Kruz bar built on solid foundation
There's no sign marking the location of Kruz, 354 E. National Ave. "You either know Kruz or you don't," says Jerry Breiling, co-owner of the bar.
Breiling attributes this to "old-school thinking," as in when gay people needed to proactively protect themselves and their property from other, hate-filled, people.
"If you have a sign, people can come by and find (customer's) cars," says Breiling.
Customers of the gay bar This Is It, 418 N. Wells St., which has remained tucked away just down the street from Cathedral Square for over 40 years, used to have to enter through the alley. The reason the famous M&M Club, formerly at 124 N. Water St., had boards over the windows is because unprotected glass would get smashed by hateful homophobes. There is now a somewhat improved cultural climate for LGBTQ people, occasional statements about alarm clocks from politicians notwithstanding, and around Walker's Point a thriving bar scene continues to grow.
In 2006, Breiling and partner Serge Pellicelli set out to open a gay bar, and a "man's gay bar" at that. Reportedly a "leather bar," Kruz actually has a diverse crowd. Breiling has found that bears, leather and Levi people all get along in Kruz, and that younger customers bring their girlfriends.
"We actually get a lot of women in here, but we're still known as a gay bar. The old scene will never totally be gone, but it's nice to see the new generation of gay people, they mix a lot more," says Breiling.
It's still pretty quiet in Harbor View, Kruz's little corner of the city, surrounded by warehouses, old industry and a few boat yards. Before Wherehouse and Hot Water, 818 S. Water St., opened Breiling says they were "the only thing here."
Kruz has a two-for-one happy hour special weekdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Everything is available for the special. Kruz does not serve any food, although for some holidays and for the bar's anniversary (they opened Thanksgiving weekend 2006) they like to make food to bring in as a customer appreciation.
Breiling and Pellicelli designed a bar based on their observations and their own preferences going out. "When people go out to bars, they usually change location every two hours, so we wanted to change the scene in the bar every so often so people will stay for another drink," Breiling says.
The building that houses Kruz was built in 1899 and is in excellent condition, thanks in part to Breiling's and Pellicelli's efforts. Before Kruz, there was another bar in the space known as the Firehouse and before that, a bar called the South Water Street Docks.
Breiling and Pellicelli put a lot of work into renovating the space when they took it over, including refurbishing the floors, toilets, sinks and bar coolers. They added soft, padded chairs to line the bar and commissioned artwork by Wim Griffith, which is located throughout. An iron sculpture by Griffith near the patio door has become the bar's logo, even appearing on a flag. When they bought the building two years ago, they also tuckpointed the mortar lines, put on a new roof and continued with the interior renovations, like ramping up their light show.
"It's only used periodically, for diversity. Considering we're not a dance club, we've got more lights in here than you can imagine," says Breiling.
Last summer, Breiling and Pellicelli added a patio between the back of the building and the parking lot. Designed by Pellicelli, the Kruz patio is easily one of the best bar patios in the city with gas heaters, table-top fire pits and comfortable, sturdy, custom-made furniture.
"No cheap, plastic Target sh*t. It's like coming to the garden at our house," says Breiling.
Breiling, who has always liked gardening, has also adorned the patio with an array of beautiful, exotic plants. Through trial and error, Breiling has developed a true skill, and the plants on Kruz's patio are really something to behold.
"I've liked gardening my whole life, and because winter is so f**king long, it's nice to plant, and people enjoy it," says Breiling.
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What your article fails to mention is that BOTH OWNERS are the MAIN reason why the customers keep coming back.....they're genuinely APPRECIATIVE of their supporters/customers, and treat them as loyal FRIENDS:) KRUZ is also one of the CLEANEST, and most organized bars in Milwaukee (i.e. They were one of the very FIRST pubs to THOROUGHLY do a COMPLETE sanitized effort, after the no smoking ban went into effect!!) Yes, the owners, and their business, are definitely a "CLASS ACT!" The ONLY thing that I DISAGREE with is banning a customer for life, without giving them just ONE chance to make things right...we ALL make mistakes/"He who casts the first stone.........:)
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