Graham Kilmer

Riverwest Residents Buy Falcon Bowl

The bar, bowling alley and event space was purchased by the Riverwest Investment Cooperative.

By - Dec 17th, 2021 04:17 pm
Falcon Bowl. Photo by Michael Horne.

Falcon Bowl. Photo by Michael Horne.

Falcon Bowl, the classic Riverwest bar, bowling alley and event space, has been sold.

The neighborhood fixture was purchased for $500,000 cash by the Riverwest Investment Cooperative, a member-owned investment organization created as a tool for neighborhood residents to get involved in the development of their own community.

Clare Lewis, a board member, told Urban Milwaukee the organization was keen to keep Falcon Bowl, 801-803 E. Clarke St., in community hands. “The building has been an anchor in the community for generations,” she said in an interview.

The building was previously owned by the Polish Falcons Nest 725, a nonprofit fraternal organization founded by Polish-Americans. But the Falcons have long leased the bar to R. Lynn Okopinski.

The building is approximately 12,500 square feet, it has a bar room and event space on the first floor, a bowling alley in the basement and a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor.

The building was built in 1882, and in 1913 the bowling lanes in the basement were first certified. Today, they rank among the oldest continually operated bowling lanes in the country.

There were a series of taverns that operated out of the building throughout the 20th century. But since 1945, it has been the location for the Polish Falcons Nest 725.

Preserving the current character and use of the building was the prime motivation for the investment cooperative. “We bought it to facilitate that the next tenant would be a good fit and honor the history of the property,” Lewis said.

Okopinski will stay on as the operator until the spring, Lewis said, to finish out the bowling leagues currently running.

The investment cooperative will be looking for a new tenant, or a cooperative, that will invest in and maintain the bowling alley as well as the event space and tavern. The hall is such a unique event space, and there currently isn’t anything else like it in the neighborhood, she said.

The event space has at various times been a dance hall and a venue for live music, hosting performances by artists like bluesmen Muddy Waters and Howling Wol’, and groups such as The Violent Femmes.

The building was originally listed for sale in June for $249,000. Lance Wooten, of Riverwest Realty, who represented the Falcons in the sale, said there were nearly a dozen offers at that time, and the best offer was from the cooperative.

But a sale never went through, and the property was re-listed this fall at $350,000. Once again, the highest and best offer was $500,000 from the cooperative.

The cooperative was founded in 2003, allowing Riverwest residents to get involved in development in their own neighborhood. It invested in and oversaw the redevelopment of residential and commercial properties, as well as providing some micro-loans. But this Falcon Bowl project is the largest it has taken on in years.

It briefly flirted with the idea of redeveloping the former Grand Theater into a community space, but COVID-19 nixed those plans.

It also demonstrates the utility of an organization like the cooperative in preserving community landmarks like Falcon Bowl. 

Lewis said the cooperative is hoping the Falcon Bowl project will help “bring our name back into light.” The more members that join the cooperative, the more projects it will be able to take on, Lewis said.

“We are a board of six people,” she said. “We could use some more boots on the ground.”

2016 Photos

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

One thought on “Riverwest Residents Buy Falcon Bowl”

  1. Douglas Lueck says:

    Lots of great 1960’s memories for the UWM Vets’ Club.
    A Riverwest icon!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us