Falcon Bowl Shares Plans for Refresh

Bar Gets Style Update, Banquet Hall Spiff Up, Patio Addition

Riverwest (May 2, 2023) – In the coming weeks, the iconic Falcon Bowl at 801 E. Clarke St. is getting a little TLC. Rest assured, the changes won’t be drastic. The Riverwest institution will retain its every man feel but the interior will have just a bit more style to its name. Plus, the business will stay open during the refresh.

“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,” says 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 – just in time for a June 24 Falcon Bowl celebration (details to follow).

The bar area will receive much of the attention and will reflect the style of the basement bowling alley with its mid-century modern vibe. The six-lane alley has classic 1950’s 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 sleek 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 interior redesign at Falcon Bowl has a mid-century modern vibe and was created by Matthew Kerr Design.

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 classic chandeliers, will be installed. In addition, five different kinds of mismatched paneling that were put up over the decades will be no more.

The events hall will be significantly renovated and will boast an upgraded bar and air conditioning, among other improvements.

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

Lynn Okopinski, a long-time Riverwest resident who ran Falcon Bowl until she retired just a few months ago, has been assisting the new operators in the transition.

“I was rooting for Dan to be the next operator. He’s a bowling guy and that’s the kind of person who should be running the place,” says Okopinski.

While the operators plan to add a few more Milwaukee-brewed beers, there are currently no plans in place to offer food.

“When people ask if we have big plans for Falcon Bowl, our answer is we plan to honor what’s already been established,” says Gnadt. “We don’t want to mess with an institution that so many people already know and love. That being said, there are two operational changes that we’re excited about and are firsts for Falcon Bowl. Falcon Bowl now has a website, falconbowlmke.com, and we are upgrading the registers so we can take credit cards.”

New elements at Falcon Bowl include an outdoor patio, the ability to pay with a credit card and the business’ first-ever website.

Falcon Bowl Then & Now

The Falcon Bowl traces its history back to 1882 when a corner bar was first built on the site. Fast forward decades to 1945 when the location was purchased by The Polish Falcons of America, a fraternal organization which, at one time, helped the fledgling neighborhood Polish immigrants assimilate. 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. Lynn continued to operate the business for another decade plus.

In the summer of 2021, the three-story, 12,500-square-foot 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. Amy is onsite at Falcon Bowl to handle the day-to-day operations and has been tapping into Lynn’s knowledge and expertise the past few months.

Desing and Grabczyk both grew up in Riverwest and their families have deep roots in the neighborhood. Grabczyk’s family moved to the area in the 1940s and Desing’s mother was literally born in Riverwest on Holton Street 94 years ago and today lives on Weil Street.

The Falcon Bowl is the fifth oldest continuously sanctioned bowling alley in the country and its six lanes were first certified in 1915. In 1956, its human pinsetters were replaced with automated ones that had been used in the 1952 PBA national bowling tournament that was held at what is now the UWM Panther Arena.

Falcon Bowl Offerings & Hours

• The Falcon Bowl bar is open Tuesday – Saturday, 4 p.m. to close.

• Open bowling is available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, 6 – 11 p.m.

• The Banquet Hall is available to rent for weddings, bands, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, sheepshead tournaments, taekwondo graduations, spaghetti dinners, swing dances and anything else you can think of!

• Falcon Bowl merch, including a baseball jersey, hoodie, crew t-shirt, trucker hat and beanie, is available at falconbowlmke.com.

• Contact Falcon Bowl at [email protected].

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Falcon Bowl is owned by the Riverwest Investment Co-op and operated by Daniel Gnadt, Bill Desing and Russell Grabczyk of Falcon Bowl, LLC. Falcon Bowl is a Riverwest institution that dates back to 1882 and is known and loved for its neighborhood bar, vintage six-lane basement bowling alley and rental hall that hosts everything from weddings and concerts to swing dancing to sheepshead tournaments. Falcon Bowl gets its name from the fact that it was the headquarters for the Polish Falcons Nest 725, a fraternal organization, from 1945 to 2020. For more information, visit falconbowlmke.com.

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