Landmark Lanes is not just a name, it’s a description. The bowling alley/arcade/bar has been a Milwaukee landmark for decades. For nearly a century, Milwaukeeans have taken a stroll down the steps on Farwell Avenue and entered “the underground city,” a multi-space, multi-purpose basement of entertainment. And this year, from Sept. 26-Sept. 30, Landmark Lanes is celebrating its place in Milwaukee history with a week-long 95th anniversary celebration.
Scroll down to check out a full schedule of events happening that week.
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Landmark’s story begins in 1927, when construction on the Oriental Theatre complex started on Farwell Avenue. The new building was replacing the Farwell Station, a horse, mule and streetcar barn. The basement of the new spot housed Bensinger’s Recreation, a bowling alley. Just two years after Bensinger’s opened, the Great Depression wreaked havoc on businesses across the country, but Bensinger’s survived. And in 1933, when Prohibition ended, it opened a bar inside its space, Club Silver, which soon began to thrive.
In the 1950s, Bensinger’s was leased to a new owner who renamed it The Oriental Lanes. Soon after, automatic pinsetters were installed in the lanes for the first time, eliminating the need to have pin boys reset the lane after each turn.
In 1972, the drinking age in Wisconsin was lowered to 18, opening the door for a new demographic of young college students looking for a night out. That same year, the entertainment center was officially rebranded as Landmark Lanes.
Landmark Lanes has a place in Milwaukee’s queer history as well. In 1978, it hosted the first “Holiday Invitational Tournament,” which was touted as “Milwaukee’s Premiere Gay and Lesbian Bowling Tournament.” The event became so popular it was later moved to a larger bowling facility to accommodate a growing guest list.
By the ’80s, Landmark was primed for expansion. The second bar and dart room were created, and hosted professional and amateur dart leagues. The Bowling Center locker room was remodeled into a side bar. And the game room expanded and welcomed pinball among other arcade games.
In April 2004, Landmark Lanes was purchased by Slava Tuzhilkov, who still owns and operates it. Over the years, Tuzhilkov has expanded and updated the bar, including updates to The Back Bar, electronic scoring for the bowling lanes, new signage and most recently, a brand new marquee, while still maintaining the character and originality of the historic space.
Tuzhilkov believes customers want more than just a stool and a pint. “They want entertainment, too,” he says. “The neighborhood is different now. North Avenue used to be one of the best bar districts in Milwaukee. Now, we have few plain bars left. We have transformed into more of an entertainment district.”
When asked if he has any plans for the 100th anniversary, Tuzhilkov says, “Who knows what will happen between now and then? That’s why a few years back we started celebrating in five-year increments. But if we make it to 100, it will be big.”
Join The Festivities
A 95th anniversary calls for a huge celebration, and that’s just what Tuzhilkov and his team are planning. The party takes place Monday, Sept. 26-Friday, Sept. 30. You can RSVP and buy tickets to the events at the link here.
MONDAY, SEPT. 26
Landmark Lanes is kicking off the party with a special Midwest Gaming Classic night. Players can participate in a pool tournament, a Magic: The Gathering tournament, and play a bevy of classic arcade games.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 27
Join in on the laughs Tuesday when Milwaukee comedians J Tyler Menz and Tim Higgins host a special edition of Voyager in The Back Bar. Voyager is a unique comedy format where comics are chosen at random for a 5-minute set. After a series of sets, improvisers take the stage and create scenes inspired by the stand-up sets. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 28
On Wednesday, Landmark Lanes is partnering with another beloved Milwaukee business, Lakefront Brewery. The folks at Lakefront are taking over the taps in The Back Bar to share their popular beers and new seasonal offerings. Two specially brewed firkins will be brewed for the event, and visitors can participate in a stein hoist competition. There will be giveaways throughout the night.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 29
Landmark is collaborating with their neighbors at Milwaukee Film for Thursday’s Lebowski Night. A screening of The Big Lebowski starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre (tickets are available at this link). After the movie, Landmark Lanes is hosting a Lebowski-themed after-party with Moon Room karaoke, complimentary pours of Lebowski-inspired beers and, of course, bowling.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 30
The anniversary party wraps up on Friday with Customer Appreciation Night. Visitors can come by for free samples of beer and liquor, as well as complimentary slices from Ian’s Pizza. Plus, Landmark Lanes will be giving out free swag.