The Bras Are Back at Holler House

by Bob Johnson 0

To paraphrase an old Thin Lizzy song, at the Holler House in Milwaukee, the bras are back in town.

Milwaukee has long been known for the “three Bs” — beer, brats and bowling. At the Holler House, home to what are believed to be the oldest certified bowling lanes in the world — there has long been a fourth “B”: bras.

Specifically, bras hanging from the ceiling of the bar.

The Holler House opened in 1908, then known as Skowronski’s. When the founder’s son, Gene, got married in 1952, it was renamed Gene and Marcy’s. During the mid-1970s, it became known as the Holler House when a German woman used the phrase in commenting about the noise emanating from therein.

It was about that same time that Marcy Skowronski and some friends “got bombed… and just decided to take our bras off and hang them up.” Before long, it became common practice for first-time visitors to the bar to do the same — whether “bombed” or not.

In the decades to follow, the Holler House became almost as well known for the hanging bras as for its historic lanes.

Every so often, as bras became frayed, Skowronski would take them down to make room for a new batch.

Through the years, the Holler House was inspected numerous times by the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services. The bras never were an issue.

Last month, however, a new inspector visited the Holler House — a woman. It was her opinion that the bras represented a fire hazard, and informed Skowronski that they had to be taken down.

The written order noted: “Curtains, draperies, hangings and other decorative materials suspended from walls or ceilings shall meet the flame propagation performance criteria of NFPA 701.”

NFPA is short for National Fire Protection Association, considered the authority on fire, electrical and building safety. NFPA 701 outlines the standard methods of fire tests for flame propagation of textiles and films.

It is not known whether the inspector considered the bras to be “hangings,” “decorative materials” or both. Whatever the interpretation, it was her opinion and order that the bras had to go.

“Either she had a bad day or she didn’t like me,” Skowronski theorized in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

Marcy Skowronski stands about 5 feet tall. She is 87 years old. She has worked at the Holler House for 59 years. In all that time, even back in the days when virtually every customer smoked, there never has been a fire at the bar. Given all that, you might imagine Skowornski did not take the bra ban well.

So she called a local reporter, and before long, news of “Brassiere-gate” was sweeping not only Milwaukee, but the entire country. At that point, Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan stepped in, urging that the written order be rescinded.

On May 16, that’s exactly what happened. No doubt seeking to save face, the Department of Neighborhood Services said it had dismissed the order because the Holler House had a smaller maximum occupancy than first believed, and thus a less stringent fire code applied.

Apparently, if you tried to hang bras from the ceiling of, say, a Hooters restaurant, that would not be in compliance with NFPA 701. (That may also explain why, according to the store locator function on the Hooters website, there is no Hooters restaurant within Milwaukee’s city limits. But we digress…)

“Oh, my goodness, we won,” Skowronski enthused in Jim Stingl’s follow-up report in the Journal Sentinel. “We’re going to have a party to throw the bras back up.”

To paraphrase Thin Lizzy’s 1976 hit…

Guess who just got back today?

Them wild-eyed bras that had been away

Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say

But, man, I still think them bras are crazy

The bras are back in town

The bras are back in town

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.