A Bittersweet Evening at Lanes & Games

lanes and gamesPhotos by Derek Kouyoumjian

Fans wish the old-school North Cambridge bowling alley would be spared from development.

Lanes & Games on Route 2 in Cambridge has been a home to local bowlers for more than four decades. But if an August development proposal moves forward, the building could be demolished as early as next summer to make room for condominiums.

Scout spent a Saturday evening chatting with the bowling alley’s employees and customers about the atmosphere, the history and what it is that makes this place so special.

Update, 4/12/17: It’s official, per Wicked Local Cambridge—Lanes & Games will close after the summer 2017 season, and an apartment complex will take its place.

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“It hasn’t changed much physically,” says Manager John Leverone, pointing to the carpeted walls. He’s worked at Lanes & Games for 40 years. “It’s got a lot of history.”

When a bowling alley closes, John estimates that as many as half of its customers stop bowling altogether, which in turn hurts the popularity of the game.

“Bowlers refer to a bowling house as their home,” he says. “They’re like family.” That’s especially true for John, who met his wife of five years, Lory, during one of his shifts here.

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Lory Leverone has worked here for 16 years. She eventually became the in-house driller, customizing bowling balls to meet players’ specifications.“I have a love-hate relationship with it,” she laughs. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, she’s meticulous and thorough when it comes to handling expensive sporting goods and getting things exactly right for her clients.

“It’s really different,” she says of her unique line of work. “You don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I want to be a driller.’” It’s also commonly a male-dominated field. Lory went through the training process to take over ball-drilling with a group of other employees—all men—and ultimately, “the girl was left standing.”

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Wally Flannery has been an employee of Lanes & Games for three years. He worries about the future of candlepin bowling—a local specialty.

“Candlepin is a lost art,” Flannery points out, adding that the Worcester-developed sport is almost exclusively played in New England and Nova Scotia. Still, he sympathizes with Lanes & Games and other alleys like it that are closing up shop.

“Because of the economy, a lot of [people] are offering a lot of money to these bowling places,” he says. “And it’s hard to turn down.”

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Allston resident Kevin Garelik decided to celebrate his 30th birthday here with friends and family who were visiting from New Jersey. “I love bowling. I’m not competitive, though,” he chuckles.

He first came here a few months ago for a Big Lebowski event that included a movie screening, themed cocktails and—naturally— bowling. “This offers everybody a place to bowl,” he says, whether they prefer ten-pin or candlepin.

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Valerie and Ryan found out about Lanes & Games through a friend. “It’s great. I love the strange, carpeted walls,” Valerie enthuses. “They have foot-flush buttons in the bathrooms.”  (“It’s like driving a toilet,” adds Ryan.)

“I love the weird, retro seating. I love how casual the staff are. I love the pinball room,” Valerie continues, noting that she prefers Lanes & Games to more generic bowling venues in Boston. “This is more relaxed, townie and old-fashioned.” They planned to bowl at least six games that evening.

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“The arcade, the pizza. It’s a nice, fun, family-friendly place,” Somerville resident Sarita explains. “You can plan ahead or come on a whim, and you can still bowl.” She regularly brings her grandchildren—Daniel, 15, and Roger, 12—to hit the lanes and play arcade games.

“The arcade’s awesome,” Daniel confirms.

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Amaury Bonfim and Sidney Freitas come to Lanes & Games often—but not to bowl.

“Now it’s like, once or twice a week,” says Bonfim. “Always for pool. I love it. It’s like home. It’s a good place to stay.”

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Annie McGraw, Shailyn Flynn, Anastasia Portenko, Bridget Paulson and Kayla Tymon have huddled around a bar table to share pizza and beers before hitting the lanes. The group admits that the potential for condo development is what motivated them to come out together.

“[The development proposal] is actually the reason we’re here,” McGraw says. “I feel like it’s just a staple,” adds Tymon.

The group works at Crate Escape in Huron Village, which holds its annual Christmas party at Lanes & Games. So they were disappointed to learn their favorite local hangout could soon be gone. “It’s a hidden gem!” exclaims McGraw. “It looks like nothing, and then you come in and it’s awesome.”

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Ed Kim brought his son, Harry, and Harry’s friend Josh to bowl candlepin and hang out in the arcade. He’s brought his Newton-based family to Lanes & Games for birthday parties before, but he hadn’t heard about the potential condo development.

“It’s kind of an awkward place to build condos,” Kim muses. “And I’m not a big fan of destroying the old stuff.”

This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 250 locations throughout the city or by subscription.