If the White House bowling alley were a person, it would now qualify for full Social Security benefits.
Opened 65 years ago today, the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley was constructed in the basement of the White House’s West Wing and then moved to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in 1955.
While more than 1,000 visitors frequent the lanes each year, bowling buffs should not expect to waltz right in.
And that tends to be true of the entire Washington, D.C., bowling scene.
If you’re looking to relieve stress by knocking over some pins and throwing back a few beers, you’ll be hard pressed to find relief in the District.
While there are several bowling establishments in suburban Maryland and Virginia, the District sports only three working alleys — two of which are not open to the general public.
For Capitol keglers, here is a quick rundown of Washington’s local lanes.
Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Distance from Capitol Hill: 3.5 miles
The infamous White House bowling lanes are well-known among D.C. political types, but getting a lane on the presidential alley is not easy.
Bowlers must be invited by White House staff. After a Secret Service background check, bowlers must pass through several security checkpoints and an underground basement.
With its own selection of balls and shoes, pin patrons can enjoy a personal flat-screen television and mini-fridge for beverages. Bowlers accustomed to automatic scoring will need to brush up on their math: The White House alley requires you to keep score the old-fashioned way.
Bolling Air Force Base
315 McChord St. SW
Distance From Capitol Hill:
For serious bowlers seeking to satisfy their pin pallet, D.C.’s Potomac Lanes is the best bet. Located at Bolling Air Force Base, the 30-lane alley is typically reserved for active or retired military personnel and their dependents.
While civilian bowlers are welcome to join one or more of the daily bowling leagues, they must first express interest to the alley manager and complete a clearance form at the base’s visitor center.
The lanes were reopened in September after four months of remodeling. The alley closed its classic bowling alley bar, turning it into a game room and pro shop.
Manager Carl Gittings said the renovations have made the lanes more family-oriented.
“We wanted the place to be inviting,” Gittings said. “Where people could feel comfortable walking in to bowl or to get something to eat.”
The alley also revamped its restaurant menu, opting for an Italian theme.
The alley also holds cosmic bowling — glow-in-the-dark bowling, for the uninitiated — every Saturday night and hosts monthly tournaments.
Lucky Strike Lanes
701 Seventh St. NW
Distance From Capitol Hill:
With the closure of George Washington University’s Hippodrome Bowling Alley, Lucky Strike Lanes has become the only public alternative for D.C. bowlers.
Located in the Gallery Place/Chinatown area, Lucky Strike brands itself as an upscale destination where Washington socialites can come to “stay out of the gutter.”
The 14-lane alley opened in November 2005 and is one of 21 bowling venues the company has established around the country. Self-categorized as a “lane and lounge,” the alley is known more for its social events and as a rendezvous spot than as a bowling destination.
“It’s not for your serious bowler,” Marketing Manager Trey Comstock said. “It’s more of a social venue for people to have a shared experience.”
With sleek black couches and red silk lanterns hovering above each lane, the dimly lit alley is a hip fusion for the socially swanky.
The full-service kitchen offers a classic American menu while providing happy hour drink specials from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.
At the end of a long workweek, those looking to break out their dancing shoes can turn to Lucky Strike’s dance floor and disc jockey Friday and Saturday nights, coupled with Sunday night salsa lessons.
“We are not your typical bowling alley,” General Manager Nelson Greene said. “And we appeal to a broad range of people.”
Politicians such as Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have been seen frequenting the lanes.
“When [politicians] need a break, they come here to maybe stretch out their legs with family and friends, to get out of the rigor of their government jobs,” Greene said.
The alley has also become home for social leagues that target working professionals and Hill staffers.
Better Off Bowling brings almost 500 D.C. professionals to Lucky Strike Lanes every year. The league was created in 2007 and targets working adults looking to socialize through noncompetitive bowling teams.
“A lot of people just find their social circles start to shrink. This is a great way to meet a huge group of social people where the focus isn’t explicitly on dating or playing sports, but just having fun,” said Chris Mitchell, the league’s general manager.
Geoffrey Okamoto, a staffer for Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), likes the alley’s convenience.
“[Lucky Strike] is pretty close to where we all live,” he said. “It’s a good venue for the league, and it gives us an excuse to have fun.”