The only windows are pointed at bowling lanes. It’s perfect.
Dickey’s is so distinct that it caused this reviewer to create an entirely new category of dive bar, the cash-only-timeless-bar-attached-to-a-bowling-alley category. And I almost hope that Dickey’s turns out to be the only entrant in the category because the uniqueness of the space kind of deserves that, an experience so striking (yes, that’s a pun), that it is unforgettable.
Opened in 1945, the fact that this dive bar bowling alley has served as a sometimes filming location comes as no surprise given the surroundings. The sign alone is certainly photogenic, an illuminated shell inscribed with “Dickey’s Lanes Lounge” that bisects old-school “Dickey’s Recreation” lettering above the door. What looks like it was once a circular window has now been mercifully boarded-up to make way for a simple sign that says “Bowling” painted as a bowling ball. The theme is clear.
The bar inside Dickey’s feels like the below-deck bar on some kind of floating dive bar yacht. It’s cramped, the walls are close, the bar is low and the air conditioners vintage, all in a very good way. Though the bar includes no windows that face the outside world, a series of windows, and a drinking ledge mind you, provide ample view of the eight bowling lanes that were, on this reviewer’s visit, packed with weekly bowling leagues.
And if you’re thinking that regularly-scheduled bowling leagues means loads of regularly-scheduled bar patrons, you’ll be happy to learn that that combo does hold true, with the bar on our visit packed with shouts of first names, off-color nicknames and warm welcomes. The owner, in fact, saw our group as the non-bowling interlopers that we were, sat with us, chatted about the history of the bar and introduced us to a handful of said regulars. The vibe was crowded but comfortable, familiar but not standoffish.
That history, as mentioned, goes back to 1945 and includes a long history of single family ownership across those years. A painted mural in the bar area includes Dickey’s founding year, but one look at the space might result in a guess pretty damn close to the right answer. The bar area features a U-shaped serving area that probably hasn’t changed much from the day the bar opened. Above the bowling alleys, no weird ‘strike’ animations exist, no screens hang from the ceiling, all scores are kept by hand at Dickey’s, as they should be.
Stepping into Dickey’s feels like stepping into a warm time portal, and though it’s entirely stereotypical to spin some kind of romantic story around Midwestern weekday nights at a Cleveland bowling alley, it’s tempting to do so for Dickey’s. And that’s not because of some ridiculous trope about slow-moving Ohio living, it’s because the space feels like home to a family brought together by a worthwhile excuse (bowling) to hangout (drink) with teammates (lifelong friends).
There are dive bars that can feel like members-only clubs, insular communities hard to penetrate. Dickey’s is not that place. It’s Cleveland, it’s bowling, it’s High Life, it’s family, it’s history, it’s everything powerful about the dive bar experience wrapped into a Thursday night bowling league and an open stool for a stranger.