justin P. White, and his friends Jack Monsey and Jack Sheafe.
For the uninitiated, the name candlepin comes from the triangular layout of the skinny pins, which, when peered at from the end of a bowling lane, give the appearance of a row of candles. Today, the standard plastic candlepin size is a fraction larger than the original wooden iteration, clocking in at 15.75 inches in length. Present-day candlepin bowling balls are a maximum of 4.5 inches in diameter, weighing two pounds, seven ounces—much smaller than typical tenpin bowling balls, which come in at 8.5 inches in diameter and are at least six pounds or heavier.
Candlepin’s smaller pins and balls (which also lack finger holes) make it much more difficult than traditional tenpin bowling. Plus, even when you do manage to knock pins over, they’re not cleared away until your three roll turn is up.
Candlepin is also lower-scoring than standard tenpin bowling. While thousands of tenpin bowlers have recorded perfect 300 games, the highest sanctioned candlepin score remains a measly 245—bowled most recently by Chris Sargent of Haverhill in 2011, tying International Candlepin Bowling Association president Ralph Semb’s 1984 score.
Today, most candlepin bowling alleys offer plastic pins and balls, as well as fully automated pin setters in place of the original wooden iterations and pin boys. (In fact, the first automated pin setting machines were introduced in Lunenberg, Mass, for— you guessed it— a candlepin alley.) But despite the introduction of technology, the vintage vibe at alleys around Boston has held over through the years.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking for a new place to bowl or a newbie determined to master the form, try your hand at one of the vintage alleys below.
The Davis Square mainstay was originally known as Sacco’s Bowl Haven— a name that’s still emblazoned above the candlepin lanes today. While the Sacco family slowly closed their 18 locations around Massachusetts over the years, the originally Somerville spot held firm until operations were taken over by beloved Vermont restaurant American Flatbread. The new owners have preserved the vintage vibe of Sacco’s, and in the past five years, expanded the enterprise to Boston Landing with a nine-lane candlepin operation under the name Brighton Bowl. Whether you choose to play in Davis Square or Brighton, American Flatbread’s mouthwatering wood-fired pizzas and craft beer selection are an essential component to the experience.
$30 an hour, 45 Day St., Somerville, 617-776-0552; 76 Guest St., Brighton, 617-903-4595, americanflatbread.com.
This family-owned bowling alley has been an anchor on East Broadway for over 20 years—providing fun for all ages as well as bowling leagues five times a week for anyone ready to take their candlepin passion to the next level. Just make sure you eat a full meal before you show up for craft beers and a few rounds of candlepin: These old-school lanes don’t offer food—yet!
$10 an hour, 543 E. Broadway, Boston, 617-464-4858, southiebowl.com.
Back in 1959, this family-owned and operated bowling alley was the first to bring tenpin bowling to the greater Boston area. Today, after changing their name from First Boston Tenpin to Boston Bowl, the facility attracts visitors from across New England (and the country!) to bowl candlepin, shoot pool, play over 80 arcade games, rent batting cages and enjoy the 21+ scene at the Xperience lanes.
$5.75-$9, 820 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, 617-825-3800, bostonbowl.com.
Central Park Lanes
If you’re looking for a true throwback candlepin experience, don’t miss out on this 70+ year-old alley near Central Square in Eastie. From the hand-painted signage on the walls to the classic wood-paneling and vintage ball return, you’re in for an old-school adventure from start to finish. Cash-only.
$20 an hour, 10 Saratoga St., East Boston, 617-567-7073, facebook.com.
Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream & Bowling
Originally known as Twentieth Century Bowling Alleys, Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream & Bowling changed its name when Ron Covitz took over the family business from his father, Julius. A Brookline High School and Boston University graduate, Ron knew he wanted to turn his father’s bowling alley into an exceptional destination for gourmet ice cream—while also preserving ten precious lanes of candlepin bowling. Today, the retro alley offers candlepin alongside 30-35 flavors of gourmet ice cream—including seasonal flavors like pumpkin Oreo and apple pie in the fall, egg nog and peppermint stick during the holidays, and watermelon and lemon cooler in the summer.
$4 per person, 1231 Hyde Park Ave, Hyde Park, 617-364-5274, ronsicecream.com.
Since 1917, Needham Bowlaway has offered a family-friendly candlepin experience in Needham Center, just across from Town Hall. Tucked away under the former post office space, this hidden gem, below-ground alley features eight original candlepin lanes, as well as cosmic bowling on the weekends under black lights and disco balls.
$30 an hour, 16 Chestnut St., Needham, 781-449-4060, needhambowl.com.
Back in 1940, the Woburn Bowladrome operated eight lanes out of an old garage, with a pin boy working quickly to set up each rack of ten pins for bowlers between rounds. Today, the alley is a 40-lane operation with fully automatic pin setters and scoring—and a weekly Saturday night celebration under black lights and disco balls to the tune of pop and throwback jams.
$30-$36, 32 Montvale Ave., Woburn, 781-933-1709, woburnbowl.com.
Acton Bowladrome & Arcade
For 60 years, “The Drome” has invited regulars and candlepin novices alike to chow down on good burgers and drinks while they bowl. After you’ve tired yourself out at the 16 candlepin lanes, head to the adjacent 50-game arcade and vintage pinball lounge for even more fun.
$5-$10 per person, 257 Main St., Acton, 978-263-7638, actonbowl.com.