Every region has its own unique characteristics that produce distinct dive bars, but it’s hard to argue with the confluence of factors active in the Upper Midwest. Cold climates pushing people indoors to congregate for hundreds of years does something to a drinking culture, compressing it and creating rich environments that ward off the winter months. When summer rolls around, the explosion of activity brings new life to these locations as the drinking spills out onto patios and porches ready for their literal moment in the sun.
Milwaukee is amazing city in that vein, a community that has kept some of the country’s oldest dive bars humming for over a century. Wolski’s Tavern
is a perfect example, owned and operated by the same family since 1908 and famous for their “I Closed Wolski’s” stickers that cannot be purchased and must be earned by a late night at the Milwaukee dive bar. So omnipresent are these signature stickers that one was found affixed to one of Saddam Hussein’s thrones post-overthrow.
That same historical context can be seen in two bars that share a deep connection, the duckpin bowling capital of the world, Koz’s Mini Bowl
, and site of the two oldest regulation bowling lanes in America, Holler House
. Koz’s Mini Bowl has operated as a tavern of some sort since the 1880s, its miniature bowling lanes installed in 1947 to drum up additional business. They are the oldest continuously operating lanes in the country and are still operated by human pinsetters.
Similarly, the two-lane alley in the basement of Holler House is operated by human pinsetters, score kept by hand, naturally. Ownership is now on its fifth generation of the Skoronski family, much of it under the watchful eye of Marcy Skoronski. Though she passed away in 2020, her legacy lives on in the form of signed bras that hang from the ceiling of the bar, a tradition started after a particularly late night of drinking by Marcy and her friends.
There are countless other neighborhood gems throughout Milwaukee, symptoms of a community that values a good spot to grab a beer and will brave through the elements to do so. The deep commitment to dive bars creates some of the country’s best and longest-lived institutions.