The expectations and variety of kid’s birthday parties these days makes my head spin and my wallet quite a bit lighter. When I was a kid, I remember two types of birthday parties. The first was at the birthday kid’s house and the second was at the local candlepin bowling alley. That’s it. Maybe we went to the movies a few times. I honestly don’t think I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses. I can’t think of another type of birthday party. It was candlepin, cake and presents 90% of the time.
I must have gotten pretty good at candlepin with all that practice, but whatever skills I attained definitely didn’t last into adulthood. For one of the vacation days during February break, we drove a couple towns north and rolled a few games at the Needham Bowlaway. Other than the electronic scoring, it’s distinctly stuck in time. I could have been having my eighth birthday party all over again. I definitely think my eight year old self would have whooped me. Candlepin bowling is deceptively difficult.
Oh, you have no idea what candlepin bowling is?
It wasn’t until college that I realized candlepin was a New England-only thing like frappes, Moxie, fluffer nutter and Papa Gino’s. If you don’t know what candlepin is, just think bowling, but on a smaller scale. The balls resemble small cannonballs (no holes) and the pins are smaller and skinnier. You get three balls per frame. Most of the rest of the rules are the same as traditional bowling.
Personally, I find candlepin much harder and more frustrating. A decent score would be anything over 100.
Needham Bowlaway is an 8-lane candlepin alley tucked under (it’s below ground) what was once Needham’s post office. It’s next to Harvey’s Hardware right off Needham Center. There is ample public parking in the lot behind the building or on the street. If you find yourself heading down a flight of stairs from street level you’ve found the right place.
Other than being a little small, it looks, feels, smells and sounds like just about every other candlepin bowling alley I’ve ever been in – minus the tang of spilled beer. I don’t think they sell alcohol though god knows, after a few frames you might be wishing they did.
You can call ahead and reserve a lane for a certain time. We should have thought of this during school vacation week as when we showed up at 10:30 in the morning, the place was packed. We reserved a lane for noon and returned a few hours later. It’s $25 per hour to bowl and that’s prorated if you go over/under. It’s $4 for those special shoes. Gutter bumpers are available at no extra charge.
They offer cosmic bowling (music, disco, black lights etc) at 4 pm on Fridays and starting at noon on Saturday and Sundays. They also offer it at noon on most school vacation weeks. The kids loved the lights. It was the primary reason for coming.
The touchpad and scoring system were easy to set up and did most of the work for you. Help was available via the screen or from the attendant if you got yourself into trouble.
The smaller balls were light enough for the five year old to roll (relatively) effectively and still (very) challenging for the adults.
It’s a very family friendly place and I think the small size actually works in its favor. Unlike a few of the bowling alleys in surrounding towns, there is no arcade, snack bar or laser tag to distract the kids. We killed almost two hours just bowling and having fun and spent less than $50 dollars. I’ll consider that a win and a better deal than sitting through a poor kid’s movie.