Best Of 2000

Best Bowling Lanes: Tropicana Lanes

Taking a trip to Tropicana Lanes is like being transported back to the early 1960s, when Sputniks circled the earth and bowling palaces dotted the suburban horizon. Many of these icons of American postwar leisure have disappeared along with drive-in movie theaters. This makes Tropicana Lanes (7960 Clayton Rd., 314-781-0282) that much more special. The bowling alley is divided into two halves, with 26 lanes on each side. When it opened in 1959, it was billed as the largest bowling center in the Midwest. Entering its portals is falling through a wormhole in the space-time continuum. It smells like only a bowling alley can smell and reeks of retro reality. With the alley situated on some of the most high-priced commercial real estate in St. Louis County, it's a miracle that it hasn't been bulldozed for another sterile office tower or big-box development. Even though it is set back from congested Clayton Road, it's impossible to miss Tropicana's location, because of the neon sign. It's orange and blue and stands out like an invitation to a Hawaiian luau. There are the obligatory acres of free parking, of course. And the entrance looks like the tailfins of a 1959 Pontiac, with its sloping roofs and inverted V-shaped tower topped by a bowling pin. Inside, the walls are pink. The trophy case displays various types of obscure bowling balls. The cocktail lounge has a pilot's wheel behind the bar. The snack bar offers plenty of high-fat junk food. Just in case you forgot your cell phone, there's a bank of public telephones. Above the din of crashing pins, the voices of Chad and Jeremy are warbling over the public-address system, singing a maudlin tune about the end of summer. This place is an American institution for bowlers and nonbowlers alike.

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