The best old-time bowling alleys, billiard halls and pinball in Toronto

​​​​Don’t look now, but all of a sudden some old-timey leisure pursuits are becoming popular once again. An afternoon of billiards on a cold winter’s day? A night out with the bowling team? We are so here for it.

Where strikes are a good thing

Bowling has had its ups and downs, but it’s about time for a comeback both because it is a fun, family-oriented activity that gets everyone away from their screens and also because the city has a rich and unique history in the sport.

A local fella by the name of Thomas Ryan actually invented the five-pin variation of the game right here at the Toronto Bowling Club in 1909. The club was located above a store at the corner of Yonge and Temperance.

For those who only know the more popular 10-pin game, the five-pin version features fewer pins, obviously, but also a ball less than half the size of a traditional 10-pin ball. And there are no finger holes.

And let’s be honest, those holes are nasty anyway.

Axel Binevoese is the owner of the oldest five-pin facility in the city — Shamrock Bowl. This joint dates back to the early ’50s and has been lovingly restored with purpose and intent to reflect that vibe.

“This place recreates kind of the bowling experience your grandparents would have had if they were dating in the ’50s,” Binevoese says. “That’s what we want. We want to give people the feeling of taking a step back in time with our complete restoration to the look and feel of that era, despite having added a few extra features and amenities here and there.”

Some of those amenities include the addition of a restobar with globally influenced cuisine as well as a games room with vintage pinball and arcade games.

The rules of five-pin bowling are slightly different, especially regarding the scoring systems, which require manual calculations as each pin has different corresponding points, but the principle remains the same.

“From my perspective, we recreate an experience from the ’50s that you can have a really good time while having a little bit of exercise and at the same time communicate with the people that you’re around,” Binevoese explains. “You can interact with the people. We allow people six and up to bowl because of the size of the ball, and you can just enjoy a relatively simple time and have some success because really it’s just rolling a ball. It isn’t really rocket science, right.”

Binevoese says that like most businesses during the pandemic, times were tough for bowling alleys, but now people are coming out in droves to get in on the growing trend toward leisure activities like bowling; activities that force people, especially young people and you know who you are, to put away screens and actually hang out together.

“That definitely is an attribute to our success,” he says. “I think people are looking for something to do, obviously, with the weather declining outside as well. As we now get into the winter season, we’re extremely busy with families in the neighbourhood visiting — we are really a neighbourhood place.”

Shamrock Bowl is located at 280 Coxwell Ave.

Here are a few more spots for five-pin (and yes, even 10-pin) bowling in Toronto.

Danforth Bowl: Located on Danforth Avenue, this bowling alley is a comfortable and cosy spot for a night of five-pin. The retro vibe and fun atmosphere will transport bowlers to the ’80s

C4 Centre: Located on Eglinton Avenue East, this old-timey gem offers free fall five-pin bowling (the pinsetter works like 10-pin) with leagues for all ages from kids to seniors.

The Ballroom: Looking for something less retro and more sophisticated (and expensive), then try this downtown 10-pin bowling joint with an upscale atmosphere and cuisine as well as pool tables and other diversions, located at 145 John St.

bowling and billiards
The Rivoli

You never felt so good

You don’t have to be Tom Cruise or even Paul Newman to enjoy a good old-fashioned game of pool. This leisure activity was given new life during the pandemic when people were desperate for new activities to play at home.

Now that we are out and about, the trend has continued into the city’s pool halls both new and old. It’s a social game, easy to play but hard to stop once you get started. Here is where to cue up some serious pool table fun.

Billiard Academy and Sports Lounge: Located in the heart of Greektown on Danforth Avenue, this family-owned and operated pool hall has been racking ’em up since 1971, making it the oldest spot in town.

The Rivoli: Most people know this legendary Queen West hot spot for its delish restaurant and live music and comedy in the backroom. But upstairs is getting increasingly popular all of a sudden.

Cabin Fever

Wizards apply within

Do you play a mean pinball? Or want to? Some things just never go out of style, and pinball machines are one of them.

Maybe it’s that analog vibe, maybe it’s that song by The Who everyone loves, but pinball offers a great night out for many. And pinball central in the city of Toronto is most definitely the west end.

Here’s a quick and painless pinball road trip.

Cabin Fever: Located at 1669 Bloor St. W., this tiny, perfect bar offers great machines, a chill vibe and delish craft beers.

The John: Just down the street at 1174 Bloor St. W. is this bar with great beer, interesting snacks and plenty of pinball for all.

Get Well: This lively bar at 1881 Dundas St. W. boasts vintage decor and a sweet selection of arcade games.