80 years on, subterranean bar is still an East Side landmark
Every generation of East Siders, it seems, has been inclined to claim Landmark Lanes as its own. I first went there with a friend addicted to arcade games in the early '80s. Within no time, I was there nearly every Tuesday for import night -- a habit that lasted for more years than I remember.
And during those years, there was absolutely no equivalent to Tuesdays at Landmark. The place was packed to the gills. The back bar, the main bar, the arcade, the bowling alleys … every inch was stuffed with people. Descending the steps with a thirst for a beer, you knew that cold one would have to wait because you'd run into at least a dozen people or groups of people you knew before you could belly up.
Older folks tell similar stories and certainly the scene didn't die when I stopped going. Landmark Lanes turns 80 this week and it deserves a celebration.
There will be a private one for media and VIP types on Monday, April 23, says Jason Lusk, who is helping New Land -- which bought Landmark from the Pritchett family in 2002 -- promote the anniversary.
"The April 23rd event is for media and neighborhood leaders," says Lusk. "We expect 50-75 people, many of whom will be neighborhood business owners. Ald. D'Amato and East Side Association executive director Jim Plaisted will both be there."
Mayor Tom Barrett has also committed to attending and will be invited to speak.
But, he adds, the bar -- or more accurately, the complex of bars -- will allow the public to join in the celebration, too.
"Instead of doing an 'event,' the bar is doing a week of 80th anniversary specials and promotions, will run a radio spot next week on WLUM in partnership with Miller Brands, and will likely do an announcement on the 'official' anniversary day, April 27."
And that's a good thing, because the public is what has made Landmark such a unique hotspot on the East Side. Some feared that when the Pritchetts, who had owned Landmark since buying it from United Artists in 1972, left, the place just wouldn't be the same.
But majority owner Slava Tuzhilkov understood that he was buying more than just a bar.
"I owned other businesses on the East Side for eight years, so I was familiar with the area," Tuzhilkov says. "Everyone is welcome and feels comfortable. We have a universal atmosphere (that) I hope never changes."
That's why if you're a Landmark regular, you know that not a lot has changed. In fact, Bill Ryan has been the manager of the place since the early '70s.
Landmark Lanes is in the Oriental Theater complex that was built in 1927 on the site of the former Farwell Station horse, mule and streetcar barn. Despite the stock market crash two years later and the arrival of Prohibition, Bensinger's -- as the bar was originally called -- survived. New ownership changed the name to Oriental Lanes in the '50s and the Prichetts dubbed it Oriental Landmark Lanes when they purchased the property.
The place has such a reputation as a place to meet and greet that politicians like John Edwards, Frank Zeidler, Lee Dreyfus and Gloria Steinem have gone there to press the flesh and celebrities like Brewers Lyle Overbay and George "Boomer" Scott have been there, as have been former Bucks star Ray Allen and Mark Tauscher of the Packers.
And in the musical world, everyone from David Byrne to Ringo Starr to Gloria Estefan to Everclear to Ted Nugent to Norah Jones to The Dixie Chicks have popped in, too.
Outside, everything looks the same. Head downstairs and the arcade still flickers off to the right, the sound of pins toppling is still heard from beyond the bowling shoe rental counter. The side bar -- formerly the locker room for the league bowlers -- is still the place to be and still has the East Side's only bumper pool table.
The back bar -- formerly jazz guitarist George Pritchett's domain -- also once had bowling lanes, but for years has been darts central. The main bar is still the best place to keep a watchful eye over almost the entire complex.
"We have spent the first several years doing some overdue maintenance," says Tuzhilkov. "Painting, carpet replacement and a lot of other small things to bring it up to what I feel the area expects in a business. I know what people on the East Side look for in a business and my plan was and is to meet their needs."
Wisely, Tuzhilkov was aware that what makes Landmark Lanes so special is the fact that it is so special. Each bar has its own vibe and spending an evening there is like bar hopping without every having to go outside.
"(It has) unique atmosphere," Tuzhilkov says. "I heard many times people call Landmark (a) second home, were many customers spent a lot of time and meet with friends. We are like an underground entertainment center with a home recreation room atmosphere. And what seems to keep people coming back is the number of things you can do here. We have bowling, pool, darts, an arcade; just a lot of stuff to do."
Yes, the MJS article seems very similar to this one. Maybe the MJS paid for it?
eastsider | April 25, 2007 at 4:36 p.m. (report)
Seriously, is it too much to ask the Urinal Sentinel to do some of its own reporting every now and again? You'd think their hundreds of reporters might venture outside of their offices occasionally and dig up their own news (instead of gank stories from onmilwaukee or press releases). But maybe that's why no one reads that fish wrap anymore.
South Sider | April 25, 2007 at 4:31 p.m. (report)
Two comments. Nice of the newspaper to copy this story this morning. Classy. Secondly, it's time for a cleaning of the Landmark. 80 years of smoke has soiled the joint and it could use a big cleaning and a little updating! Don't change much, love the old school feel, but the old-school smell keeps me away.
I think you can still smell the smoke from the first cigarette smoked there 80 years ago. This will be the bar smokers can go to 5 years after the smoking ban passes and still get a buzz - just from the smell coming out of the walls.
What are they celebrating, 80 years with no improvement?. Can the owners at least put $5 into the place. The bowling lanes are terrible. The ball returns and pinsetters constantly break down, and Mr. & Mrs. Uncongeniality seem perturbed when you ask them to fix them. The smell of the place is a story unto its own. It's unfortunate that the closings of Stracota's and Echo Bowl leave this as the only place on the eastside to bowl considering that the Falcon bowl (a true landmark) only has open bowling one night a week. I guess its pointless to complain since D'Amato will probably allow someone to rip it down and build a condo there soon.
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