Strike it lucky
Air-conditioned, cheap and consumingly competitive, how many excuses do you need to get a game of tenpin bowling in this summer?
The faint scent of sweaty feet suspended in the air as you squeeze your toes into a pair of battered two-tone shoes, coca colas being slurped greedily, and the sound of balls being hurled a hundred miles an hour at a set of neatly arranged pins – with bowlers punching the air at the word ‘strike’ scrolling across the scoreboard, or holding their heads in their hands as their ball sinks into the gutter. While cynics may scoff that tenpin bowling hardly epitomises athleticism, the sport has attracted millions of devoted fans since its conception in America’s underground gambling dens.
Although ancient Egyptians were bowling a millennia ago, rumour has it the modern game was born in 1840s Connecticut when ninepin bowling was outlawed because of its association with drunkenness and crime – by adding a tenth pin, bowlers not only slipped through the legal net, but they created a game that would go on to conquer the world. Today more than 100 million people play in over 90 different countries and Dubai has its own dedicated band of bowlers playing week-on-week in the city’s mixed bag of tenpin centres.
While the central idea of the game is hardly neuroscience (you knock down objects with a ball), the rules and equipment have changed drastically throughout tenpin’s relatively short history. Now, thanks to automatic scoreboards, novice bowlers don’t need to understand the intricacies of scoring – but it’s common to see more than a few heads being scratched when scores exceed 100 after ten rounds of aiming at ten pins. In short this is because extra points are awarded when a strike (when all pins are knocked down with the first ball) and a spare (when all pins are knocked down with two balls) are achieved. Getting a strike means the score from your next two balls is doubled, and a spare means the score from your next one ball is doubled. The perfect score is actually 300, if you’re feeling extremely lucky.
For more than 20 years Dubaians have been tenpin bowling in the city, and the all American past time has become a firmly-rooted favourite with both Emirati and expat bowlers who enjoy the inexpensive evening out with dedicated regularity.
Built in 1979, Al Nasr Leisureland (04 337 1234) in Oud Metha has become a rough around the edges establishment of fun and frivolity. Its dishevelled charm and slightly dingy, smoke-stained ambience make it a place you will either love or loathe. You can sip from bottled beer (it is the only licenced lane in the city) as you shine your balls and sit on one of the plastic multicoloured benches lining the six lanes. The nearest toilets take the description ‘dishevelled’ to disgusting lengths, but if you can keep your legs crossed while you pitch up to your position then you will have an enjoyable evening. Local legends have pinned there score sheets to the noticeboard (with scribbled mobile numbers if you fancy throwing down the gauntlet), the highest being the impressive total of 246 – although it was scored back in 2004. Plus, there’s always the neighbouring ice rink and retro arcade games to keep your focus should bowling fail to hold your attention.
Driving down Sheikh Zayed Road, you’re less than likely to have missed the giant signage proudly declaring the location of Thunderbowl (04 343 1000). Once you have found the entrance (which took us more minutes of valuable play time than we cared to lose) you will find the ’80s décor betrays evidence of decades of blood, sweat and tears shed by Dubai’s dedicated bowlers who have invested more than time in this venue. Players’ bowling bags obstruct the walkways, A4 sheets covered with details of the many leagues competing flap on the walls, and players wearing shirts embroidered with imaginative team names high five each other with infectious enthusiasm. There are some seriously good players who have made Thunderbowl their second (and no doubt, favourite) home, and the pro shop and personal lockers accommodate accordingly. If you’re keen to compete with the highfliers but your under-arm aim leaves little to be desired, Thunderbowl’s coach Wilson can give you some one-one-one tuition for Dhs50 per hour. But book before you visit or be prepared to wait your turn – and use the opportunity to tuck into some of the waitress-delivered fast food.
Serious sportsmanship aside, tenpin bowling is a social occasion the whole family can relish – depending on whether your pride can take being beaten by the kids. Deira City Centre’s City Bowling (04 295 9139) is home to eight lanes of familial fun. Tenpin bowling can be a frustrating experience for low-scoring adults, let alone kids who can become disappointed continually seeing zeroes on the scoreboard, so ask for the child-friendly gutter-guards to be put up and the pint-sized players will be getting strikes in no time. City Bowling also cater for children’s parties, which cost Dhs35 per child and includes one game of bowling, plus soft drinks and ice cream as well as the hire of a party room. With a mall full of shops, cafés, restaurants, a cinema and Magic Planet all literally steps away from the bowling alley, City Centre is a prime venue for pleasure-seeking kids of all ages.
The city’s biggest and brightest centre for all things tenpin, however, is Dubai Bowling Centre (04 296 9222) next to Century Mall in Al Mamzar. With 36 lanes’ worth of pins being sunk at any one time, competing with the whirring bleeps of arcade machines, and the screams of hyperactive young children, expect unparalleled rowdiness and amusement in equal measure. Don’t let the expanse fool you, booking ahead is recommended – especially on Thursday evenings when the venue gets a nightclub makeover, with UV lights, glow in the dark balls and pumping music turned up loud. DBC also offers table tennis and fussball, and there’s the pleasant Little Italy café, which despite the bowling alley clichés actually offers edible cuisine and some equally good shisha. Perhaps most bizarrely, above all the unrestrained racket is a sedate Thai spa offering joint cracking massages and low-lit tranquillity, which is especially welcomed by harassed parents’ whose whiny offspring insist on just one more game of tenpin bowling. But who can blame them? Michelle Byrne.
Al Nasr Leisureland (04 337 1234) Taxi: Behind the American Hospital. 9am-12 midnight. Per game Dhs7 including shoe hire. Admission is Dhs10 (adults) and Dhs5 (three-nine year olds).
City Bowling (04 295 9139) Taxi: City Centre, Deira. Open 10am-2am daily. Cost per game is Dhs20 including shoe rental.
Dubai Bowling Centre (04 296 9222) Taxi: Next to Century Mall, Al Mamzar. Open 9am-12 midnight daily. Dhs13 per hour, Sat-Wed; Dhs15 per hour Thu-Fri.
Thunderbowl (04 343 1000) Taxi: Near Defence Roundabout, SZR. Open 9.30am-12 midnight. Cost per game Dhs10 (weekdays), Dhs15 (weekends). Dhs70 per lane for an hour or Dhs80 on weekends. Shoe rental Dhs2.