2042 West Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee • (414) 647-9284
Blink and you risk driving right past the oldest sanctioned bowling lanes in the United States. Holler House, indeed, looks like a house, blending in perfectly with the surrounding residential neighborhood. It has twice made Esquire magazine’s “Best Bars in America” list, most recently last year. At first glance, it appears to be just a tavern, albeit an awfully old one, with no indication that anyone bowls here.
But a stairway behind a door at the right of the bar leads straight down to history.
There, in the basement, are two lanes that leave little room for anything else. The proprietors often set up a video camera that streams live footage to a screen in the bar upstairs so folks can watch contests. Graffiti is welcome on the walls:
Bowlers here, too, keep score themselves. Unless it’s a scheduled bowling night, it’s best to call ahead so that owner Marcy Skowronski can arrange for a pinboy.
“A good pinboy’s faster than a machine,” Skowronski insists. “Tips are good.”
The lanes aren’t easy compared to modern synthetic ones, which are manicured with oil to squeeze strikes from less-than-perfect throws. Just two perfect games were rolled in the nation in 1909, the year after Holler House opened. Compare that to the 2010–2011 season, when modern equipment and lane conditions helped contribute to 58,617 perfect games in the U.S., according to the United States Bowling Congress. None of those happened at Holler House, which recently redid the sinking floor in the approach area but left the lanes alone.
“If you can bowl good on these alleys, you can bowl anywhere,” Skowronski says.
There are some serious relics on the premises, from two-holed wooden bowling balls to newspaper clippings of box scores memorializing feats of Babe Ruth when he pitched for the Boston Red Sox before being sold to the New York Yankees in 1919. Bowling-?team photos from the 1930s immortalize bow-tied hurlers with such names as Koscierski and Rozmarynowski. Nearby hangs a who-knows-how-old sign urging voters to support Thomas Szewczykowski in the race for alderman. The walls are red and the floor is red and white, same as on the Polish flag.
In a scrapbook, Skowronski has a photo of the late Harvey Kuenn, who guided the Brewers to the World Series in 1982, standing inside her bar with a grin on his face and a snow shovel in his hands.
“We had a snowball fight in here,” Skowronski recalls. “We had snow all over the place.”
The establishment remains a mecca for bowlers who travel from as far away as Chicago, says Skowronski, who has worked at Holler House for 56 years and still opens the bar each day at 4 p.m.
“They all want to bowl on the oldest alley,” she says. “Just to throw a couple balls.”