Underneath a small corner dive bar in Milwaukee’s Lincoln Village on the city’s south side sits the oldest sanctioned bowling lanes in America, a fact hard to believe from the pale paneled exterior topped with “Holler House” in white, wood letters. Opened in 1908 by Mike Skoronski, Holler House now boasts five generations of family ownership, much of it under the watchful gaze of Gene & Marcy Skowronski who took over from Gene’s father Mike in 1954. Little has changed here in those intervening years, a fact easily proven by the bar’s set of decorations that includes a framed newspaper proclaiming “The Great War Ends” in reference to World War I.
The marquee attraction here is, of course, the two-lane alley that sits just under street level and down a small flight of stairs from the bar’s entrance level. Here, High Life branding and a pair of Polish Eagle emblems in relation to the area’s heritage preside over wood lanes (a rarity as far as modern bowling goes) oiled by spray cans and serviced by human pinsetters. Score here is kept my hand on a white board inscribed with “Gene & Marcy.” Celebrities including Jack White have been drawn to the Milwaukee institution to experience the uniqueness of the space.
Take note for any would-be bowlers pondering a visit that the lanes are available by reservation only, allowing the bar to staff the pinsetters that sit behind the lanes. Holler House lore states that the name of the bar came from a particularly irate woman in the 1970s who dragged her husband out of the establishment and complained about the noise level on the way out. What was then “Gene & Marcy’s” quickly became “Gene & Marcy’s Holler House” until the name was shortened to today’s Holler House moniker.
But any discussion of Holler House must focus on Marcy, the matriarch of the bar for much of its existence. After husband Gene passed in 1990, Marcy operated the bar with family support until she passed in 2019 at the age of 93. The story goes that Marcy was the lifeblood of the establishment for those years, doing things like baking 30,000 cookies at Christmastime for the bar’s patrons. She also started one of the Milwaukee dive bar’s more modern traditions, the hanging of bras that have been signed by women making their first visit. Rumor has it the practice started during a particularly heavy night of drinking that ended in Marcy and friends shedding clothing, affixing their undergarments to the ceiling. The bras have been taken down over the years to make way for new additions, a tradition still very much alive.