Club Garibaldi remains a corner tap with city-wide appeal
Although it feels like little more than a friendly corner tap, Bay View's Club Garibaldi has been a gathering point for tipplers from all around the city for generations.
Folks from the south side and the southern suburbs have countless stories to tell about evenings spent there, while east siders crossed the Hoan in the 1980s to hear local bands in the hall.
But at Garibaldi (2501 S. Superior St.), it's the neighborhood residents who have always been in the majority.
Back in 1908, the new building opened as a tavern. When the first bar moved further down Russell Avenue, Schlitz took over and added the beautiful wood bar that you see today in the cozy tavern.
The owners added a back hall in 1927 and Bay View's Giuseppe Garibaldi Society, a fraternal order formed by the neighborhood's Italian immigrants in 1908, later began meeting there. The society purchased the building around 1941 and still owns it today.
But the society isn't in the bar business, so the tavern operation is currently leased to Tag Grotelueschen and Joe Dean, two former East Side bartenders. Their loyal following trailed them south when they took over a little more than two years ago.
"We do have a fair contingent that travels to see us," says Grotelueschen. "Any bartender that has a following, they're going to go see them no matter where they are. But we knew when we started that we are a neighborhood bar, and we'd have to cater to the neighborhood. I think that we've really got the cream of the crop of the neighborhood, too. That's what kept us going when the street was closed (Hoan Bridge and Russell Avenue were both undergoing construction at the time)."
A recent visit backs him up. On the first Saturday night of Summerfest 2002, even though the owners say they expected a quiet night, Club Garibaldi was hopping. There was the owner of an East Side record shop at the bar with some friends from a local band or two. There was a birthday party in the back room and a host of locals and other regulars bellied up to the front bar. It takes more than a festival to lure Garibaldi's dedicated clientele away.
But what brought these East Siders down to Bay View for their first venture? The fact that many of their friends were moving to the neighborhood certainly helped. But it was more than that.
"It was a number of different things," remembers Grotelueschen. "Not only the location, although we saw the potential in the neighborhood and the upswing in people moving down here. The price had to do with it, too. But once we walked in and saw the front bar and the characteristics of the back room -- the tile work and the history, that's what really sold us on it."
That character includes the aforementioned dark wood bar and ornate tile work on the floor and walls of the hall, but also the photographs of the Garibaldi Society's presidents adorning the far wall of the back room, which still hosts the society's regular meetings.
But when it comes down to it, Grotelueschen realizes that the tile work doesn't guarantee success as much as a customer base does. He's pleased, he says, with what he and Dean have built up over a relatively short time.
"I'd say we have a very eclectic crowd. We get everybody from the age of 21 up to 80. It's a great mix; a laid-back crowd. Our people generally show up to have a good time."
Dean, who lives in the neighborhood, and Grotelueschen, who is currently searching for a house there, have a strong partnership. And that, Grotelueschen says, has also contributed to their success.
"We both worked at Points East Pub (on Lyon Street)," Grotelueschen says. "I was there five and a half years, and Joe was there four years full-time -- about five years overall. We both worked together at the Central Grill; that's where we met.
"This all started when I was working with another guy to open a place, and part of my end of the deal was that I wanted to bring Joe along as our bar manager. When that other deal fell through, I said to Joe, 'Why do we need another guy? Let's do it ourselves.'"
And they have done it themselves. And they plan to keep on keeping on, dispensing a generous selection of reasonably-priced imported and domestic beer and serving up tasty tavern food: burgers, fries, wings, pizzas.
"We still probably have got one good year of really solidifying the business," Grotelueschen says. "Our sales are up over last year, which is good. If we could put something on our wish list, we'd love to buy the building, but we're not holding our breath. Even if we can't, we'd love to stay as long as the Garibaldi Society will have us. We'd like to keep working to bring back some of the old character to the place. We'd also probably consider opening another place with a different theme to it. That was always the plan: to have more than one place."
Club Garibaldi, which has one of the best jukeboxes in Bay View, if not beyond, is located less than five minutes from downtown, at 2501 S. Superior St., at the corner of Russell Avenue, in Bay View.
Post a comment / write a review.
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.