House of Guinness brings a little Ireland to Waukesha
Although there's a flat screen television at the House of Guinness, it is often unnoticed to most customers because, unless there's a "big game," it's rarely turned on.
"This is a talking bar," says bartender Judith Jacobsson.
In November of 2010, Jeff and Joe Phillips, who are father and son, purchased the bar. The transition has been very smooth, according to Jacobsson, because they did not replace staff members or make any major changes to the already successful bar. They did stop selling food in April of 2012.
"The new owners have been very easy to work with," says Jacobsson. "They seem to trust us, because we have worked here for so long."
Jacobsson has worked at the House of Guinness, located in Downtown Waukesha, since it opened in 2000. Originally from Wales, Jacobsson and her husband lived in Sweden and Ohio prior to moving to Waukesha.
"We've been traveling for 25 years," she says.
Fiona Kavanagh, originally from Belfast, is a regular customer and a friend of Jacobsson's. She refers to the House of Guinness as her "extended living room" and confirms that the establishment has the look and feel of an Irish pub.
The space is simple, with lots of dark wood, a large bar, a smattering of tables, Guinness signs and a couple of Irish flags.
"It is very much a pub, not a bar," says Kavanagh.
Jacobsson agrees. She says House of Guinness has similarities to a pub in Wales called The Green Dragon where she worked 25 years ago. "There are a lot of regulars at both places," she says.
Recently, House of Guinness earned the "perfect pint" award, given to only five Wisconsin bars, from Guinness. Jacobsson says the right way to pour a Guinness is to fill it 3/4 to the top, let it settle for 90 seconds and then pour the rest. She says that clean lines from the keg to the tap are integral to a good pint, and that House of Guinness has the lines cleaned every 10 days.
A shamrock or other design on top of the Guinness is not the traditional way to serve one, according Kavanagh.
"That doesn't happen in Ireland unless you're a tourist and the bartender is looking for a tip," she says.
House of Guinness appeals to a middle-aged crowd during the day and some evenings and a college crowd on the weekends. The pub offers live Irish music most weekends, like the Celtic rock band The Sandcarvers who will play on Friday, June 22.
House of Guinness has a good selection of imported / craft beers and ciders on tap, including BellHaven Scottish Ale, Fuller's Pale Ale, Crispin Cider, Boddington's, Guinness, Carlsburg and Sierra Nevada. The bar also stocks about 20 Irish whiskeys, including four kinds of Tullamore Dew and Jameson.
Car bombs – shots of Jameson and Bailey's dropped into a pint of Guinness – are very popular at House of Guinness. They are not, of course, popular in Ireland.
"People feel the need to come to an Irish bar and order an Irish car bomb," says Jacobsson. "It would be offensive to order one in Ireland."
The same goes for the drink "black and tan" says Jacobsson, which is part pale ale and part stout, usually Guinness, and popular in the U.S., but representative of the English army in Ireland.
For Jacobsson, House of Guinness is more than a job. She almost never drinks alcohol – the last time was a few birthdays ago and she says people are still giving her a hard time about it – but the pub is the cornerstone of her social life.
"I have met all of my friends here. I only work in the day time, and I see the same people every day. I would really miss seeing everyone if I didn't work here," she says.
Jacobsson is friendly, with an easy laugh, a strong accent and an air of kindness about her. She speaks of her grandchildren with shining blue eyes. But she also has a spark about her that will ignite if need be.
"I am not afraid to cut off people. No problem. I'll just say, 'you're done!' and that's it," she says.
Although Milwaukee and greater Milwaukee are known for having party-hardy inhabitants, both Jacobsson and Kavanagh say that people drink more in their home countries than Milwaukeeans do.
"I've lived in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, voted the drunkest U.S. cities, and it still pales in comparison to home," says Kavanagh.
However, these days, people in the British Isles are more inclined to drink at home than in pubs.
"This never happened in the past, but friends and family (in Wales) are telling me they stay home more now," says Jacobsson. "Things are not cheap. And the smoking ban had an effect, too."
Although she would like to get back to Wales more often, Jacobsson says it seems that Waukesha is her permanent home. Jacobsson has two grown children: a daughter living in Louisiana and a son who lives in Waukesha, and she knows that if she and her husband moved overseas, they would not get to see their kids and grandkids very often considering the escalated airline ticket prices.
"I enjoy seeing my grandkids so much. They love to get a laugh from the way I speak, like when I ask them to see if the 'postman' came," she says. "Some things you never lose."
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