The Parlor bar breathes new life into iconic space
Lenny Jenkins has never owned a bar nor has he worked in a bar, but one would never know it when observing him in action at his brand new, dream-come-true venture called The Parlor, 1517 S. 2nd St.
Lenny, who says it was his plan for eight years to open a bar, did just that a couple of weeks ago when he unveiled his bar in the former Bomb Shelter (and before that, Monkey Bar) space to the city. And he hasn't stopped moving ever since.
"I'm juggling a lot here, but it's worth it," he says.
Prior to opening The Parlor, Lenny installed skylights for 13 years, including at the Milwaukee Art Museum's Santiago Calatrava addition, with a company called Super Sky. He socked away money and started looking for a bar to run about a year before he found out the former Bomb Shelter was available.
Lenny almost leased a space in Cudahy, but at the last minute, life-long friend Brian Farr, who is a fixture at the end of the bar with his pitcher – yes pitcher – of Jack and Coke, told him about the Bomb Shelter's availability. (Owner Greg Landig had passed away unexpectedly this past March, making the space available.)
"When I contacted the owner of the building, he said, 'you ever owned a bar before?' and I said, 'no.' Then he said, 'you ever worked in a bar before?' and I said, 'no'," says Lenny, smiling.
But despite his lack of experience, Lenny's likable personality, honesty and commitment to working hard won the right people over and he was given a chance.
"This is my life savings," says Lenny. "We're putting our heart and souls into this."
The Parlor celebrated a soft opening on Friday, July 13. (Lenny and his wife, Angela, were married two years ago on a Friday the 13th.) Lenny says he was blown away by the number of customers that showed up for the opening, including his 90-year-old grandmother and 87-year-old uncle.
Lenny, who grew up in Greenfield and currently lives in Greendale, says his family has always been very tight and the loss of his father in 2010 was devastating.
"I don't even want to celebrate Christmas anymore. That was my dad's big holiday. He would save all year and then buy us incredible gifts every year. I'd say, 'Dad, I'm 33, you don't have to spend that much on me for Christmas anymore,' but he loved it," he says.
Angela says she was skeptical of the idea of Lenny opening a bar until he told her of the location of the space he was interested in.
"I have so many good memories from when it was The Monkey Bar. I was just going through a stack of old photos from like 2005, and I found photos of me and some friends in there. We had a lot of fun in that bar," says Angela.
The Parlor has a strong selection of local and non-local staple beers available. On tap, for example, there's Pabst, Spotted Cow, MillerCoors products, Bell's Oberon and three Lakefront brews. Lenny says he is very open to customer suggestions and will expand the beer selection in the future.
"Right now, I'm learning to make a lot of drinks on the fly," he says.
The space feels clean and thoughtfully crafted. Angela spent countless hours shopping on eBay and Amazon for the right decor, which includes framed Sailor Jerry-style tattoo flash, Bettie Page pin-ups, family photos (including one of Lenny's father) and a photo of Joan Jett flipping off the camera that's located above the urinal in the men's room. (Don't ask how the author knows this.)
"She picked 'em and I hung 'em. Angela also picked out the name. I wanted to call it Bar 13, but someone told me that was gang-related, so she picked The Parlor," says Lenny.
Both Angela and Lenny are heavily tattooed. Lenny is in the middle of having a half sleeve on his right arm completed and part of it is a tribute to his dad. He says he plans to get Bettie Page and Johnny Cash tattoos in the future.
Angela says the decor was inspired by tattoo shops she has visited over the years. "I wanted people to have a lot to look at while they are chilling out and enjoying themselves," says Angela. "And I thought the old school stuff went well with the building, because it's so old."
When he's not operating the bar, which is most of the time, Lenny is training for a marathon. He says he once ran four-minute miles, but quit running for a while because of an injury. He recently got back into the sport and is training for the Las Vegas Marathon in November 2013.
"I feel like my dad is pushing me in the wind when I'm running," he says.
On Wednesday nights, the Parlor will host Whacked-Out Wednesdays, featuring '80s music, movies and drink specials including $2 Schlitz and Hamm's Tall Boys. Thursday nights will be Ladies' Night with various mixed drinks priced at $2. Every night, The Parlor offers $5 Sailor Jerry or Smirnoff cocktails from 9 p.m. to midnight.
The Parlor will soon offer pizza made by Milwaukee Pizza Company, a small, local, frozen pizza business started by two Milwaukeeans who invented what they call "Milwaukee-style pizza." (As opposed to Chicago-style pizza.)
Lenny says trying to open in the shadow of the Bomb Shelter hasn't always been a breeze, but that numerous fellow Walker's Point bar owners have been very supportive.
"Diane (Dowland) at Monkey Bar and Lee (Guk) at 10 Bells have my back 100 percent," he says."Greg had a great business here. I respect what he did completely. We're doing something different but we're committed to being a friendly, neighborhood bar, too."
Most of all, Lenny says he's having a blast as a new bar owner.
"I gave up a job making twice what I'm making now, but I'm no longer chasing the dream. I caught the dream," says Lenny.
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