Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJune 9, 2023

A night at New Zealand’s worst bowling alley

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Newmarket Tenpin is a one-star bowling alley and a five-star experience.

“Just disgusting place. I didn’t want to even think what the bathroom would look like. Expensive. And yuck. Don’t go there!!! I just wanted to cry.”

The worst bowling experience ever. The lanes were not well maintained. It was a mission impossible to bowl straight as the lane tilts to both ends.” 

Almost all the chairs were broken, ripped and was smelly. The displays weren’t working and you have to call the counter to reset turns. Bowling Balls were so old and sticky. The whole place was dark, depressing and gloomy.”

Newmarket Tenpin Bowling has been open for business since 2006, and it doesn’t seem to have had any maintenance done in the 17 years since. On weekend nights, it’s dark and bright like a school disco. The party lights are on, the DJ is playing 90s pop hits and house music from a booth awkwardly interrupting the queue to the counter/bar and it’s loud like when you go to the indoor pools and there’s a child’s birthday party on. It’s probably unfair to call it a bowling alley, when there’s also a semi-functioning arcade, a bar, a “mini-casino” (hidden room of slot machines) and a whole section of pool tables.

There is little on the corner of Khyber Pass and York Street in Auckland’s Newmarket to indicate the chaos six levels above. Just a cryptic purple sign with some writing in a font too small to read, a graphic of a fallen-over pin and half an arrow. But the people know.

On a Friday, when one of the group chat asks “bowling tonight?” my thumb deftly taps three times: “ye!”  When our party of seven arrives, we can hardly make our way through the fun-seeking crowds. A Spanish-speaking group with two prams blocks the elevator. Luckily, it’s best not to take the elevator. It’s not the kind of place you would want to get trapped, and it’s also the kind of place you’re quite likely to get trapped. Previous visitors have found it terrifying, sticky and smelly; “I almost lost my life on the elevator,” one claims. Climbing the six flights of concrete stairs, past layers and layers of car parking, is definitely preferable.

It costs $18 per player to throw a ball down the lane 20 times (though the website says $16). I assume we came here because it was cheap, but the flash bowling alley Archie Brothers at the Westfield mall down the road costs only $4 more (and only at peak times). Archie Brothers has “dazzling cocktails” for $15-$22, but here a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon and cola is $10. Maybe it’s less about price, and more about where you belong.

The vibe: immaculate (Photo: Gabi Lardies)

Here, you can wear any shoe you like, as no bowling shoes are provided. You can also be anything you want to be – just write it down on a slip of paper and hand it to the person behind the counter. It then pops up on the screens above your lane, in a pixel font which could either be really trendy or just really old. Tonight, we have a PI$$ BUNNY, BEEKISSER, PICKABERRY, RATGIRL and BRUCE.

The lanes are certainly not flat. You can ascertain this by the path of perfectly thrown balls that randomly veer off into the gutter, or simply by looking at them. One reviewer complained of getting “the wrong pool balls”, and I have no idea what they meant. In the lane next to us, one ball is accused of having “not enough mana”.

The balls are sticky, sometimes chipped, and it’s important to pick a favourite. BEEKISSER picks a turquoise number 11 after it gets him a clean strike. PI$$BUNNY picks the flame-orange number 7 stamped with “Kids Only”, which perfectly fits her hands. Unfortunately, this one isn’t a striker. At this alley, gutterballs are more common than strikes, but hitting any pin is cause for celebration. 

PI$$BUNNY hasn’t been here for about a decade, but somehow “it’s just the same”. She was brought here by her cousin the day her plane landed from the UK. BEEKISSER first came here for a work Christmas party in 2021, by default because they were too late to book into Metrolanes on Queen Street, but were determined to bowl.

The group with the prams seems to be having better luck. Two lanes over, there’s cheering and high fives, and three of them are behind the lanes, dancing. Surprisingly, the prams appear to be quiet and peaceful. Nothing has come out of them yet. Between us, there’s a group of lads out on the town. My eyes have the fortunate habit of blurring them into non-existence, until out of seemingly nowhere, I see they are all holding their shoes, while a ringleader pours Corona into them. It’s like a teenage house party where some people are obscenely drunk, and others haven’t hit puberty yet.

This is statistically likely to have been a gutterball (Photo: Gabi Lardies)

The bowling is over all too quickly. I don’t win, and I’m not going to tell you my score. Now it’s time for the arcade. Beware of the unspecified $2-stealing machine. If you weave around the various machines out of order, there’s a claw machine with a mountain of fluffy bunnies inside it, yellow ones, blue ones, brown ones and a lovely charcoal grey. I point it out to BRUCE. He puts his dollar in, and lines up the claw. Drop. Up comes the yellow, and then it jerks across and drops into the chute.You have saved our lives. We are eternally grateful,” say its beady black eyes. The grey bunny smugly snuggles the brown.

Newmarket Tenpin Bowling is everything its reviews claim: stinky, sticky, dirty, dilapidated, despicable, apocalyptic, broken, graffitied, horrible, rundown, malfunctioning, manky, in disrepair… and a great night out. I go home happy with my fluffy bunny. Five stars.

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