MILWAUKEE — Standing on a foot ladder, Jeff Scanell bent down, pinched his girlfriend’s red lace brassiere between his thumb and index finger and gently lifted it out of the front of her shirt as a cowbell wildly rang and a raucous crowd roared.
The 37-year-old Milwaukee tool and die worker then reached above and added the undergarment to the dangling array of colorful bras of various shapes and sizes that hung from the scarlet tin ceiling.
“I was a virgin, never hung a bra before, but it was super cool,” said Mary Lynn Nowak, his bra-less girlfriend, as she enjoyed a drink.
The couple participated on Friday night in “The Great Bra Rehanging” event at the Holler House, a 105-year-old Milwaukee watering hole where bras have hung from the ceiling for more than four decades.
The event was the culmination of a monthlong battle with the city of Milwaukee that began in April when an inspector ordered bar owner Marcy Skowronski to remove the 100 or so bras from the ceiling because they were deemed a fire hazard.
“I’ve never seen a bra start a fire,” the feisty 87-year-old bar owner said.
Skowronski complied, ordering her son-in-law to pull the bras down and stuff them in a bag.
“I got so mad. I called my alderman and then we called all of the news channels and we got the ball rolling,” said Skowronski, who successfully persuaded the city to rescind its order in May.
Skowronski began the tradition 45 years ago during a night of drinking with her girlfriends.
“We were bombed so we all took our bras off and hung them up,” Skowronski said.
In 2008, in preparation for the bar’s 100th anniversary party, about 1,000 old and tattered bras were taken down and discarded.
“You have a little too many and then it comes off,” said JoAnn Stencel, 47, who has hung three or four bras on the bar’s ceiling since she began patronizing the Holler House 24 years ago.
“Iron Mike” Skowronski opened the blue-collar joint in the heart of the city’s south side Polish neighborhood in 1908. Not much has changed since 1952, when Marcy married his son Gene. Beer in the bottle or can is still the drink of choice and only cash is accepted.
“This is an institution,” said Milwaukeean Jerry Stetz, 64, a longtime Holler House patron, who shed his shirt for the event.
In addition to the bras hanging from the ceiling, the Holler House claims to have the oldest operating bowling lanes in the United States.
On Friday night, Skowronski charged $5 to hang a bra on the ceiling, with proceeds going to support breast cancer research.
“It’s been crazy all day long,” she said as revelers continued hanging bras, celebrating the tradition’s return.