While Milwaukee is known for its great beer, beautiful foliage and tasty cheeses, the state also offers a range of unusual activities. Add the following to your itinerary for a quirky trip.
The Holler House
2042 W Lincoln Avenue
Bowl on real wood laid in 1908 at the Holler House, the oldest certified lanes in the country. Don’t forget to tip your personal pin setter as you go back in time to the original days of bowling. The historic, two-story house also features a main-floor bar with eclectic decorations dating back to the early 1900s, like signs advertising 25-cent beef sandwiches and Polish falcon crests showing the ethnic background of the old neighborhood. There is also an extensive collection of autographed brassieres “donated” by patrons dangling from ceiling fans. Lanes are close together, there are no chairs and scores are taken with pencil and paper. The best part about the Holler House might not be the what, but the who, in the form of owner Marcy Skowronski – a sassy woman who made history for the venue. In fact, it was she who started the tradition of drinking with friends and taking their bras off, and the bar now has over 1,000 of them.
The Safe House
779 N. Front Street
In the Intelligence trade, a safe house is “a secret refuge for spies engaging in covert operations.” These places look unassuming on the outside, and good luck finding the door, but on the inside are spaces for conducting clandestine activities. Serving hungry agents since 1966, The Safe House is a spy-themed restaurant containing mysteries and even a hidden exit. Wandering down dark, narrow hallways, you’ll find a phone booth where you can get an alibi if you blow your cover, as well as a wall of mysterious moving puzzle pieces and clues. The building is hidden in an alley and misleadingly labeled International Exports Ltd. You’ll need a password to enter, or at least enough sense of humor to make animal sounds and do silly poses until the doorman lets you in. Hint: Control never turned away agents on the run because they didn’t know the password. Drinks take on a classic cocktail philosophy that coincide with the spy-theme, like the “Spy’s Demise” and the “Double Agent.”
Lakefront Brewery’s Palm Garden Fish Fry
1872 N Commerce Street
Get to know your neighbors elbow-to-elbow at a community table as you feast on beer battered fish plates, heaping stacks of homemade potato pancakes, soft slabs of rye bread, creamy coleslaw and tart applesauce. Every Friday night at Lakefront Brewery’s Palm Garden, the beer venue transforms into an authentic fish fry. The sounds of the squeezeboxes and banjos of The Brew House Polka Kings, whose act features a functioning bubble machine, allow locals aged two to 92 to polka all night. Established by brothers Russ and Jim Klisch twenty years ago, Lakefront offers more than a dozen original brews including the nation’s very first 100% organically brewed ale, Organic Extra Special Bitter Ale.
The Oriental Theater
2230 N Farwell Avenue
Located on the city’s east side, the Oriental Theatre has been providing entertainment for Milwaukeeans for more than 75 consecutive years. What’s also unique is the venue is said to be the only standard movie palace ever to incorporate east Indian decor. Although two theaters were added in 1988, the theatre still maintains its beautiful and ornate original architecture and decorations. Additionally, the Oriental Theatre is the world record holder for showing a current and continuing film consecutively over the years. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has shown at midnight every second Saturday of the month at Oriental Theatre since 1978.
Kochanski’s Concertina Hall
1920 S 37th Street
Built in the 1900s, the building’s original purpose was to house celery farm workers, and then as a brothel. After being used for a few other purposes, the venue was acquired by Polish businessman Andy Kochanski, who turned it into a quirky entertainment venue. A “normal” night at Kochanski’s Concertina Bar could include regulars playing a game of Sheep’s Head, groups of all ages clapping and whirling around the dance floor to live polka music or a full out accordion jam session in the middle of the bar. Dueling polka, rockabilly bands, open mic Polka, and odd decor like a year-round upside Christmas tree are also to be expected. This historical polka beer hall also boasts the largest assortment of Polish and German imported beer this side of the Atlantic.
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S 9th Avenue
No jukebox, only a record player with classical tunes. No menu, only 450 classic, artisan or Depression-era cocktails to choose from that are ordered based on what you’re “in the mood” for. No wallpaper or paint, but plush velvet walls. That’s what you’ll find at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, Milwaukee’s oldest cocktail lounge, established in 1938. Originally a “tied house,” many regulars that go to the bar today come in and talk of when their grandparents used to frequent the venue. Tip: From 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM Tuesday through Friday, Bryant’s serves up Depression-era cocktails for half-off.
St. Joan of Arc Chapel
1442 W Wisconsin Avenue
On Marquette University’s campus lies Milwaukee’s oldest structure, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. The chapel was dismantled and moved from France to New York, then from New York to Milwaukee and was rebuilt and completed in 1966. Containing artifacts that date back to the 15th century, the chapel is said to be the only structure of its kind in the western hemisphere still used for its original purpose. According to legend, Joan of Arc herself prayed to Mary standing on one of the stones of the chapel, and when she finished, she leaned down and kissed the stone. Ever since, people say the stone has remained colder to the touch than the others.
The Bronze Fonz
100 E Wells Street
In August 2008, Arthur Fonzarelli came home to Milwaukee as The Bronze Fonz, a life-sized, bronze statue of the popular “Happy Days” character. The Fonz can be found in his leather jacket, forever holding his famous thumbs-up “Aaay!” pose just south of Wells Street on Milwaukee’s Riverwalk. During the holidays, Fonz has been spotted wearing everything from a Santa hat to bunny ears.
[Images via Are We Not Men?, Visit Milwaukee, daniel.baker, Marquette University and Dan Bishop of Bishop Photography]