Featured bartender: Michelle Hoff of Malone's and Tin Widow
Michelle Hoff moved to Milwaukee 16 years ago from Kenosha and she never left. She is a natural service industry worker, manager and establishment owner with years of working at – and owning – some of the city's favorite spots.
OnMilwaukee.com recently stopped in at Malone's On Brady for a beer, a shot and one of the most entertaining conversations we've had during an interview in a long time.
OnMilwaukee.com: Did you like growing up in Kenosha?
Michelle Hoff: At the time I didn't. Who likes the place they're growing up when they're growing up? But, looking back, it really was a good place to grow up.
OMC: Did you ever eat at Franks in Kenosha?
MH: Oh my dear God, you are un-American if you don't. I love Franks Diner.
OMC: When did you start working in the service industry?
MH: I started serving freshman year of college. I literally realized in the middle of a class once that I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted to work in the service industry.
OMC: What do you like about it so much?
MH: It's always changing. I basically get paid to socialize. I meet so many people. It's very different, I would imagine, from working in an office and seeing the same people on a regular basis. I have regulars at my bars, of course, and I love them, but there's always lots of new people, too.
OMC: Where have you worked and owned / own?
MH: Started in Kenosha at a place that's closed now. Then the Chancery, Centennial, Cans – I went to North Carolina for a number of months to train the staff when they opened that location – also Up and Under, Bel Air, Malone's.
I opened Ten Bells with Lee Guk and I continue to be a partner and bartender at Tin Widow (formerly Ten Bells). I also recently became one of the owners of Cutthroat Tattoo on Brady Street.
OMC: Do you have a lot of tattoos?
MH: I have 11. That's counting my entire leg as one, which is covered in a jungle scene. Some random ones, two Sailor Jerry-style bartenders from my hip to my ribcage, they look awesome but they (explicative) hurt. I also have one on my back that I got at 4 a.m. after drinking all night. Five of us got matching dinosaurs wearing fanny packs and a leprechaun's hat. That's all I'm saying. I don't want to incriminate anyone.
OMC: Are you done with tattoos?
MH: No. I want to get flowers on my back. You don't have to explain flower tattoos. They're just (explicative) flowers.
OMC: It seems you work mostly with men? Do you prefer it that way?
MH: I never thought about it. I don't really prefer working with men or women. I have a lot of female friends but it always ends up me and the guys.
Everyone jokes I'm the mom of the group. I'm the mom of every group. My nickname at BelAir was Mama Bird. They still call me that and I haven't worked there in months. I like it, though. It's a term of endearment.
OMC: Ever get sick of being the mom?
MH: Sometimes I do – when I'm out with friends and they all get too drunk. I want to be the one getting their hair held and not always the one holding somebody's hair.
OMC: Do you have or want biological children someday?
MH: No. My brother has four children. They're great. I love children. I just don't want any of my own.
OMC: What do you like to do when you're not working?
MH: I hang out with my family. I clean my grandpa's house once a week. I visit friends – basically do my own personal bar crawls.
OMC: Where do you live?
MH: I've lived here – on the East Side – for 10 years.
OMC: Do you rent or own a house?
MH: Rent. I like renting. I like picking up the phone when something's broken and saying, "It's broken. Come fix it."
OMC: Do you like crafting drinks or do you prefer to serve beers and shots?
MH: I enjoy both. I love it when someone doesn't know what they're in the mood for and I can figure it out by breaking it down, asking them what kind of liquor they're in the mood for, or if they want something fruity. It really makes me happy to match them with the perfect drink.
OMC: Maybe you should take a shift at Bryant's.
MH: I have enough jobs for now, thanks.
OMC: What do you like to drink?
MH: I like Old Fashioneds, ciders. Strongbow typically, but they changed the recipe so I'm very upset with them. It tastes sweeter. It tastes like sh*t.
OMC: Really? I prefer the tarter ciders, too.
MH: Good. I'll put your name on the letter I'm writing them, complaining,
OMC: Is Milwaukee full of alcoholics?
MH: Everywhere I've gone – and maybe it's my nature to gravitate to people who drink more – I have found that as a state we drink more. What else is there to do? Festivals, drinking, bowling, drinking, barbecues, more drinking!
OMC: Any advice for people on pacing their drinks?
MH: My pacing advice is give me a few minutes between shots.
OMC: Are you a Summerfest person?
MH: No. I don't want to sound pretentious, but I really only like to go if I can be in a VIP area, away from the crowd. I don't like wondering if the guy behind me's gonna throw up on my back.
OMC: What are your dreams for the future?
MH: I would love to be a snowbird. I love Wisconsin. I love the people. But I can't handle these winters. How we got through this last winter I don't know. I would love to make enough money to be able to live somewhere else for a few months.
OMC: What kind of bar does Milwaukee still need?
MH: This city needs a Bears bar. I'm a Bears fan.
OMC: Is this on the record?
OMC: If the Packers are not playing the Bears, would you root for the Packers?
MH: No. Never. My two favorite teams are the Bears and whoever is playing Green Bay.
OMC: Are you a Bears fan because you grew up in Kenosha, which is close to Chicago?
MH: I am a Bears fan because my brother Steve was a Bears fan. When I was younger I wanted to be my brother. I slept in my underwear. I wanted to pee standing up. And if Steve was a Bears fan, I was a Bears fan. I love my brother.
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