date published: July 7, 2003

Fun 'n' Games
Bowling, billiards, mini-golf and more, Panorama surveys the games people play and where to play them in the Boston area
by Aaron Ansel

Variety, it has been said, is the spice of life. Perhaps the phrase should be re-coined to include nightlife as well, because variety seems to quickly be becoming what Boston-after-dark is all about. From the recent opening of the bowling alley and billiards room, Kings, to the new-ish nightclub/pool hall Felt, to the ongoing success of places like Jillian's and the Milky Way in Jamaica Plain, Bostonians are turning more and more to alternative entertainment venues that feature something besides the traditional drinking and dancing on their plat-du-jour. So if you've already trekked along the Freedom Trail and quacked your heart out in a Duck Boat, or if you're just looking for something to challenge your hand-eye coordination, head out to any one of these cool hot-spots that are sure to spice up your evening.

50 Dalton St., 617-266-2695
It's official: retro is cool, and there's nothing any of us can do about it except flip up our collars, grease back our hair, and head to Kings, where retro meets the modern age. What makes this hip new lounge and bowling alley unique is the fact that the lanes are standard size, a true Boston rarity. Bowl to the pulse of disco and funk while the black-lights illuminate everything from the rainbow-colored bowling balls to the Andy Warhol-esque art on the walls. Across from the alleys is a dimly lit pool lounge, the sort of way-too-cool place where you'd expect to see James Dean in the back leaning casually against one of the vintage tables. Kings is also home to the DeVille Lounge-think a 1960s hep cat lounge-complete with extra details like red plastic cups that make this place a new juxtaposition of classic and cool.

145 Ipswich St., 617-437-0300
For everyone who saved up their lunch money for after school arcade-hopping, Jillian's-home to over 200 video games-is the biggest thing to come along since they started putting dollar-bill slots on the machines. Jillian's is open to all ages, but for the arcade addicts who are all grown up, there are bars, restaurants, and more bars abounding throughout its three floors. The top floor is a pool-junkies utopia, with over 50 pool tables. Just be warned-after setting foot in this entertainment mecca, you may not be able to get the theme music from Centipede out of your head.

126 Brookline Ave., 617-536-7665
Trends may come and go, but there's something about a classic pool hall-the lights turned down low, the sound of bar glasses and eight-balls clinking in the background-that won't fade away. The Boston Billiard Club, consistently rated one of the country's top pool-halls, is a sharp and sexy club where Paul Newman wannabes come to stake their claim. The club is home to 55 industry-standard Brunswick Gold Crown tables, as well as a full service bar and restaurant serving traditional pub fare. With a variety of upscale private rooms, you're bound to find the perfect spot for sinking an eight-ball against your unsuspecting boss, or simply getting out for a night on the town. Just watch out for that innocent-looking kid who's only played "once or twice" but comes equipped with a personal cue engraved "poolmaster."

401 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-3740
When Nirvana sang "Here we are now, entertain us," this Jamaica Plain hotspot may have been the sort of place the grunge-era superstars could have had in mind. Cool live bands, a medley of special events and a variety of theme nights attract a diverse crowd, as do the pool tables, Pac-Man, and that irrepressible New England institution, candlepin bowling. What more could any rocker guy or girl sporting a leather jacket and a pair of Chuck Taylors want? Tuesday nights feature Mary Mary's All-Star Karaoke, where tatooed hipsters belt out '80s-era cheese like Pat Benatar and Guns N' Roses while sipping a creative cocktail from the cordials-only bar. It's just another small detail that makes this JP funhouse as inimitable as its clientele.


533 Washington Street, 617-350-5555
This snazzy new club and billiards lounge may be exactly what happens when you take a upscale nightclub with DJs and dancing and throw in a pool hall for added entertainment. Felt hosts a variety of theme nights like Tuesdays Den'm Night, where those black pants can be ditched for navy blue Levis, as well as a host of DJs spinning throughout the weekend. To keep their place at the edge of hip, Felt regularly hosts special events like the J-Lo Swimwear Fashion Show on June 12 and the Playboy Playmates Party to benefit breast cancer on June 25. Who said you had to be a pool shark to get people's attention at a billiards club?

1575 Broadway, Saugus, 781-233-2811
Best known for the giant orange Tyrannosaurus Rex leering down over the highway, this mini-golf course, about ten minutes north of the city, features family-friendly fun with a 1950s feel. If you're looking for a challenging, classic putt-putt course with a long history of New England entertainment, this is your place. Its 18 holes are adorned with vintage d├ęcor (think Ferris Wheels and bowling pins), and when your game is over or the T-rex (his name is Tim) has eaten your ball, you can blow off some steam in the batting cages or head to the arcade to win enough tickets for a new golf ball.

150 Bridge St., Dedham, 781-326-9616
Located off of Route 1, about 20 minutes south of the city, this golfer's haven offers driving ranges, a putting and chipping area, and 18 holes of mini-golf for some intense, competitive putting. The course is tastefully landscaped, with a waterfall and fish pond where you can feed the scaly critters for a quarter (hopefully not with your golf ball). The holes themselves are rather inventive: check out the super-steep McGolf Mountain Hole, where a hole-in-one wins you $25. Whether you're working on your game, or gaming with the family, McGolf is the perfect place for either pastime.

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If you're not from around these parts, you may be in for a shock when you step into a bowling alley. It's not that Bostonians lack arm-muscles, it's just that up here we prefer a bocce-sized ball over gargantuan spheres with holes for getting your fingers stuck in. The pins are tall and skinny and look like oversized vitamins because, seriously, we like it that way. A New England tradition for more than 100 years, candlepin bowling is similar to its standard size counterpart in such things as scoring and the number of pins, but there are a few unique rules and bits of trivia that are as crucial as the ugly bowling shoes every patron is forced to wear.

  • History: Candlepin bowling was invented in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1880 by Justin P. White. If you can remember this fact, then congratulations: you can officially talk candlepin with the best of them.
  • Attitude: Candlepin is something New Englanders take seriously! The International Candlepin Bowling Association (ICBA) oversees records, regulations and rules to ensure the purity of the sport. No jokes, please.
  • Equipment: The balls in candlepin are scaled down considerably from standard size to smaller, six or four-inch diameter measurements, similar to a shot-put. The cylindrical pins are smaller as well.
  • The Three Shot Rule: Because the pin size makes it more difficult to knock them all down in one or two balls, a turn in candlepin consists of three shots. Just treat the third ball the same as the second in terms of scoring
  • Scoring: It's a longstanding candlepin tradition that the scoring be done completely by hand, but the process is essentially the same as "big ball" bowling. Just remember, even though you can get a spare on the second or 3rd shot, in order to get a strike you've still got to knock 'em all down on the first try.