Landmark Lens is not just a name, it’s a description. The bowling alley/arcade/bar has been a Milwaukee landmark for decades. Nearly a century ago, Milwaukee had walked the stairs on Farwell Street and entered the “Underground City,” a multi-space, multi-purpose basement for entertaining. And this year, from September 26 – September. 30, Landmark Lanes celebrates its place in Milwaukee history with a week-long 95th anniversary celebration.
Scroll down to check out the full schedule of events happening this week.
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The Landmark story began in 1927, when construction began on the East Theater Complex on Farwell Street. The new building was to replace Farwell station, a horse and mule barn and a streetcar. The basement of the new spot houses Bensinger’s Recreation bowling alleys. Just two years after Bensinger opened, the Great Depression wreaked havoc in businesses across the country, but Bensinger survived. And in 1933, when Prohibition ended, she opened a pub inside her space, Club Silver, which soon began to thrive.
In the 1950s, the Bensinger house was leased to a new owner who renamed it The Oriental Lanes. Soon, automatic stabilizers were installed in the lanes for the first time, eliminating the need for boys to reset the lane after every turn.
In 1972, the drinking age in Wisconsin was lowered to 18, opening the door to a new demographic of young college students looking for a night out. In the same year, the recreation center was officially renamed Landmark Lanes.
Landmark Lanes have a place in Milwaukee’s curious history, too. In 1978, it hosted the first “Holiday Invitational Tournament”, promoted as “Milwaukee’s premier gay and lesbian bowling tournament”. The event became so popular that it was later moved to a larger bowling facility to accommodate the growing guest list.
By the 1980s, Landmark was poised for expansion. A second bar and darts room was established, hosting professional and amateur darts tournaments. The bowling center locker room has been reconfigured into a side bar. The game room has 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 modernized the bar, including updates to The Back Bar, electronic bowling alleys, new signage and, most recently, a brand new marquee, all while maintaining the character and authenticity of the historic space.
Tuzhilkov believes that customers want more than just a seat and a half liter. “They want to entertain, too,” he says. “The neighborhood is different now. North Avenue used to be one of Milwaukee’s best bar areas. Now, we have a few regular bars left. We’ve turned into a more entertaining area.”
When asked if he had any plans to celebrate the centenary, Togelkov said, “Who knows what will happen now and then? That’s why a few years ago we started celebrating in five-year increments. But if we get to 100, it will be big.”
The 95th anniversary calls for a huge celebration, and that’s exactly what Togelkov and his team are planning. The event will take place from Monday, September 26 to Friday, September 30.
Monday, September. 26
Landmark Lanes kicks off the party with a special night of the Midwest Gaming Classic. Players can participate in a pool tournament, Magic: The Gathering, and play a range of classic arcade games.
Tuesday, September. 27
Join the laughs on Tuesday when Milwaukee comedians J Tyler Means and Tim Higgins host a special edition of Voyager at The Back Bar. Voyager is a unique comic format where 5 minute comics are randomly selected. After a series of sets, improvised performers take the stage and create scenes inspired by the stand-up sets. Tickets are $10 and can be Purchased online.
Wednesday, September. 28
On Wednesday, Landmark Lanes is partnering with another beloved Milwaukee company, Lakefront Brewery. The folks at Lakefront are taking to the taps at The Back Bar to share popular beers and new seasonal offerings. Two pieces of custom-made lumber will be prepared for this event, and visitors can participate in the barbed-lift competition. There will be gifts all night long.
Thursday, September. 29
Landmark teams up with their neighbors at Milwaukee Film for Thursday’s Lebowski Night. to examine The Big Lebowski It starts at 6:30 pm in the Eastern Theatre. After the movie, Landmark Lanes host a post-Lebowski party with Moon Room karaoke, a free pour of Lebowski-inspired beer, and of course bowling.
Friday, September. 30
The anniversary party concludes on Friday with Customer Appreciation Night. Visitors can come in for free samples of beer and liquor, as well as free slices of Ian’s pizza. In addition, Landmark Lanes will give away free swag.
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