SpareMe vs. Colonial Lanes: Pinning down Iowa City’s only two bowling alleys

While Colonial Lanes has been a fixture of Iowa City since the 1950s, SpareMe is only a few years old. More than just age separates these two bowling alleys, however, as they both have completely different environments.


Avi Lapchick

The exterior of SpareMe, a bowling alley in Iowa City, is seen on Feb. 7, 2023. (Avi Lapchick / The Daily Iowan)

Ariana Lessard

SpareMe opened in August 2021, gifting Iowa City another option for bowling night. It’s located in the Chauncey Hotel right in the heart of downtown Iowa City on 404 E. College St.

SpareMe’s ties to the Chauncey provide the bowling alley with access to a full kitchen and a high-end bar. It also has space for 40 arcade games. Like the hotel, SpareMe opens at 6:30 a.m., and the addition of the bar means it stays open until midnight on weekends and 10 p.m. on weeknights.

SpareMe matches the minimalist style of the Chauncey, which gives it its elegance. Wall-sized windows and wooden beams line the door entering the bowling alley and complement the exposed concrete ceilings and floors, making the venue feel larger than it is.

While being housed in the Chauncey allows for additional resources and a sleek aesthetic, it is not up to league standards to host tournaments.

However, this has provided SpareMe with an opportunity to specialize in family and date nights. They don’t coat the lanes with oil, making it easier for kids to bowl.

“I think the fact that our lanes aren’t actually regulation length, so we don’t offer leagues, which leaves more availability for families,” Kristie Dixon, a bartender at SpareMe, explained.

Colonial Lanes’ charm pulled me in immediately. While SpareMe certainly felt more chic, the character of Colonial Lanes was undeniable.

The building is originally from the 1950s, and much of the interior has hardly been updated since the ‘70s, James Dickens, a Colonial Lanes employee, said.

The ball machines themselves are from the ‘60s, with the newest from the ‘70s, and I was given the opportunity to see their mechanics. While I’m unsure how the interior of modern ball machines look, I doubt they’re as aesthetic as the ones from the ‘60s, which have exposed organs and a series of pulleys and levers.

Additionally, there was a vintage soda pop bar Dickens said was from the 1950s — which looked the part — and a miniature golf course with a matching bowling theme.

Since this bowling alley has been around so long, the community there is loyal and vibrant. Colonial Lanes also offers scholarships to high school bowlers, again prioritizing community. The employees at Colonial are a mix of champion bowlers from professional leagues and college-aged bowlers.

The different generations of passionate bowlers working there also serve as a testimony to the alley’s heritage. The staff demonstrated that generations of bowlers have gathered and worked there, as the staff has largely grown-up bowling at Colonial Lanes.

Specifically, Dickens, who gave me a tour, seemed passionate about the game. He explained that he grew up playing with his dad and brother at Colonial Lanes and now plays for the league there. It’s unusual for employees to frequent their workplace in their free time — let alone for fun — which speaks to Colonial Lane’s welcoming vibe.

“I think it really comes down to that the people that work here and the people that run this place because you look over on that Hall of Fame over there, and the names of the people who won all these bowling tournaments are people that run this place,” Dickens said. “There’s just all this whole community around the sport itself and love for the sport that just makes this place so great.”

Colonial Lanes’ bar was reminiscent of a sports bar, which felt appropriate given its location in a bowling alley. Everything in the bar was originally built in the ‘70s at the latest. Shane Johnson, senior vice president of Colonial Lanes, was working the bar when I visited.

“We are all friendly to all our customers, and we make sure we have a good communication and a good relationship with everyone that comes in the store,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the building has been under Brad Huff’s ownership for almost 30 years. Huff is who to thank for the organically retro environment.

If you are passionate about bowling as a sport and the community that comes with it, then Colonial Lanes is the clear choice. If you are with your family or going on a date and are willing to sacrifice a league-length approach, then SpareMe is the better option.