Milwaukee Historic Bowling Alleys

March 29, 2010

Anyone out there a bowler? I’m working on a book titled Milwaukee’s Historic Bowling Alleys, and I’m looking for photos and stories about events that occurred or interesting people who bowled in Milwaukee alleys pre-1960. Please send me an email at: If I use your photos, I’ll give you credit in the book.

On Saturday I took some photos of a few signs from some of the remaining historic lanes in town:

Opened in 1950, American Serb Hall is still going strong. They were setting up for a tournament when I was there this Saturday.

Bob-E-Lanes is one of the oldest in town, dating to 1923. The six lanes inside were run as Pyszczynski’s Alleys, then Romie’s Alleys, and became Bob-E-Lanes in 1976.

The 10 lanes at Ed’s South Milwaukee Arcade have been challenging bowlers since 1923.

And there are plenty more: Holler House, Falcon Bowl, Landmark Lanes, Bay View Bowl, etc….what makes all of these special is not just their age, but the fact that they represent the stronghold Milwaukee had on bowling during the past century. Sadly, with the merge of the various bowling organizations (ABC, WIBC, YABA and USA Bowling) into one organization: the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) in 2005, and the subsequent move of the USBC to Dallas a few years later, we’re at risk of being left behind, with nothing left but memories. I moved to Milwaukee in 1983, and since then–amazingly–49 bowling alleys have closed their doors. Forty-nine.

So get out there and bowl–let’s keep the sport alive in Milwaukee! And email me if you have pictures!


Strange Sculptures: Wisconsin

March 22, 2010

I admit it: I have a few quirks. One of them is a fascination with large, wacky sculptures…the freaky-deakier the better.

Our lovely state has a number of mega-sculptures gracing the highways, tucked into almost-out-of-sight corners or standing guard in the forest. The unfortunate vehicle at the top of this page is buried in front of a home in Cudahy.

This funky feathered friend is perched at the back of the parking lot of his namesake, Andrea’s Red Rooster in Waukesha. Inside the building, you’ll find a comfortable tavern/restaurant with good burgers and a roadhouse feel.

Here’s a carefully crafted creature. I call him Scrap Metal Man. He lives on Highway 13, in Adams County.


You may have seen this blaze-orange behemoth where Interstate 94 meets Highway 54 in Black River Falls. But did you know that he’s legendary? Here’s his website:

…and this is his little buddy, just 100 yards away. He’s one of several Mighty Mice that can be spotted in this perpetual state of cheese.

This fella’s all dressed up and ready to swing…his axe. He stares out at Highway B all day long, not too far from our northwoods cabin in Washburn County…hope he never comes alive at night…

I’ll tell you about my other quirks later on! Meanwhile, for the mother of all metal sculptures (50 ft. tall!), Forevertron, check out this story about his creator, Dr. Evermore, in Roadside America: Forevertron is listed as the top weird place to have a wedding on Midwedst,

Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism 2010 (wigcot)

March 16, 2010

The Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism (wigcot) 2010 was held at Milwaukee’s Midwest Airlines Center yesterday and today. Here are some quotes from the speakers: 

Futurist David Zach, on technology: “Think about how many things in your life have been defined or transformed by people who were college dropouts.” (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, etc.) I love it. 

David Sheatsley, Dir. of Marketing Research for the U.S. Travel Association,, on today’s travel patterns: “In the U.S., people would rather drive than fly.” Dude, no doubt. I concur. Folks are taking shorter vacations, closer to home. 

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle,“We’re launching a new tourism initiative called “Meetings Mean Business For Wisconsin.” Business leaders, take note: Wisconsin is the perfect place to hold meetings and major conventions. It has terrific attractions, it’s not super-pricey, it’s got a good mix of nostalgia and new, we have world-class chefs, and our arts community is particularly strong. And we’ll treat you right, too. 

Daniel Burrus, Burrus Research , technology forecaster and author of Technotrends, “You need technology mentors. Who’s a technology mentor? A kid. You need a kid. If you don’t have one, rent one.” Burrus made me realize I need to hire an intern to teach me everything he/she knows about social media. Now. 

Dave Mitchell, corporate leadership trainer and author of Live and Learn or Die Stupid “We think that if we don’t immediately connect with somebody, there’s something wrong with them.” He continues on to explain that each of us leans in the direction of a personality type (Jungian-style): Romantic, Warrior, Expert and Mastermind–we need to keep these types in mind when working with tourism customers.  

And my favorite quote, from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett,“And please make sure that, before you leave, town, you spend all your money here.” I’m smiling, Mayor! 

Finally, I just can’t resist including this picture of the permanent security guard in the Midwest Airlines Center lobby…he’s so permanent, he NEVER moves a muscle. He’s a lifelike creation by Bay View artist Marc Sijan, I overheard a lady tell someone today that she asked him where the Hilton was! 

Marc Sijan Midwest Airlines Center Security Guard

Las Vegas Fremont Street Queen

February 23, 2010

No, silly–I’m not the Fremont Street Queen! But the rock band Queen is floating over downtown Vegas in a “We Will Rock You” canopy performance.

Of course, that’s not the only light show in town…I was particularly impressed with the fixtures at the Golden Nugget, which is right in the middle of Fremont Street. It’s the nicest property downtown, and the new Rush Tower, opened in 11/09, offers sleek furnishings in beautiful sienna, chocolate and mocha. But the best view is from the casino floor, looking up: brilliant baubles and glittering glass provide waves of luxurious light.

On Fremont Street, there’s an active, pulsating vibe, any time of day or night, and it all starts with the people who live and work here. Lots of them are transplants who came here to check the place out, and ended up staying on. This young man, an employee at Fitzgerald’s, let me take a picture of the artwork on his hand.

Rock on, Fremont Street!

Winter Sports in Wisconsin

January 5, 2010

Even on the coldest days, hardy Wisconsin Up-Northers are outside, kicking up the snow and getting busy with sports activities. Here are some things I spotted happening on Long Lake last weekend (Hint: if you’re looking at this through an email, you may need to go right to the blog to see the pics!):

Cross country skiing is a great way to get somewhere relatively quickly–much faster than walking. Plus, it’s a great workout. This gal’s skiing on Long Lake, but you can also head over to the Nordic Cross Country Ski Trail, off Highway B in Washburn Country, between Highways 53 and 70.

Wow, somebody really worked on this angel. Do you think it looks like me? No???? Come on…

Fireworks are always big around the holidays–folks shoot ’em off over the lakes. Just take care to keep all of your digits intact. This beauty was part of a New Year’s Eve fireworkstacular. 

Here’s a happy ATVr, heading toward trail 140 in Washburn County. The trail takes you past small lakes, through logging country. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a white squirrel–hard to pick out in the snow, but worth the trouble.

Finally, the sport I love most of all: ice bowling. All you need is an old set of pins and a ball, although some people use frozen turkeys–a bloody waste of a bird, I say.

The only problem with ice bowling is that you have to either talk someone into setting the pins for you, or be willing to set your own.

Finally, here’s a recipe for a great hot drink to celebrate coming in from the cold:

Heat a cup of coffee with 2 cups of eggnog. Pour in 2-3 shots of whiskey and serve in mugs with whipped cream on top. Mmmm.

Milwaukee Hotels

December 22, 2009

Twenty years ago, you could roll a bowling ball down Wisconsin Avenue on a Saturday afternoon and never see a strike—a pedestrian, that is—unless, of course, it was the week of Summerfest. Now, plenty of visitor-friendly things to see and do make this little city a gem: Great Lakes Distillery, Discovery World, the Third Ward and the Riverwalk, for example.

Following suit, several classic hotels have been polished to a new luster, while the newest addition, The Iron Horse Hotel, is revved up and rolling, just across from the brand new Harley-Davidson Museum.

For the best in Milwaukee lodging, try one of these properties on your next visit:

At the InterContinental, you can be one of the Beautiful People, sipping an Orange Lychee Martini at the Zen Den, the sexiest, most elegant cocktail lounge in town. The only lights in the place come from the alabaster bar and tabletops, which glow mysteriously from within.

Hotel Metro is a sleek, contemporary sleep-spot, listed on Travel & Leisure’s Top 500. Splurging on a Master Suite means you’ll have extras like a wet bar, a towel heater and spa jets in the oversized tub. The best part, though, is the rooftop spa, with its relaxing waterfall and outdoor fireplace.

The Ambassador Hotel, a lovely art-deco style property, was built in 1927 and refurbished, top to bottom, in 2005. The lobby gleams with stunning period fixtures, and most oversized rooms have flat-screen TVs, complimentary Aveda products and plush robes. The on-site gourmet restaurant and lounge, Envoy, offers terrific food and drinks under the glow of sparkling glass chandeliers.

County Clare offers 4-poster beds in charming green and ivory rooms, and a filling Irish breakfast each morning. The pub on the main floor has lovely stained glass windows and specialty tap beers such as Black Velvet (Guinness and Strongbow). The menu, meanwhile, offers help for the hungry with country classics like shepherd’s pie and meatloaf. There’s live Irish entertainment most weekends.

The newest—and quite possibly coolest—lodging is The Iron Horse Hotel, right across the river from the Harley-Davidson Museum. They cater to bikers—with underground cycle parking and boot benches in the rooms—and to anyone else who wants a boutique hotel with a sexy, sophisticated edge. Here’s a peek at the artsy minibar in one of the rooms:

Start your evening at the two-story cocktail lounge, Branded, and then move the party to recently opened Smythe, the on-site restaurant, for some upscale comfort food. 2010 promises the opening of the downstairs Boiler Room, which will  provide an adults-only hot-tubbing experience, complete with a lounge for relaxing with cocktails and conversation.

The Brumder Mansion is a beautifully restored Wisconsin Avenue mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast, with seven working fireplaces–and a live-performance theatre in the basement, which was completely restored by new owners this year.

Finally, the 115-year-old Pfister Hotel, a downtown Victorian masterpiece, continually self-renews; the latest improvement is WELL Spa, on the ground floor. This most luxurious spa in Milwaukee offers treatments with enticing names such as Marine Extreme, Orient Express and Hammam Shower Experience.

Christmas in Milwaukee

December 18, 2009

Milwaukee is a great place to be at Christmas–we’ve got snow, lots of good cheer, and a good mix of holiday light displays, from the large-scale Festival of Holiday Lights downtown to the most modest, but still festive and fun, Candy Cane Lane.

Filled with mid-century houses similar to the one above, residents in Candy Cane Lane began stringing lights en masse 25 years ago. Just north of Oklahoma Ave. between 92nd and 96th streets, you can cruise or stroll and view the more than 300 homes participating in the event. The event is free, but Santa is frequently on hand, collecting donations for the MAAC fund.

The Jingle Bus, meanwhile, takes riders through downtown, to view the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival, happening now through January 3, Park your car in the Grand Ave. structure, and board the Jingle Bus at the Plankinton Arcade. Then sit back and relax, as you view thousands of twinklers and holiday characters. Speaking of characters:

That’s me on the right….how do you like my new Christmas outfit?

The best Christmas displays are the ones that are unexpected: a tiny little nativity display on an out-of-the-way shelf, a crazy little reindeer eraser perched atop a child’s pencil, or those ubiquitous, slightly tacky Christmas ornament earrings and necklaces we insist on wearing. The best I’ve seen so far is this little tree, shining bravely, all alone in an otherwise dark yard.

Happy Holidays!

Mediterrano: Ann Arbor Dining

December 7, 2009

When you think of olive oil, you think of Italy…unless you’re John Roumanis, proprietor of Mediterrano. Roumanis imports all of his oil from his hometown in Greece, and serves it with whole wheat bread that’s been toasted to a smoky crunch in a wood burning oven. Sublime.

The rest of the food I had tonight at Mediterrano, in Michigan’s artsy Ann Arbor, was just as good. First course was hummus, taramousalata (a spicy mixure of potatoes and garlic) and olive tapanade, served with warm spiced pita triangles.

After a beautifully blended seasonal butternut and sweet dumpling squash soup, I sampled a roasted medjool date paired with chorizo and wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon. The unusual sweet/spice flavor combination, combined with the richness of the bacon, worked well.

Next course featured seared Nova Scotia Sea Scallops, on a bed of braised red chard with an onion glaze. Almost to pretty to eat, but I’m glad I did!


And then there was dessert…the killer brownies, served with butter pecan ice cream from Gurnsey Farms, truly were to die for…but my favorite was the beautiful fruit and cheese plate. Chef Rob Underwood delivered a platter of Greek kefalograviera cheese with clementine mandarine oranges, sprinkled generously with  bright, juicy pomogranate seeds.

I’ll be back…

Take The Back Roads to Amish Country

November 22, 2009

Yesterday I experienced a simple, compelling subculture an hour or so from La Crosse…Amish country in Vernon County. I’d been through the area before, but only on Highway 14. What I discovered on the back roads is a part of Wisconsin that ranges from a Jed Clampett ambience–narrow roads winding around steep, rocky hills with an abundance of small streams and wooden shacks–to Amish farms, complete with cows, corn and lots of horsepower.

Vernon County is famous for its round barns–many of them built by Alga Shivers, the son of a slave who came to Wisconsin via the underground railroad. According to Randy Leffingwell, author of The American Barn, Shivers typically harvested wood right from the farmers who placed barn orders, leaving it to dry for about a year before bringing in a small crew to build each round structure. You can pick up a booklet from the Chamber of Commerce in Viroqua with a map and directions to barns–more than one dozen still stand. Here are a couple I spotted yesterday:


Viroqua is also home to one of the state’s few winter farmers’ markets. It happens each Saturday morning, from November-April, in the Main Street Station Public Market–an old repurposed car dealership dating to 1912. Amish farmers sell winter vegetables such as kale, fingerling potatoes and romanesco, a spiky, cauliflower-like creation.


When it gets really cold, the veggies are  grown in greenhouses.

The rest of the market is great for whiling away a few hours, too…you can hunt for your favorite records, then browse through antique cookbooks, art, jewelry and the like in main market, and finally, check out the cool cats hanging around one of the adjoining galleries.

The thing that impresses me most about Vernon County is the self-sufficient, yet cooperative, spirit. Horse-drawn buggies share the roads with motor vehicles; farmers do their work without the help of technology or chemicals; and customers are able to purchase high quality items that are grown, crafted or created by hand. It’s a good system.

Steely Dan at Riverside

November 14, 2009

Grab your Steely Dan t-shirt & get thee to a concert hall…last night this dexterous duo played the Riverside in Milwaukee…if you’ve never seen them live, put this on your gotta-do list.

Steely Dan Riverside 2

The show started with the Aja album, played from start to finish, which is what I had been looking forward to. But it got even better after that…I felt like I was transported back to the ’70s. The playlist included Babylon Sisters, My Old School, Kid Charlemagne–even a rendition of Dirty Work. It was obvious that Fagen and Becker were there to make sure everyone had a good time, in stark contrast to their standoffish reputation. Fagen suggested we get up and dance, to which we responded with a collective shake-and-shimmyfest. I’m pretty sure we would have done anything he asked.

Steely Dan Riverside3

Cool glasses, aren’t they? Kind of a leopard thing goin’ on…

The Riverside is my favorite place to see a concert. It’s smallish, so it feels intimate, and you can bring in a camera, as long as you’re not obnoxious with it. It also has a long and storied past. Built for vaudeville in 1927, the theater was restored to its former beauty in 1984 thanks to a generous donation by Milwaukee patron Joseph Zilber. It’s one of the few historic theaters left in Milwaukee, and, amazingly, it looks just about the same on the inside as it did in 1927. I hear that there are “Haunted Riverside” tours given by one of the employees…but I’d rather get my thrills & chills listening to some fine Steely Dan jazz.