Holler House After Hours

Five generations have contributed to the 11-decade legacy of this bar and bowling alley.

Year founded: 1908
Neighborhood: South Side
Family Members on Staff: Four, plus a few others now and then
Claim to Fame: Home to the country’s oldest sanctioned bowling alley, a two-lane gem in the tavern’s basement that employs manual pinsetters
How it got its name: Founded by “Iron” Mike Skowronski and originally operated as Skowronski’s, it became known as Holler House after an angry wife pulled her drunk husband out of the place, and complained about all the “hollering” in the joint.

What’s the best thing about having a family business­?

Marcy Skowronski, the family’s 90-year-old matriarch: “The people that come in here are my extended family.”
Todd Stuckert, Marcy’s son-in-law, who has worked at Holler House for 41 years: “It’s not really a job in this kind of family business. For one, you get to drink. And if we have a function to go to, the bar is closed.”
Cathy Haeft, Marcy’s 62-year-old daughter: “We don’t have timecards or anything. We are just family. No one else works for us.”
Tom Haeft, Cathy’s husband: “If it wasn’t for this bar I’d be in Florida or Arizona all winter.”

Photo by Rebecca Kames.
Photo by Rebecca Kames.

What’s difficult about working in a family business?

Tom: “You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Marcy is the boss. But you have to change, sometimes. If it was all up to Marcy, we’d have Miller products and Pabst and that would be about it. Cathy and I started bringing in local [craft] beers, too.”

Any interesting celebrity stories?

Marcy: “(Former White Stripes lead singer) Jack White was here last year. I didn’t even know who the hell he was. Joe Walsh of the Eagles was here. He comes driving up in a pink Cadillac wearing a dirty baseball cap and a Hawaiian shirt and I said to the bartenders, ‘Who’s this scuzzy looking character?’ But a nice guy. I made Polish food for him. He was eating kielbasa like crazy and played that beat-up piano over there. (Sports writer) Frank Deford interviewed me and stuck around for three-and-a-half hours. We drank beer. I get goofier than hell from beer. I was bombed.”

What are your early memories of the bar?

Marcy: “When I first got in the business, I was only 28 years old. We opened up at 6 in the morning. One time, there were these construction workers and it was raining and they all came in here early and I was (drunk) by 9 a.m.”

Photo by Rebecca Kames.
Photo by Rebecca Kames.

How do you compete against larger corporations and chains?

Tom: “Could you imagine what this place would be like if we tried? But we don’t want to. We kind of like it the way it is. We just shoot from the hip.”
Cathy: “I had people look me right in the face years ago and tell me that we were never going to make it. Guess what? We’re still here. We might not be doing it right, but we’ve been here for 108 years and business is good.”

Do you ever think about selling the business?

Marcy: “No. The kids or my grandchildren will take over. But after I die, who cares, right?” (laughs, loudly).
Todd: “It’s more up to what the kids want now. I’m 65. I’m the licensee for the business but I’m going to start cutting back.”
Tom: “We’ll burn it down before we’d sell it, unless it’s worth a lot more money than we figure.”

An abridged version of ‘Holler House’ appears in the August 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the August issue on newsstands beginning August 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.