McKiernan's reinvents itself with Guinness Club, new menu
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Gene McKiernan has owned many bars, starting in 1961 with a place in Madison. He went on to open a slew of taverns in the Milwaukee area including now-defunct ventures like Chump's Pub, Chump's Pub 2 and Chump's Rusty Bucket.
McKiernan is, at this point, best known as the owner of the iconic, party bar and grill, Barnacle Bud's, tucked away next to the Kinnickinnic River. He also owns Ducky's, 3172 S. 8th St., which is named after his father, and Victoria's, 1100 E. Potter Ave., named after his wife.
In 2009, McKiernan kept the family-names theme going and opened McKiernan's, 2066 S. 37th St.
The plan was to open on St. Patrick's Day, but the liquor license wasn't ready until late in the day on March 17 and McKiernan says by that time he had knocked back a few Irish libations and wasn't comfortable driving Downtown to pick up the license.
"So, we opened the next day," he says.
It took time for the four-year-old tavern to find its legs, but recently, it underwent changes and re-introduced itself with a new menu – including lunch options – created by chef Dennis Stukel, who also runs the kitchen at Bud's.
The new menu goes beyond typical bar food fare. It is similar to the one at Bud's, with the same wings and Friday fish fry (including the popular potato pancakes), but also features many more Irish dishes.
The Dublin cheeseburger is topped with Irish cheddar, horseradish sauce and thousand island dressing. There's also a corned beef sandwich, bangers and mash, fish and chips, shepherd's pie and a corned beef dinner.
Menu items range from $6.50 to $9. Specials include steamed mussels on Mondays for $9; $1 beef tacos on Tuesdays; whiskey and wings for $3 or Jameson shots and wings for $5 on Wednesdays and $5 "Big Boy-style" burgers on Saturdays.
Brunch is served every Saturday and Sunday morning, featuring a Bloody Mary bar.
"We're going easy on the pocketbook. We want people to eat here a couple times of month," says Stukel.
Stukel worked at the Third Street Pier for 17 years and the Gasthaus in Waukesha prior to working for McKiernan's and Barnacle Bud's.
"I like working in places that are busy but casual. I really like going to work at Bud's in my shorts," he says.
Stukel is already planning a St. Patrick's Day bash for which McKiernan's will open at 6 a.m. and offer a complimentary Irish breakfast along with all-day bowls of Irish stew and corned beef sandwiches for $1.
Recently, McKiernan's started a Guinness Club. For $20, members receive a Guinness card, which entitles them to a free pint of Guinness for every five purchased. Members also drink Guinness for half price all day and night on Saturdays and on his or her birthday.
There will be an annual holiday party for Guinness Club members as well, according to Stukel.
McKiernan's decor is similar to Barnacle Bud's, with a lot of mismatched furniture, plates and glasses, and it's filled with vintage signs and items. McKiernan says he has always been an avid collector of "stuff" and 50 years of bar ownership has provided him with a plethora of it.
"I've had a dozen bars, usually two or three at a time, and when I close one, I take everything with me for the next place," he says.
Although the look and feel of McKiernan's is very similar to Barnacle Bud's – one might even go so far as to call McKiernan's the wintertime Bud's – Stukel points out one major difference.
"Everything here is hung straight, but at Bud's, it all hangs crooked," he says.
My husband and I went last Friday to check out the Fish Fry. Price was very reasonable - fish fry for two with drinks was about $23. Dinner came with a real bowl (not a cup billed as a bowl) full of soup, bread, potato salad, tartar sauce and choice of fries or potato pancake. The pancake was huge and was served with syrup, applesauce, and sour cream (not one of the three like most other places give you). There's a choice of four fish varities. We both got cod and were givein three pieces of fish that are fried crisp yet still moist on the inside. I hate fish fries where the breading falls off...or where the breading is thicker than the actual fish. McKiernan's isn't like that at all. The atmosphere is friendly with a mix of young, middle aged, and families with kids. A really nice neighborhood place.
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