Eight Historic Bowling Alleys

By Manya Kaczkowski

There’s nothing better than bowling… unless it’s bowling and beer. The best of both is right here: Wisconsin has more small, old-fashioned lanes than any other state in the union – the no-frills kind where you roll a rumbling strike down wood lanes, mark your own scores and watch your ball speed back toward you on the above-ground return.

Holler House - Milwaukee

You can’t describe owner Marcy Skowrinski without using the word “feisty.” This tiny 87-year-old gal is reason enough to visit, even if you don’t care about the 105-year-old pair of alleys downstairs. She’ll tell you about the time her father-in-law hid the booze underneath the crib during a Prohibition raid, “because the Feds wouldn’t touch a baby!” Then she’ll grin and pull out a dictionary of Polish slang – the pages with “dirty” words are marked for easy access. Marcy likes things the way they are in her establishment. “We don’t have pool tables, we don’t have gambling machines! I want people to talk to me,” she says. Call ahead – she’ll find a neighborhood kid to set pins for you.

Landmark Lanes - Milwaukee

Built in 1927 as part of the Oriental Theater & Bensinger’s Recreation, it’s an underground sports arena: three bars, 16 bowling lanes, nine pool tables, darts, foosball, a 30-game arcade and an electronic dance machine so you can get your groove on. “It took a lot of time to clean this place up,” says owner Slava Tuzhilkov, “but I saved the old atmosphere.” Over the years, the likes of Gloria Steinem and Ringo Starr have visited. Can you imagine bowling with them?

The Tenth Frame - Appleton

The great thing about The 10th Frame - besides bowling - is the food. Try Ma’s Famous Friday Fish Fry or the 10th Frame Double, a 1/3-pound brat patty with cheese. Chad Van Daalwyk bought the 70-year-old lanes in 2002. “I actually worked and bowled here when I was a kid,” he says. “The Hahns (original owners) were like grandparents to me.” Van Daalwyk and his family have made the business thrive - after 13 lenders turned him down for financing. “No one wanted to give a 26-year-old a loan,” he recalls.

Sister Bay Bowl - Sister Bay

“Mom and Dad started here in 1950,” says Sharon, one of the owners. “Back then it was the Sister Bay Hotel: a lodge, bar and dance hall.” In 1958, they turned the dance hall into a 6-lane bowling alley. The original menu from the 1960s is displayed on the wall - T-bone dinners could be had for a mere $3.75. These days, they pack ‘em in for the Friday night perch dinner.

Little Bohemia - Rib Lake

Here you’ll find a classic set of four lanes. The same family has owned the bowling center for some 30 years. They bought the bank building next door too, turning it into a lounge – you can see the old bank vault door. Don’t miss the photo-op down the street; you can pose for a picture with an 8-foot-tall Ice Man named “Ugh.” For real.

D's Burger & Bowl

Built in 1947, this roadhouse-style bowling alley is rumored to be haunted - liquor bottles rearrange themselves, doors slam - although the current owners haven’t experienced any chills since they purchased the property a year ago. “We haven’t seen any evidence of that,” says Dorie, who co-owns the place with her sister, Darlene. There are four lanes, a huge horseshoe-shaped bar, and a nice dining area. They also have a car show and corn roast every August.

Anglers Bar & Grill - Hayward

The really great thing about Anglers is that folks can sit and have a drink at the bar, and their kids can bowl right in the next room. Everybody’s happy! The four lanes are as old-fashioned as they come and the lodge-like atmosphere in the attached bar/restaurant is charming, especially if you enjoy multiple taxidermy trophies.

Black & Orange Lanes - Webster

Here’s a funky, happening place, starting with the carpeted walls adorned with florescent balls and pins. Owner Tim Vasatka has ramped up the business: he’s added a poker room, horseshoe pits and a volleyball court. He’s even bought the nearby Webster Motel, where there’s a free drink chip in every room. 

Manya Kaczkowski is a freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer from Menomonee Falls. Her book, Milwaukee’s Historic Bowling Alleys, was published in 2010. Content produced in cooperation with Wisconsin Trails, www.wisconsintrails.com.