Iconic Riverwest bowling alley getting upgrades

Falcon Bowl. Image from Google.

Last updated on May 4th, 2023 at 09:12 am

The new owners of Falcon Bowl, an iconic business in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, have begun work on improvements, but promise they won’t be drastic changes and the establishment will retain its “every man” feel.

The business, located in a 141-year-old building 801 E. Clarke St., will remain open during the project. Falcon Bowl is the fifth oldest continuously sanctioned bowling alley in the country and its six lanes were first certified in 1915.

“We love what the Falcon Bowl represents and its place in the Riverwest neighborhood. We’re embracing its history and authenticity and are actually using the bowling alley as our design template,” said Dan Gnadt, one of Falcon Bowl’s new operators. “During the refresh, we’re continuing business as usual so you can still stop by for a drink, come in to bowl or book our hall for an event.”

The renovations began in April and should be nearly complete by mid-June.

The bar area will receive much of the attention. The improvements will reflect the style of the basement bowling alley with its mid-century modern vibe. The six-lane alley has classic 1950s pink and white bank seating, mod-shaped scoring tables and a vintage diamond motif. The refreshed bar area will bring the pink, white and green color scheme from the downstairs to the upstairs. The floor will be pink and green checkerboard tile, the oval bar will feature orange Naugahyde stick-legged chairs and have a soffit above that follows the outline of the horseshoe-shaped bar. The lighting will be replaced with period fixtures and the décor will feature throwback bowling-related pieces. In addition, a side lounge/bar area will be carved out of the existing space.

The banquet hall will receive significant upgrades. The stage will be enlarged, a new bar will be built, air conditioning will be added, the 1960s metal ceiling tiles will be removed to expose the original wood ceiling and medallions and all new lighting, including chandeliers, will be installed. In addition, five different kinds of mismatched paneling that were put up over the years will be removed.

Outside, a space that was previously used for storage will be turned into a 1,100-square-foot patio and beer garden.

The Falcon Bowl traces its history back to 1882 when a corner bar was first built on the site. In 1945 it was purchased by The Polish Falcons of America, a fraternal organization. The facility became home to Nest 725 – the local chapter of the Polish Falcons.  In 1982, Falcon members John and Lynn Okopinski began renting the space from The Falcons. John ran the bar, bowling alley and hall until his death in 2011 when Lynn took over.

In the summer of 2021, Falcon Bowl was listed for sale. It was purchased in 2022 by the Riverwest Investment Co-op (RIC) and later that year the team of Dan Gnadt, Bill Desing and Russ Grabczyk was selected to operate the business. Gnadt and his wife, Amy, are the owners of South Shore Bowl in Cudahy and Castle Lanes in Racine.

“When people ask if we have big plans for Falcon Bowl, our answer is we plan to honor what’s already been established,” said Dan Gnadt. “We don’t want to mess with an institution that so many people already know and love.”


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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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