Featured bartender: James Thoreaux of The Newsroom Pub
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The Milwaukee Press Club, founded in 1885, is the oldest continuously operating press club in America.
For many years, the club was located in various Downtown locations, but – in cooperation with Safe House owner David Baldwin – moved to its current location, 137 E. Wells St.
In 2000, The Press Club relocated to the cozy, dark-wood-filled space with a fireplace and hung their mummified mascot, Anubis The Cat, on the wall. (Read more about that here). There are also 350 framed signatures of famous folks from Louis Armstrong to President Barack Obama adorning the walls.
James Thoreaux was hired to tend bar at The Newsroom Pub in April 2007. As a musician and lyricist, Thoreaux has only one byline under his belt. But more on that later.
The Newsroom Pub is accessible from Wells Street or via Safe House. The two bars, although connected, have a very different feel.
We recently stopped by the Newsroom Pub to have a couple pints of Guinness with Thoreaux and chatted about a dead cat, the life-changing nature of parenthood and his signature drink The Helen Keller.
OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you worked at Newsroom Pub and how did you find yourself here?
James Thoreaux: Almost five years. I was going to school prior, but working part time at Jimmy John's wasn't paying the rent. So, with my last dime, I took the class at the bartending academy. I started applying for jobs, and it's hard to get a bartending job without any experience, but when I applied here, I turned in a resume with a spy theme – put "top secret" on it – and I think that's what got my foot in the door and helped me to get an interview.
OMC: What do you like about bartending?
JT: I like meeting new people every single day. And interesting people. We're in a prime location – by City Hall and the theater. And this means we have regulars – people who work Downtown – as well as new people who stop in after a show. I like that.
OMC: What's your signature drink?
JT: The Helen Keller. It's a "deaf, dumb and blind Russian." Vodka, Kahlua, Bailey's and Irish whiskey. Four shots in one glass. I don't recommend more than two. But I would recommend everyone drink one. Nine out of 10 people find it delicious.
OMC: Has anyone ever been offended by the name?
JT: A woman once told me her grandson is blind.
OMC: Is that a real dead cat on the wall?
JT: Yes. That's Anubis.
OMC: How do you know for sure that it's real?
JT: I had to get up there and dust him off a few times. At one point, though, he had light-up eyes. I'd like to bring that back, just to freak out customers. One of the legends is that Anubis was found inside the walls of the original clubhouse.
OMC: Are all the signatures on the wall real?
JT: All of them are real except for one.
OMC: Which one?
JT: Santa. And actually, it did come from a guy dressed like Santa who had been hired for a party. I believe this is the third largest signature collection in the world. There are 2,100 in total, with 350 here and the rest at the UWM library.
OMC: How come the chalk didn't smear?
JT: We use Aqua Net to seal them.
OMC: What's the oldest signature?
JT: Jim Corbett, heavyweight champion of the world. It's from 1898.
OMC: Is the Newsroom Press Club a completely separate entity from the Safe House, even though they are adjoined and owned by the same person?
JT: They are like yin and yang. Two parts of the same but completely different. And, really, even if you ask the owner, this answer will change from one day to the next.
OMC: Do people stop in here and try to get you to tell them the Safe House's password?
JT: Yes, but I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the password.
OMC: Do people even think this is the Safe House?
JT: Yes, like 20 times a night.
OMC: Do members of the press – aside from present company – ever come in here anymore?
JT: Some. Not as much. We host events for the Milwaukee Press Club a couple of times a year.
OMC: Have you ever been published in the press?
JT: Once. I wrote an Op Ed piece about Napster and how awesome it was.
OMC: It was indeed. Ever have to cut drunk people off from drinking?
JT: Sure. I try to be respectful. I'll say, "You look like you need a glass of water." I believe in treating the inebriated like they're 12.
OMC: What's your favorite drink when you're not working?
JT: Jack press or a Spotted Cow or Pabst.
OMC: What's on your "bucket list?"
JT: Write a no. 1 song. Go into outer space. I've already jumped out of a plane and played on stage.
OMC: What do you like to do when you're not bartending?
JT: I have a 4-year-old daughter and a fiancee. I like playing with them. I also like playing guitar.
OMC: How long have you played guitar and are you in a band?
JT: I've been playing for 12 years. And I've been in a band, but I'm 38 and it's hard to find a band with the right mentality. It really takes a unique combination of individuals to make it work.
OMC: How did parenthood change you?
JT: It made me grow up. Made me look at who I was and for the right relationship. I was a bartender, I had choices, but it made me really think about what kind of person I wanted to bring around my daughter. Being a parent is an incredible responsibility.
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