Blanco, Texas: Let the good times bowl

If you’re driving around the square in Blanco, Texas, just off US 281, you can’t help but slow down for two of this central Texas town’s favorite attractions: a tasty menu of food with 50s-style prices (the homemade pie is to die for), and a chance to knock down only 8 bowling pins and still call it a strike.  The Blanco Bowling Club on Fourth Street offers both.

Blanco Bowling Club

Folks come from neighboring towns to go bowling in this ninepin alley–reminiscent of those that were most popular from colonial times until the early 19th century.  Especially popular in America’s German communities, ninepin bowling was a favorite at folk festivals, partly because it favored socializing over athletic ability.  Little has changed since the bowling club and adjacent café were built here in the 1940s.

Today, thanks to automated pin setting that arrived in the 1950s and updated the game format, ninepin leagues are found nowhere else in the United States except Texas. The rules and spirit of early German-Texan bowling are still reflected in the traditions and activities of Texas ninepin clubs, and league play happens most nights in Blanco.

Ninepin bowling lane in Blanco, TXHere’s how the game works: Team members take turns sending the ball down the alley, trying to flatten all but the red pin, which is set up in the center of a diamond of eight white ones.  That’s a 12-point strike versus only nine points received for knocking down all nine pins. And you don’t have to depend on only your skill.  In this team effort, all members roll two consecutive balls per frame with each bowler playing pins left from the previous bowler. Points for the total number of pins knocked down are given to the last bowler on the team. At completion of each frame, pins are reset and balls returned just as they were generations ago—by kids hanging out at the end of the alley.  Shoes rent for just two bits, if they have your size.

The food at this city-operated, small town café is just as important as the camaraderie.  Locals stop in mornings for fresh cinnamon buns and glazed donuts to munch with coffee and conversation. The Blanco Bowling Club’s meringue pies, with toppings three times as high as fillings, have even been praised in Gourmet Magazine.  The dinner menu still reflects prices from decades ago: burgers sell for $3.25, chicken fried steak is $6.50, and you can get a 16-ounce T-bone steak dinner for just $12.  The hearty, rib-sticking grub is a favorite of farmers, ranchers, hunters—and tourists, even if they’re not bowling.

The Blanco Bowling Club keeps old-fashioned hours, too.  It’s open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sunday from 6:30 to 2:00 p.m.

Blanco County courthouse

While in Blanco, walk to the county courthouse and take a stroll around the square. Visit several antique stores and galleries in the downtown area, such as Carousel Antiques and Collectibles, Cranberry’s Antiques, Broken Arrow Gallery, Rain Bird Gallery, or A Step Back Antiques.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Going on Adventures and Austin Adventure Travel

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