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In Bars & Clubs

Milwaukee's best bars of yesteryear, part two


Last fall, OnMilwaukee.com took a trip down memory lane with "Milwaukee's best bars of yesteryear." Of course, with our oldest staff writer being a mere 40 years old, our first-hand knowledge of Milwaukee's bar scene only dates back to the early '80s.

Then it hit us like a case of Schlitz: it being Father's Day, let's ask a few OMC dads to tell us what nightlife was like in the swinging '60s and '70s. They all, of course, waited till the last minute, but what we got was pure gold. Our dads' memories may be a little fuzzy (and their heads a little less hairy), but here are their recollections of Milwaukee's best bars of yesteryear -- part two ... and Happy Father's Day, dads.

Roger Sherman (dad of Jeff Sherman) :

From the summer of 1967 when I moved to Milwaukee, only two of the bars I recall frequenting the most are still open today. There were also several "Lake Country" bars North and West of the city (Elsie's White Sail in Pewaukee and Wyler's on Big Cedar Lake are two that come to mind) ... but let me wrack the brain a bit and focus on the Milwaukee bars/clubs.

O'Brads: lower level on Locust near Humboldt, usually had live bands, mostly local including Milwaukee's own, The Shaggs (one hit: "Stop and Listen"). Dark, smoky, loud and always crowded dance floor ... beer only as I recall, but a great hangout.

Beneath the Street: Fond du Lac and North Avenues, A bit more upscale than O'Brads, but the same type of venue with bands and dancing. I recall parking was always a challenge in that area, so the local supermarket lot was usually filled by 9 p.m.

Water Street had two great bars, both which were demolished for the freeway construction. Someplace Else (near Clybourn) was a great place with good burgers, peanuts with shells on the floor, local and national music acts on weekends. It opened for noon lunches daily and on weekends. I recall this was where you always ran into someone you knew ... or ended up at "Someplace Else" as the evening ended. This place later relocated just south of Wisconsin Avenue and burned down several years later.

Next door was the Crystal Palace, a dixieland jazz place with décor to match. Also live music and great atmosphere. These were, at that time, most of the Water Street bars (before Water really started to develop further north).

The Whiskey (a Go-Go) was on Front Street, the "alley" where entrance to the Safe House is located. The Whiskey was a long, narrow space with several rooms and a required stop downtown on weekends. Of course, if you had guests from out of town, a stop at International Exports, Ltd. was required, too.

LaVeres was another stop, a classical bar/night club with live jazz which I think was on Farwell or Prospect ... also near UWM on Downer, the Tux(edo) Bar where (Jeff's) mother had her fake ID confiscated.

Near Marquette, Miss Katie's (I think) was the Black Spider ... good steaks, I recall. Right down the street was a local watering hole the Who's Inn ... where a case of PBR was $3.25 and a few free beers at the bar if you stayed around to play pool. My good friend John Ziebell and I lived on 20th Street right around the corner, so we made the beer run here every Thursday night.

Still in business, the Swingin' Door at 219 E. Michigan St. was a "last stop" of the evening, quiet, great bartenders and a perfect ending to any evening for any "old" Milwaukee dad!

Dr. Ron Snyder (dad of Molly Snyder Edler):

In the 1960s, the place to go when you wanted to celebrate a special event, or had at least enough cash (no debit cards in those days) to pretend that you were celebrating something, was the elegant and pricey Frenchy's Restaurant and Bar. It stood as a proud beacon of conspicuous consumption on North Avenue just east of Oakland Avenue on the spot known today as the location of Beans and Barley.

Frenchy's was a dimly lit, overly decorated spot complete with red velvet wallpaper and plush red carpeting. It featured a few private dinning booths shielded from the crowd by red velvet curtains. The bar was of highly polished wood running nearly the length of the establishment and featured lots of exotic umbrella drinks. The entrees were equally unusual and included such delicacies as ostrich and something passing for some kind of bear meat. I must admit that I did not have the nerve to try either and stuck with the tried and true steak at the outrageous prince of about $10.95 per meal. As I recall, the food was served a la carte, and one could easily run up a bill of $15 or $20 with salad and soup.

Needless to say, I didn't frequent the place very often. Apparently, not many other East Siders did either, because Frenchy's has long since disappeared.

Larry Tarnoff (dad of Andy Tarnoff):

Pritchett's: It was the most improbable of all places for a jazz joint. It didn't look like a jazz joint. Too much light, too spacious. Chairs and tables more suitable for a fish fry than listening to the virtuosity of one of Milwaukee's finest jazz musicians, owner George Pritchett. The setting was, after all, the party room of the Oriental Lanes -- a bowling house on Farwell and North. But holding forth for a short period in the early '70s was the George Pritchett trio with the inimitable Pritchett on jazz guitar.

George mostly made a mess of his life. He toured for a while with Buddy Rich and that, in and of itself, are all the bona fides any jazzman requires. It must have been a pretty hard fall from the big venues to the Oriental -- then owned by his brothers who gave him the space for the bar -- but George didn't care. He lit up the room. He was a bear of a man with paws to match and one could only wonder how those hands made that music. His guitar visited musical places most jazz guitarists only dream about. There was rarely more than a handful of patrons, so this party didn't last long. George died young as well.

Joe Deutsch's: Before Major Goolsby's took over the corner of 4th and Kilbourn, Joe Deutsch ran a watering hole and white-cloth restaurant that catered to the Arena crowd on basketball nights and newsroom reprobates with no better place to go after the paper was put to bed. The Journal crowd was mostly home by dinner time, but you could count on most of The Sentinel newsroom, except the beat reporters who worked days, closing the bar six nights out of seven.

Dinner was a bargain and a genteel affair. Everett, a septuagenarian gentleman of much finer upbringing than the Remington beaters he served, would show us to a table, each place set with more forks and spoons than anyone knew what to do with. Dressed always to the nines in his tux and carrying a white napkin on his forearm, Everett deserved higher places -- or, at least, better tippers. A ground round platter with salad and potatoes was $1.25. At $80 a week salary, none of us ever got much further down the menu.

By 11:30 p.m., the hour when the six star local edition was locked up, Joe would be fast asleep at the north end of the bar. Mixed drinks were less than a buck. If we ran out of cash, Joe would cash a check and if we ran out of checks he would run a tab. The only music was the sound of a dozen or so newsmen (and newsmen covered both genders in those days) solving most of the world's problems and gloating over how many times they beat the other paper that day.

Talkbacks

libra | Feb. 8, 2011 at 11:26 p.m. (report)

what about the cheetah club on 35th street . My husband played pool there and watched the girls in there skimpy outfits. That was the day.

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libra | Feb. 8, 2011 at 11:23 p.m. (report)

Claudes on Hampton. Teds on 35th street, by villard avenue.

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loririegler | Aug. 25, 2010 at 9:28 p.m. (report)

My grandfather was the chef at Frenchy's for some time . . . I have a menu, matchbook, and other bits from the restaurant, and I would love to share stories and learn more about the establishment, as my knowledge is limited. Please contact me with any info you may have - loririegler@mac.com - thank you!

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StillPartyn | May 3, 2010 at 7:31 p.m. (report)

Beneath The Street - saw Styx when they were a garage band, REO, and Head East. Of course it was also a regular stop for the local favorite SUDS before they got their own place. A couple of other places: Stoned Toad and the Bull Ring

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Darla | Feb. 13, 2010 at 9:10 p.m. (report)

I have many fond memories of Frenchy's. It was one of our favorite places to dine on special occasions in the late 60's and early 70's. I don't recall Ostrich ever being on the menu, but do remember Australian Kangaroo. The decor was considered elegant at that time and the prices were reasonable everything considerd. Meals included everything. Hor D'oeuvres, soup, potato, salad and even dessert and beverages. Some entrees even included a bottle of wine. Having the option of private dining was also a plus.

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