If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll already know that I have a well-established affection for anything quirky. This has only increased since moving to London, so, when the opportunity to spend an evening at a vintage bowling alley came up, Chris and I simply couldn’t refuse.
With its inconspicuous sign on a side street not far from Russell Square, you might be surprised to hear that Holborn’s All Star Lanes is an overwhelmingly popular place. On our evening there, the place was filled with work team-building folk, birthday gatherings, groups of friends and couples. We arrived in our little family group, as my mum and sister decided to join in on our bowling adventure.
Founded in 2006, All Star Lanes was dreamed up as a chance to experience the old-school bowling alleys captured in American fiction. The concept has only grown from strength to strength since then, with All Star Lanes expanding to four branches in London (Holborn, Stratford, Bayswater and Brick Lane), as well as one in Manchester.
Following the steps down into the Holborn branch, our eyes were immediately drawn to the artworks adorning the walls, which depicted people in old-school bowling outfits and other comic book-style, colourful images. With this strong visual introduction, we headed over to the front desk, where we traded in our shoes for some rather fetching bowling-friendly ones.
As we waited for our turn on the lanes, we took the time to explore. There are a few different areas within the Holborn venue. There are the main bowling lanes, of course, as well as those set aside for private events. In addition to the bowling areas, there’s a dining room (more on this a bit later) and a cosy bar, complete with comfortable couches. By the entrance, we found a lengthy glass-fronted display containing old-school skittles and bowling balls, as well as All Star Lanes-branded outfits.
Soon, it was our turn to play. I’m the first one to admit this: when it comes to activities that require hand-eye coordination, I am not the one who will walk away carrying the trophies (ahem, that was an understatement). But I make up for my lack of physical triumphs with enthusiasm, and the atmosphere at All Star Lanes, with regular cheers and shouts from fellow players, made all of us feel excited to start on our own game.
While All Star Lanes champions the vintage bowling scene, the actual bowling equipment is completely modern, with scores being shown up on TV screens above the lanes. And, if you’re afraid of the gutter balls, you can also raise the rails on the sides of your lane.
We had a great game. Chris turned out to be bowling pro, Anna was not far behind, my mum showed off some interesting bowling techniques and I was doing… something. I’m not entirely sure what, but somehow the bowling ball got onto the lane (sometimes). The ten rounds went all too quickly, and I now understood why some of the other groups had booked two games in a row.
You can visit All Star Lanes solely for the bowling (although it’s highly recommended to book lanes beforehand) but we were there for the full experience.
After our game, we made our way over to All Star Lanes’ dining area, which is divided into booth-style seating and other, more conventional table-and-chairs options. The venue’s bright retro artwork continued into this space.
To start, we ordered from All Star Lanes’ cocktail menu. There was plenty to choose from (including beer, wine and Prosecco for anyone not so keen on a cocktail), but Chris settled for the Zombie (made with a number of different rums, absinthe and lime and grapefruit juices), which arrived in a glass made with a menacing face, and I went for the tropical Aloha Jar. Composed of vodka, pineapple juice, passion fruit and topped with an umbrella, the latter number tasted – and looked – like summertime in a jar.
The food menu features American classics, like hot dogs, burgers and mac ‘n cheese, but there’s so much more too. After some serious indecision, Chris and I finally opted for the monthly special, the Meatball Hoagie, while my sister went for a sirloin steak and my mum chose the buttermilk fried chicken. Being complete gluttons, we couldn’t resist ordering the delicious-sounding sides too, such as the sweet potato fries and mini mac ‘n cheese.
The verdict? Everything was tasty and well cooked. The Meatball Hoagies could only be described as indulgent, with homemade meatballs, a rich tomato-based sauce and a very generous supply of molten cheese. If you’re after one of these, you have until the end of June to order the Meatball Hoagie; the restaurants change their specials every month.
Even though we were all completely full at this point, we became very determined to take in a few more spoonfuls once we saw the dessert menu. The desserts at All Star Lanes are homemade, and include the likes of waffles, warm apple pie and double chocolate brownies. All of us, purely out of the fear of having food envy, ended up ordering the exact same thing: the salted caramel cheesecake.
Salted caramel is one of my many (many) weaknesses when it comes to food, and I’m happy to report that All Star Lanes’ cheesecake lived up to all expectations. Salty, sweet and melt-in-the-mouth, our meal couldn’t have ended on a better note.
With one last stop at the photobooth (we needed a souvenir, after all), our fun-filled evening at All Star Lanes drew to an end. We bowled, we feasted, and we were all thoroughly impressed with the Holborn venue. My past bowling experiences have involved massive, multi-lane venues but All Star Lanes, with its promise of ’boutique bowling’, is a far more intimate experience. Doubled up with its excellent food and drink offering, All Star Lanes provides a unique and memorable recipe for a fun night out.
The next time my work or friends suggest a group outing, I know exactly what I’ll be recommending.
Do you like bowling? Have you been (or would you go) to All Star Lanes? Let me know in the comments below!
Note: Thanks to All Star Lanes for hosting our night; as always, though, all opinions (and the inability to hold back as soon as anyone says ‘salted caramel’) are entirely my own.
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