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Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Holler House

The oldest certified bowling alley in the United States is in the basement of this century-old bar. 

The first certified bowling alley in the United States is located in the basement of a 108-year-old bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The two lanes feature the original wood, and are oiled with a spray can. Neighborhood kids reset the pins by hand (the standard tip for them is $3, or the bowler will hear about it from the bar’s elderly owner) and the bowling shoes are in a jumble under the stairs. There’s no room for seating, scores are kept by hand, and when the bar was cleaned for the first time in 40 years in 2008, in the lead up to its centennial, two 15-pound wooden bowling balls were uncovered.

The bar housing this elderly bowling alley was founded as Skowronski’s in 1908 by “Iron Mike” Skowronski, and is now run by his daughter-in-law, Marcy Skowronski. The name Holler House came about when a German woman complained about the noise that was coming out of the bar in the 1970s.

The bar itself, which Esquire once called one of the Best Bars in America, has plenty of notable features, including a framed newspaper with the headline “Great War Ends,” referring to World War I (before there were two), and a neon sign from when the bar was called Gene and Marcy’s after Marcy Skowronski and her husband, the founder’s son. Bras hang from many of the fixtures, as it is a decades-old tradition that women leave their bras, signed, somewhere in the bar on their first visit, a tradition that even a city inspector could not shut down for fire safety reasons.

The bowling alley and bar have attracted some well-known visitors over the years. Bowling champion Earl Anthony has visited, and comedian Larry the Cable Guy. Jack White, of the White Stripes, is an avid bowler, and came by when he was in town for a concert; the bar is usually closed on Mondays, but was opened specially for him. Joe Walsh of the Eagles came in and ended up playing a beat-up old piano in the bar. If you’re planning to bowl, remember to call ahead so the owners can arrange for pin attendants to be available.