An Oak Hill native rescues her childhood hangout.
Picture, in your mind, a typical bowling alley. What do you see? Flickering fluorescent lights? Faded shoes first rented during the Nixon administration? Cardboard nachos with crayon yellow cheese?
“We’re definitely not a typical bowling alley,” says Alison Ibarra, owner of Pinheads bowling alley in Oak Hill, in Fayette County. The 12-lane alley features slick, modern decor with video screens above each lane. There’s a patio out back for cornhole and darts. And then there’s the food.
The menu boasts beer-battered fries, jumbo chicken wings, pizza, and meat muffins—braided dough filled up with pizza toppings—as well as healthier options like fresh salads made with local ingredients. Pinheads also has 110 kinds of beer, the largest selection in a bowling alley east of the Mississippi River, according to the Bowling Proprietors Association. “We’ve had people come in for the food and beer who didn’t realize it was a bowling alley,” Ibarra says.
The bowling alley wasn’t always in such great shape. Ibarra grew up just a few blocks away. It was called White Oak Lanes then. She visited a lot and even worked there during high school. Then she moved off to North Carolina for college and spent some time in California as a golf professional. By the time she returned home in 2013, she discovered the bowling alley had fallen into disrepair under its most recent tenants. “I was shocked. I loved this place growing up. To come back and see it in such rough condition—I was kind of stunned.”
Ibarra and her husband, Jose, had been thinking about opening a business in the area, maybe an archery or skeet-shooting range, or purchasing a golf course. But one day, Ibarra found herself talking to White Oak Lanes’ landlord Charlie Toney. “I said, ‘Why don’t you just sell me the bowling alley and we can live the redneck dream?’”It took a little over a year to get a business plan and funding together, then about seven months to renovate the space. Ibarra says they wanted to do the renovations up right, because “we’ve got to compete with a cell phone now for people’s attention. You have to have something memorable. People come in here because they want quality time with their friends and family.”
The bowling alley is once again becoming the community center it was when Ibarra was a girl. Visitors regularly drive over an hour to bowl some frames and sample the cuisine. The alley offers a “Family Day” special each Sunday, which includes four shoe rentals, an hour of bowling, four large drinks, and a pizza for $30. During the summertime, kids get two games free every day. The alley also offers discounted rates for bowlers with special needs.
“This is something that was lost,” Ibarra says. “We got to fix it up and give it back to the community.”