Landmark Lanes, 2220 N. Farwell Ave., in operation since 1927, is an East Side destination for people from all across Milwaukee. Milwaukee's best bowling alley bar – according to OnMilwaukee.com Best of Bars voting in 2011 – is actually three bars, the front bar, the back bar and the side bar.
"Landmark is a staple, we have the biggest customer demographic in Milwaukee," says Kevin Glass, general manager of Landmark.
Slava Tuzhilkov owns the bar, acquiring it in 2002 when the Pritchett brothers, owners since 1972, sold the property to the East Side real estate developers at New Land Enterprises. The Oriental Theater, once included as part the entire entertainment complex, is owned by Landmark Theatres, a subsidiary of the Wagner / Cuban Companies. (Yes, the Mark Cuban who owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, as well as a lot of other things.)
Tuzhilkov has been updating the bar for the past several years and is now in the process of updating the bowling lanes.
"We expect them to be fully upgraded at the beginning of next year, but it's a long process as well as a lot of money," says Glass, who has worked at Landmark for almost seven years and as general manager the past three.
Landmark's current configuration of three bars, bowling alley and game room has been in place for over 20 years, since what was perhaps the heyday of league bowling at Landmark, after which the alley's locker room was converted into the side bar.
Jordan Less is a 23-year-old bartender working for Landmark. Less breaks down the distinctions between the three bars in this underground complex.
"They each have their own feel. The front bar has somewhat of a sports bar appeal, the side bar still has the only bumper pool table in Milwaukee and the back bar really has its own vibe, especially with all the dart players," says Less. "But the bartender in the front bar can play their own songs. I enjoy making a playlist for my shifts."
Less says he enjoys the bar and game atmosphere of Landmark and interacting with the diverse clientele.
"Over the last (college) break, it was crazy with people celebrating graduations and the holidays," says Less.
Regardless of the night or time of year, Less says things always get busy at 10 p.m.
The arcade and the front bar, which is also known as the main bar, open at noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday and at 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Unless there is a party, open bowling hours begin shortly after the doors open everyday (there's sometimes a delay for cleaning and maintenance).
At $3 per game Sunday through Thursday, people can keep bowling until they finally throw that turkey (which is three consecutive strikes to you non-professionals). A game increases to $3.50 per person / per game on Friday and Saturday.
There are 18 beers on tap in the main bar and a slew of games in the arcade, from pin ball, air hockey, "beer ball" (skee ball), video games and a claw game.
The side bar is open Tuesday to Saturday at 9 p.m., with karaoke Thursdays until 1:30 a.m. The back bar, which used to house a jazz club, opens at 8 p.m. The back bar has been the main destination for dart throwers for several decades now, but for many years it was home to the late, great jazz guitarist George Pritchett and by all accounts was a happening music scene when jazz still flourished in Milwaukee.
Landmark has been bringing the live music back in recent months. Glass says Landmark is taking advantage of its cabaret license and has been offering live music in both the side bar and back bar. Glass encourages bands to contact him at the bar.
The back bar now hosts a pool tournament every Sunday with a raffle and $3 Bloody Marys.
Landmark has 16 bowling lanes. League bowling has both a fall and spring season; spring being the most popular with three full leagues. League teams play Monday, Tuesday and Thursday until 10 p.m.
Open bowling times are Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. until 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. until 1 a.m. and Sunday until 12 a.m. Cosmic bowling is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (it costs 50 cents more per person per game to bowl under the blacklight in this relative darkness).
For a one-time fee of a dollar, frequent customers can be issued a plastic card to present every time they make a purchase – on anything from a drink, to a game of bowling or a pair of socks. Customers receive 10 credits for every dollar they spend at Landmark and can start trading in the credits on their bar tab, or for some other item, after racking up 100.
Wanting things to buy? Don't forget to check out the case at the shoe rental, where you can find cigarettes, e-cigarettes, Landmark stickers, pain medicine (for dealing with a Sunday pool tournament loss, most likely), ankle-length socks (for knuckleheads forgetting socks to wear with the rental shoes or just to add extra flair to your style), gift certificates and bowling pin-shaped water bottles.
Landmark shirts are also for sale for $10.
Drinking at Landmark on Tuesdays has always been popular. Import night on Tuesdays has gone down in history ($2 for bottle and tap imports) and, although the special has changed, Tuesdays continue to be a great time to stop in. The Tuesday night special is now $2 pints and bottles on everything (that seems like progress).
And there's a drink special every night, some even rivaling Tuesday's, including 2-4-1 rail drinks on Wednesday and $2 domestic pints on Thursday.
Other things to know in order to best prepare for your Landmark experience: they require a minimum $10 purchase to use a credit card, shoe rentals are $2 (yes, you must wear bowling shoes) and, as Glass says, "there's always something happening at Landmark."
Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.