Vintage Bowling (and beer) at Canada’s Oldest Alley: Inside Vancouver’s historic 1930 Commodore Lanes

Photo credit: Richelle Akimow | Flickr

When it comes to Vancouver icons, most everyone has heard of the Commodore Ballroom.  The classy, Art Deco nightclub on Granville Street has been hosting big name music acts since it opened its doors in 1929.  Today, you can still bust a move on the famous, horsehair-padded dance floor (for extra oomph).

But did you know that directly beneath the club is Canada’s oldest bowling alley? Commodore Lanes was opened in 1930 – only months after the Ballroom – and has operated continuously ever since.

Follow the neon Billiards and Bowling sign on Granville Street down a set of concrete stairs and you’ll discover a little piece of Vancouver history that’s still alive and kicking.  Downstairs is an open, 18,800-square-foot room filled with the thunk and clatter of balls crashing into pins.  There are twelve lanes of five-pin bowling, pool tables, foosball and pinball machines and – of course – a licensed lounge serving jugs of Granville Island beer.

The place is truly a step back in time – right down to the lingering smell of cigarette smoke from nearly a century of toking that still clings to its walls.  The bowling is five-pin style: a Canadian innovation from 1909 that uses five small pins and a lightweight rubber ball, in place of the heavier balls used in 10-pin bowling.  You rent well-worn bowling shoes from the front counter.  And the score is kept strictly by hand with pencil and paper – no fancy computers here.

Photo credit: Eric Flexyourhead | Flickr

After 83 years, the fun to be had inside Commodore Lanes is largely the ironic kind.  On a Saturday night, there are few – if any – serious bowlers in attendance.  Groups of friends, including plenty of teens and big clusters of ESL students, chuck balls down the lanes while cheesy music streams from the jukebox.  The ball return system malfunctions, often.  People heave balls halfway down the lanes instead of rolling them.  Slightly overpriced jugs of beer flow freely.  It’s all part of the fun.

Any fans of Commodore Lanes out there?  Let us know below. 

For more updates on Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.  

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2 Responses to Vintage Bowling (and beer) at Canada’s Oldest Alley: Inside Vancouver’s historic 1930 Commodore Lanes

  1. Adrienne

    All 12 lanes have automated scoring acquired from the lamented Varsity bowling alleys recently demolished to make room for yet more condominiums. Update to page needed.

  2. Donna

    Upon watching Global TV this evening re: Commodore Ballroom, I remembered a very old calendar from 1934, that I have, it reads commodore recreations, then goes on to read “Canada’s Most Beautiful Bowling Academy” 20 alleys in one line. the old phone number is Trinity 1042. This calendar was found in the 1960’s in the attic of my aunt and uncle’s old house in Vancouver.