116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — There’s a new game for bowling and entertainment in Iowa City.
The Corridor’s newest bowling alley has brought together 12 lanes, a selection of classic and new arcade games, and elevated food and drinks under one roof at SpareMe. Attached to Hotel Chauncey at 404 E. College St., patrons started hitting strikes and gutters in mid-August.
Swapping out fluorescent lighting and the smell of stale cigarette smoke from decades past for a clean, modern aesthetic, the new entertainment center defies the stereotype of bowling alleys by also being a place to enjoy something more than typical bar food. With an upscale menu, diners will be able to find modernized classics like charcuterie boards, bruschetta, Neapolitan style pizza and Mexican snacks.
“It’s important for guests here that they can get food quickly and efficiently,” said Jacob Larson, regional director of food and beverage for Hawkeye Hotels. “The whole menu is designed around quick service, but quality food items.”
Although the menu still is in formation, SpareMe expects to serve a full menu within the next month, including items inspired by its sister Coralville restaurants, Marquee Pizzeria and La Vecina.
Where: Chauncey building, 404 E. College St., Iowa City
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (hours expected to expand in fall)
Pricing: Drinks start at $6; appetizers and entrees $10 to $20. Bowling pricing varies by day. Bowling is priced by the hour, not by the game. Games can be played with lane or lounge rentals.
Taking a page from Marquee, SpareMe plans to offer a crisp but fluffy crust on personal-size pizzas. The La Vecina influence will bring in classics like quality queso, guacamole and salsa with chips.
The menu also will feature old bowling alley classics like wings and chicken tenders alongside salads and healthier items.
SpareMe will offer a sizable drink menu with 20 beers on tap and a selection of fun, themed drinks like the Margneto (a margarita play on Magneto), the I Am Groot Cocktail with elderflower and citrus, and the Spare Me Spritz — an aperol spritz with grapefruit.
“We really wanted the menu to be approachable to all ages because the space and building appeals to all ages, which is unique for downtown,” Larson said.
Although SpareMe is the only new bowling alley opening in the Corridor in an age when bowling alleys are usually getting attention for closing, the new downtown offering is part of what seems to be a local trend gaining steam — the combination of quality food and drinks with unique entertainment.
Tavern Blue in Coralville, which also will offer Neapolitan pizza, will deliver mini golf with a breezy beach theme and tropically themed cocktails.
“Entertainment’s definitely the theme right now,” Larson said. “I think everyone in the (restaurant and hospitality) industry is trying to find a way to drive business in ways that were not traditional before COVID-19.”
The recalibration of ways to bring in more customers come at a time when restaurants are seeing high demand, despite industry challenges.
“Bowling alleys and arcade games inherently have a fun retro or throwback vibe, but if a venue feels outdated or run down, it changes that element of fun,” said Allison Ordman, spokesperson for Hawkeye Hotels. “So the vision of SpareMe was to modernize and elevate that nostalgic experience.”
SpareMe has 13 arcade games, eight pinball machines, 12 skee ball machines and one photo booth. Quarter- and token-operated arcade options include refurbished classics like Mortal Kombat, alongside new games like one based on “Stranger Things,” the popular Netflix science fiction series.
Even the bowling itself is more high-tech than you’ve likely seen before. Controlled by tablets at each lane, bowlers will no longer have to suffer the sight of outdated graphics playing on old TVs every time they hit the pins.
The new Brunswick system integrates innovative games with bowling, like a version of “Angry Birds” and tick-tack-toe. Bowlers also can raise or lower the bumpers for each player on the tablet. Serious bowlers can have scores emailed to them for each game or keep track in an app.
Special LED lighting can change the mood with special effects. Even the bowling balls themselves are made to look like billiard balls.
“The bowling is definitely a hit. People want to bowl,” said Heather Utterback, general manager.
Through SpareMe, the amenities help complete the concept for the Chauncey building, which started years ago as a vision for mixed-use residential and commercial space that functioned as an arts and entertainment hub.
“It’s fun to see who comes through the building. It really is everyone and it represents Iowa City,” Larson said. “We definitely want the community to be here. That’s why it’s also (near) FilmScene, which is an Iowa City staple.”
Bowling is priced at an hourly rate, rather than by the game. Groups can rent a lane or a lounge area around each lane, and hourly prices include shoe rentals.
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