Safe House, Holler House compete to become “America’s Favorite Historic Bar”

The two Milwaukee bars are contenders in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “The Big Tap: Historic Bars Tournament 2015.”

Two Milwaukee bars have been nominated to contend in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “The Big Tap: Historic Bars Tournament 2015” for the title of “America’s Favorite Historic Bar.” The Safe House (779 N. Front St., 414-271-2007) and the Holler House (2042 W. Lincoln Ave., 414-647-9284) will compete with 30 other historical taverns across the nation in a March Madness-type bracket. Milwaukee is one of four other cities that has two or more bars in the tournament.

There are four rounds of elimination and voting lasts all week long with the winners of each round being announced every Friday. The first round winners will be announced this Friday, the 13. The last bar standing will be announced during the first week of April. Bars that reach the Sweet Sixteen will receive prizes including a large banner to show off their achievement. The public is invited to read about each bar and vote for their favorite on the National Trust’s PreserveNation Blog.

Open since 1908, the Holler House on Milwaukee’s South Side, has been in the Skowronski family for 107 years. Marcy Skowronski, 89-years-old, still runs the tavern. Marcy was also the one who started the long-standing tradition of women taking of their bras and hanging them around the bar. The tavern is also known for having the oldest certified bowling alley in the United States. The pins are set manually by “pinboys” and scores are kept by hand.

When told of the news, Marcy was not surprised to hear of the bar’s nomination for “America’s Favorite Historic Bar.” The Holler House has already received national attention in the past; Esquire magazine rated the tavern one of the best bars in America in 2008.

This week, the Holler House has some serious competition as it goes up against The Warren Tavern, located in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The bar was established in 1780 and was one of the first buildings erected in the town after the historic Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. The bar was frequented by famous historical figures including George Washington and Paul Revere.

Most Milwaukeeans are already familiar with the espionage themed restaurant, The Safe House, located in a “secret” alley of downtown Milwaukee. The restaurant is disguised by a hidden door labeled “International Exports Ltd.” A password is needed to get it, or else you’ll have to do something goofy that is broadcast to the patrons inside. Inside, the restaurant is filled with spy memorabilia, hidden doors and escape routes.

“Control is always nervous about the leaking of press releases, we hope this one goes well and we come out on top,” said The Safe House’s chief of disinformation, aka Shauna Baldwin, co-owner of the restaurant. “We have good spies out there that will vote for us.”

The Safe House is up against The Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week. Opened in 1956, the Polynesian-inspired restaurant is said to have the longest-running Polynesian dance show in the country. It has also hosted many celebrities including Johnny Carson, who had drinks from the restaurant delivered to the set of “The Tonight Show.”

These two Milwaukee bars may have some heavy competition, but for us, nothing will ever compare to the Midwest atmosphere of the Holler House and the feeling of being an international spy at the Safe House. Vote for your favorite Milwaukee bar and show the rest of the country we know a thing or two about old-school charm.



Martina is an editorial intern at Milwaukee Magazine. She is a senior studying journalism and Spanish at Marquette University and minoring in graphic design at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD).