Southport Lanes to close after nearly 100 years; was one of the last bowling alleys to use human pinsetters

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Over the years, much has changed in the Southport Corridor on the North Side, but one slice of prohibition-era history has been constant: Southport Lanes. 

First built as a Schlitz “tied house” on the corner of Southport Avenue and Henderson Street around 1900, it became Southport Lanes in 1922 and was believed to be one of the last bowling alleys in the country to use human pinsetters instead of machines. 

But now the owners say Southport Lanes will close for good on September 27.

Sal Infantino, who is getting ready to turn 81 years old, worked as a pin setter there.

“You just set pins, that’s all, and after the lane, after a game the guy would throw down a dime or a quarter, sometimes they give you a little extra and that was it,” Infantino said.

The tradition lived on, but now, the lanes are quiet —  and they’ll stay that way. 

General Manager Phil Carneol says he started as a bartender in 1991, and even before COVID-19 hit, it was difficult to stay open. Once the pandemic hit Chicago, it proved impossible.

“The information is slapping us in the face: we just can’t survive,” Carneol said. “It will be missed. I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

Carneol said his number one worry is the employees who will be out of work, but he’s still proud of the place. 

Sal Infantino and his daughter stopped by after hearing the news Southport Lanes would close to capture one last memory. 

“It was good to see it, and now it’s gonna go and it’ll be gone,” Infantino said. “I don’t know if another bar is going to come in here or not, but that’s the way it is.”

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