Bowling is back.

Sort of.

'Basically, we're a mini-duck-pin bowling bar and restaurant,' explained Dominic Hoeffler, general manager at the Thirsty Duck. 'It's like a larger version of a ski ball or a shot put, but there are no holes. It's just a four-pound ball. You have 10 frames. You have two tries to get all 10 pins down. And, in the 10th frame, you get three chances if you knock down all 10 pins.'

It was a new concept for owner Dan Zierath and his team, although not unprecedented in the area; the Thirsty Duck is actually patterned, in part, after Koz's, which offers mini bowling on the south side of Milwaukee.

'We liked the idea, but we wanted to bring something to the suburbs where people could do something besides drink,' Hoeffler said.

A year ago, the Duck opened just across the parking lot from Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub, which Zierath also owns.

'Its brand new for all of us, so we're just kind of learning everything as we go — down to the PVC pipe ball returns,' Hoeffler said.

The mechanics behind the Ducks' mini bowling set up have definitely evolved.

For $30 an hour, up to six players can share one 16-foot lane, each taking turns hurling a fingerless ball down the alley, where a daring young soul snags fallen pins and sends the balls back through a system of PVC pipes.

'Those boys are sweating back there, definitely working their butts off,' Hoeffler said.

For their hard work, players are invited to send a tip in a tennis ball.

'When we started, we had people walk their tips down the lane,' Hoeffler said. 'What we came to find out is some people were uncomfortable walking down the lanes and handing someone a tip, so we tried to make it a little anonymous. We took a tennis ball and cut a slit in it. You put the money in and toss it down the lane. People love it, but it's probably the biggest question I get: What is the tennis ball for?'

Unlike traditional bowling, players don't need special shoes; experienced players prefer flats, but some have managed to master the sport in heels and knee-high leather boots.

Players also needn't worry about scoring.

'We actually started off with manual scoring. There were big sheets of paper. And then we realized not all of us know how to score bowling, so we got some iPads,' Hoeffler said.

Of course, no bowling bar experience would be complete without beer and food — another aspect of the business that has evolved since the Duck opened.

'We're actually on our third menu,' Hoeffler laughed. 'We started off with gourmet sandwiches and extensive entrees. But we came to find nobody wants to eat a steak salad while you bowl, so we looked at, 'What do they have at stadiums? What do they have at basketball games? What do people want to eat when they're bowling, doing something at a bar?' So, we have greasy finger food. But we also have burgers and sandwiches. And nothing is frozen.'

To wash it all down, the bar has a collection of microbrews and small batch beers, plus locally familiar favorites like Lakefront, New Glarus and Leinenkugel's. For the more adventurous, there's also a tequila section.

'It's called the Drunken Duck. It's a huge duck on the wall with a sombrero,' Hoeffler laughed.

It's all part of the trial and error adventure of opening a mini bowling alley.

'We're just kind of going with the flow, seeing what's working, what's not working.'

And having fun along the way.


BUSINESS: Thirsty Duck, 11320 W. Bluemound Road


PHONE: (855) MKE-BOWL ( (855) 653-2695 )

OWNER:Dan Zierath


TYPE OF BUSINESS:mini bowling, bar and restaurant

PEARLS OF WISDOM: 'We're just kind of going with the flow.'

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