4th Base still a hit with gourmet food in sports bar atmosphere
"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round – brought to you by Aperol, Pinnacle, Jameson, Fireball, Red Stag and Avion. The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
In the six years since we last profiled 4th Base, the enigmatic West Milwaukee gourmet sports bar, a little has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. And that's exactly how CJ Papara, the bar's manager, and his father Peter, the owner, like it.
About five years ago, the co-owner of 4th Base, Daryl Scholl left the business. With the Papara now completely running the show, this unique sports bar at 5117 W. National Ave. continues to operate a tavern like none other in Milwaukee.
"The concept is still the same," says the younger Papara.
What's so special about this small bar in West Milwaukee? First, it has no menu, but it's not a stretch to call it a gourmet sports bar. Basically, you tell the chef what you'd like to eat, and he makes it for you.
Second, it's a quiet neighborhood tavern for much of the year, with its regulars enjoying the peace and quiet of a friendly watering hole. But before and after Brewers games, this place is packed with fans downing Bloody Marys and burgers, then taking the bar's free shuttle to Miller Park.
It's one of those places where looks deceive. 4th Base is wall-to-wall sports memorabilia. Add in excellent, made-to-order food, and it's a very, very special bar, indeed.
If you've never been to 4th Base, you've probably heard about it. And most people will warn you how expensive it is.
Papara has certainly heard that before.
"What it is, is more so a disconnect between the place and how it looks, and the food that we offer," says Papara. "If you're going somewhere Downtown and ordering jumbo shrimp or jumbo scallops or Alaskan king crab, in that regards, we're not going to be expensive. It's just, how many sports bar places have the food that we have?"
His advice: just ask how much your meal will cost. Yes, if you order everything in the freezer case, you'll be in for an expensive dinner. But if you compare the food to another restaurant serving this quality of food, it's really a bargain.
People just don't expect a bar like this to serve food like this.
"We can sell you anything, but each item has its own cost," he says. "But 49 out of 50 people never ask."
There is a little structure to the bar's food offering, though. Paparas says he operates off of a specials board, but the cook can make whatever he wants on a day-to-day basis.
"If you have a taste for something, you're not limited to our menu," he says.
The bar opened at its original Piggsville location in 1980, and moved to its current home in 1985.
After all these years, 4th Base is an establishment where service matters. "It's always a priority. We make things as personable as possible. When you come in a week later, our bartenders remember what you're drinking," says Papara.
And 4th Base is still known to different people for different things. Whether it's a Brewers bar or a burger bar or a Bloody Mary bar, every customer finds a different draw to the tavern.
"If it's not baseball season, I don't know how much traffic we really get outside of West Milwaukee and West Allis. (During the season) four or five times a week, there are 40,000 people across the street. That helps business."
Moving forward, Papara says he wants to build buzz beyond Brewers games. He wants people to remember 4th Base for food – and to get back his "drinking crowd."
"We're going after a younger generation through social media," he says. "We need to find people with an appreciation for food. If you come to eat and see the millions of things you can do, that's where the value comes in."
MKE County | Feb. 12, 2013 at 5:41 p.m. (report)
Haha the first thing I said to myself when reading the headline was Yeah cool place but the prices are ridicules and I for one do not mind paying big bucks for a beer, shot or vodka but not in a sports bar like this. They charge way to much for virtually everything hence why I haven't been back in 4 years. The owner needs to read this feed back and realize his place has a stigma attached to it. Over priced for the type of place it is! Why would someone go here when you can go to better places and pay less? Also everyone I know that mentions this place the first word out of their mouth is "over priced". I like the fourth base and the setup, location and baseball stuff inside but lower your prices. If I am going to spend 4 hours at a bar I don't want a $200+ BAR tab. Other than price this place is cool!
Putting the onus on the customer to ask how much something might cost creates a sort of awkward social situation. It sets everybody up to potentially look like El Cheapo. When a customer has a menu with $$ on it, they browse what's in their budget. At 4th Base, they're subject to cluing the server in on what their budget is. Apparently only 1 in 50 are willing to do that. Not a huge shocker. I commend them on trying something different... but it's a little puzzling. In case they need a baseball analogy: This is like batting the pitcher in your leadoff spot. Sure, everybody will hear about it and know who you are, but are you winning anything because of it? Sounds like you're just alienating potential fans.
Flashback! Driving to 4th Base in Piggsville at 11:45pm and picking up a double order of onion rings. Now I have to visit 4th Base again....soon! :)
Great Food! But unless you are on an expense account...ask for prices. Not cheap, but worth the money....have not been there for a while....my photo was hanging in there...I think I'll stop and see if it's still there. :)
4 comments about this article.
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.