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Now if you think bowling is the only thing you and your family can do when you go bowling, think again. The times have changed and Kentucky’s bowling venues have changed right along with them.

Arcade games, inflatables, mini golf, laser tag, skating rink, pro shop, dining that you’d find in a sit-down restaurant—even Wi-Fi. The sport has elevated to the cosmic sphere, typified by glow-in-the-dark bowling, flashing lights, fog machine, and dance club atmosphere. Bowling has come out of the alley and into a full-fledged fun center, a trendy pastime that any and all can participate in regardless of age.

“Bowling is fun, simple as that,” says Jack McCarthy, manager of the Fern Valley Strike & Spare. “We have endured as a commercial venue since the mid-1800s in America. We have evolved from the beer-drinking factory workers’ weekly night out to a much more family-oriented recreational outing.”

“A bowling center is great for birthday parties—and we do lots of them—and family outings,” says Larry Luvisi, owner of the Bardstown Bowling Center. The venue is kid- and family-friendly all but about six evening hours a week when the adults take over. That’s when cosmic bowling with glowing lanes, accompanied by jukebox music, takes place. Saturday and Sunday open bowl is there for families, along with a game room and a snack bar known for its fresh, cooked-to-order cheeseburgers.

“The great thing about bowling is that you don’t have to be skillful to play,” says Brooke Costides, general manager at Star Lanes on the Levee in Newport. “Anyone can do it. You roll a ball and hope to hit some pins. It puts the entire family on a level playing field—especially if the kids have bumpers.

“And the sound of a ball hitting the pins is iconic,” she adds. “People know that sound.”

Until nine o’clock in the evening, Star Lanes on the Levee is family-friendly; everyone can enjoy the “boutique bowling experience” with its upscale lounge, billiards, DJ booth, private party room, and patio. Menu items include baby-back ribs, beef short ribs, fish ‘n’ chips, and signature Star cheeseburger, plus a variety of small plate options: Caprese stack, Parmesan bread pudding, chicken pillows, and zesty jerk skewers.

Fern Valley Strike & Spare in Louisville is one of 13 bowling centers in the Strike & Spare Family Fun Center group with locations in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee. The company’s commitment to a family environment and wholesome entertainment is seen in the individual centers’ lineup of family fun. At Fern Valley, there are 44 lanes of bowling, weekend cosmic bowling events, a full-service lounge and restaurant, redemption arcade, and party facilities.

At Southern Lanes Family Fun Center in Bowling Green, families can bowl on one of 34 lanes, but that’s not the only recreational option. There are indoor baseball and softball batting cages, 18-hole indoor miniature golf, billiards, air hockey, a game room with redemption tickets for fun prizes, plus karaoke, party rooms, lounge area, pro shop, and snack bar. And the entertainment complex rocks around the clock, open 24 hours Tuesday through Saturday.

In nearby Glasgow, Ralphie’s Fun Center is an 18-lane bowling center—but that doesn’t begin to describe all the fun waiting for families. There is live music, cosmic bowling, arcade and redemption games, billiard tables, inflatables, concessions, party rooms, full-service pro shop—even a skating rink. And for those up for the challenge, the competitive, action-packed Time Freak and Atomic Blaster games are also here.

“Everything under Ralphie’s roof is family-fun oriented and enjoyable for all ages,” says Ben Wells, who handles marketing for Ralphie’s Fun Center. “If you have teenagers or toddlers, we’ve got you covered.”

Ralphie’s lays claim to the only black-light mini golf course in southern Kentucky, a venue painted with neon and black-light paint to ratchet up the cool factor of indoor putting. And Doc’s Grill serves up cheeseburgers, chicken, pizza, and milk shakes. Topping the list of food faves are Ralphie’s funnel fries and IttiBitz Ice Cream.

Because bowling is a sport that can be played and enjoyed by all ages, its popularity seems to endure from generation to generation.

“Plus, who doesn’t love those bowling shoes?” jokes Wells.

The venues have evolved to include a full menu of recreational options. Some sport a retro design and a vintage vibe; others a sleeker, more sophisticated ambience. But while the trappings have changed, the game remains the same.

“Bowling is one sport where there isn’t a lot of new technology in the equipment you use to play,” says Costides. “It is pins and a ball, so what you have to change is the alley. These days they have music, artwork, TV screens at the end of the lanes, colorful and thoughtful menus.

“They are perfect for the recreational or social bowler.”

KATHY WITT is an award-winning lifestyle and travel writer and author of several books, including The Secret of the Belles.

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