Boutique bowling, tiny alleys, new museum

Is bowling about to take on a new attitude in Wisconsin? Opening this month are the first boutique lanes in Madison’s downtown campus area.

“Boutique,” in this case, means leave your bowling bag, wrist brace and blue-collar vibe at home. Neon lights and glow-in-the-dark pins don’t describe the unconventional intentions of proprietors Michael Hierl and Ryan Dionne at the new Segredo, 624 University Ave.

Gone is the rent-your-shoes, bring-your-ball and wear-a-team-shirt mindset. Think martinis and mocktails, shrimp tacos and imported wines, fish with remoulade (a jazzed up tarter sauce) and burgers of kobe beef (served with tomato chutney).

It’s four lanes, plus Wii stations, for bowling as you know it. Add unusual sports bar games that resemble basketball and foosball, imported from Brazil. During peak times, “we reserve the right to favor parties who dress for the occasion, as we think of the bowling lanes as our performance stage,” Segredo (“secret” in Portuguese) proclaims online.

For more: www.segredomadison.com, 608-257-1122.

The unorthodox treatment of bowling, though unusual for Wisconsin, is far from unprecedented nationwide. A recent New York Times story describes the activity’s rebirth as a novel pastime for hip and happenin’ urban professionals. Think VIP lanes, concierges, mood lighting and dress codes.

New York City had almost 200 bowling alleys in the 1970s, the article says, but only 23 today. One is Lucky Strike Lanes, a Hollywood-based chain that I visited in Kansas City’s Power & Light District. For more: www.bowlluckystrike.com.

The aura spells “nightclub,” “cocktails” and “be cool.” Not a place for Jell-O shots, Packer sweatshirts or Shake of the Day. Actually, the bowling seemed incidental.

The U.S. Bowling Congress sanctions at least 350 bowling alleys in Wisconsin. AMF Bowlero, Wauwatosa, leads with 72 lanes, followed by Dale’s Weston Lanes, Schofield, and the Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley, Green Bay, both with 60.

Phil LaPorte, manager of the Wisconsin State Bowling Association, has said no other state has more bowlers per capita. I’ve also read that no state has more small bowling alleys (two to six lanes).

Maybe some people feel a need to reinvent bowling so the experience survives, but it seems to have done just fine for 5,000 years – although the terminology (boccie ball, skittles, loggats, kayles), materials and rules have evolved.

Ancient Egyptians and Romans bowled. Bowling balls have been made of wood, marble and rubber. The sport has been banned, and it’s been considered a religious ritual.

I know this because of a visit to the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, an attraction that opens in a new and enlarged location this month: Arlington, Texas. It used to be in St. Louis.

All-things-bowling are introduced as the International Bowling Campus on Jan. 25, an endeavor that exceeds 100,000 square feet. International and elite teams will train here. Unusual bowling merchandise will be sold here. The U.S. Bowling Congress and other key bowling groups will be headquartered here.

Six of 20 lanes will “test and certify bowling equipment prior to worldwide distribution, replicating all lane conditions,” states www.internationalbowlingcampus.com.

Good for the sport, but painful for Wisconsin. The project would have been a logical and much-loved match for the Badger State.

These bowling destinations are one-of-a-kind in Wisconsin. Please make me aware of others.

Elks Lodge 57, 33 Sheboygan St., Fond du Lac – Inside a grand 1903 Queen Anne Victorian mansion are maple floors, a lovely round bar, walls of imported Italian marble and a basement bowling alley that is the oldest sanctioned and longest operating in the nation.

Only Elks members (from any city) and their guests can reserve the four lanes, certified in 1909. For more: www.elks57.com, 920-922-5757.

Koz’s Mini Bowl, 2078 S. Seventh St., Milwaukee – Four-pound balls, about the size of grapefruit, fly down 17-foot alleys in this Polish-Hispanic neighborhood, two blocks north of the Basilica at St. Josaphat.

The play resembles duckpin bowling, only the lanes are a lot shorter and bowlers throw three balls per turn instead of two. Lanes reservations are required, to ensure a pinsetter is available. For more: 414-383-0560.

Silver Fox Resort, 436 Hwy. F, Hamburg (Marathon County) – Fromm Furs in the 1920s was the biggest commercial fur farm in the world, and now the former headquarters is a museum and rural retreat for executives. Inside a large and luxurious log clubhouse, built in 1934, are two hefty stone fireplaces and a four-lane bowling alley.

The average person can’t bowl here, but it’s worth a tour. For more: www.foxtale.org, 715-539-8574.

Holler House, 2042 W. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee – Upstairs, the ceiling of this neighborhood bar is full of bras and boxers that have been willingly donated and autographed by their owners. Downstairs, pins have been handset on the two bowling lanes since 1908.

Look for the little bar, which resembles a modest home, across from 200-acre Forest Home Cemetery. For more: 414-647-9284.

Wisconsin has only three other sanctioned, two-lane bowling alleys: Elmwood Lanes, 323 Winter St., Elmwood, 715-639-2191; Bailey’s Pro Shop & Lanes, 6909 Briar Lane, Sun Prairie, 608-825-9027; and Fountain City Auditorium, 42 N. Main St., Fountain City, 608-687-7481.

That last location is a part of City Hall, with league bowling and pins set by hand one night per week, but no bowling for the public.

The U.S. Bowling Congress lists 40 places in the state with four-lane alleys.

A shopping page is up and running at www.roadstraveled.com. I continue to seek artisans or others who are self-employed and interested in letting others know what they sell/do – especially in Wisconsin. If interested, please send me a note. There is no charge to participate.