Milwaukee's unofficial remaining old-school landmarks
In the last few years, several Milwaukee landmarks either closed their doors or prepared to shut down, leaving local kitsch lovers and sentimental fools shaking their heads, wondering why they didn't visit just one more time.
These weren't the kind of places people put on postcards: the venerable old Goldmann's Department Store, Art's Concertina Bar, Drew's Variety, The National Liquor Bar and Bryant's Cocktail Lounge. These were the sort of places that Milwaukee insiders kept to themselves -- and when they faded away, many didn't notice because they didn't know they existed in the first place.
Fortunately, a handful of Milwaukee's under-the-radar landmarks remain -- but for how long? In this increasingly homogenized, upscale version of Brew City, these secret treasures seem like anachronisms -- businesses from another era. In October, OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Molly Snyder Edler asked readers in a blog if Milwaukee was losing its retro, and listed seven places that she feared were in jeopardy. Here's a list of 10 more businesses that persevere ... and we at OnMilwaukee.com hope they stick around for many, many years to come.
American Science and Surplus
6901 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Possibly the funniest, most unique store in Milwaukee now, it must've been the wackiest business far and away when it opened sometime around 1937 (even they don't know for sure). The place to go for science experiments, bong-making materials or a donkey cigarette dispenser that shoot butts from the ass's ass (think about how clever that is). Many of the thousands of items serve no purpose to people other than chemists or engineers, but the hand-written descriptions alone are worth an hour-long visit. But just try to spend only one hour there; before you know it, you'll have strolled the aisles for much, much longer. Their slogan is "incredible stuff, unbelievable prices," and the store still does a brisk business. It also has a comprehensive and well-built eCommerce section on its Web site, sciplus.com.
2501 S. Delaware Ave.
Legend has it that this one-of-a-kind ice cream bar was the brainchild of former employees of the now shuttered Bryant's Cocktail Lounge. And if that's true, then a little bit of Bryant's lives on this awesome tavern, the perennial winner of OnMilwaukee.com's readers' pick for "best bar for a secret rendezvous." Increasingly, the bar is also at randomly open, which leads us to fear for its future as ownership gets older. Soak it in while you can -- with a giant Tiki Love Bowl, a grasshopper or any of their other delicious drinks. It's a true, old-school Milwaukee landmark.
The Downer Theatre
2589 N. Downer Ave.
Fortunately, Landmark Theatres owns both the Downer and the Oriental (see below), so these vintage cinemas aren't going anywhere anytime soon. This neighborhood mainstay first opened its doors on Dec. 3, 1915. At a construction cost of nearly $65,000, it was considered one of the finest and most modernly-equipped movie houses in a residential district in the United States. At the time, it held 1,200 moviegoers, entertaining them with a Weickhardt pipe organ and a live orchestra. When Landmark bought the Downer in 1989, it divided it into two screens, remodeling the dark and musty old building. They painted the auditoriums a bright shade of cream, and restored the building's decorative molding sand gaslight-type lanterns. They even matched the original vintage carpeting, breathing new life into Milwaukee's oldest operating movie theater.
Dretzka's Department Store
4746 S. Packard Ave., Cudahy
At 106 years old, Dretzka's is actually five years older than Cudahy, the city in which it resides. And if that isn't old-school, nothing is. Believe it or not, the store is managed by the great grandson of the original owners, and he keeps the business in the family working with his mom and his brother. If the future of retail is Wal-Mart and Target, then hats off to a local, indie department store still going strong after a century of doing business the old-fashioned way.
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Skeffert | May 7, 2008 at 12:07 p.m. (report)
Between this and the weird Wisconsin article from a day or two ago, great, fun content, OMC. For this list, there's plenty more to pick from for additions. Milwaukee's evolving, but this town's in no danger of completely losing its relic pleasures. I might add any of a number of places on the East Side, like Angelo's. And how about Real Chili. And right next door to the Oriental is the Landmark, a shoe-in for the list. Also, pick a fish fry place. The entire concept of fish fry is old school. So is smoking in bars these days, for that matter. And we've still got that going on, too. For now.
At a little bar called Il Boticello just off of Piazza Navona in Rome hangs an "I Closed Wolski's" sticker.
landmark theatres DO NOT own the downer or oriental theatre buildings. landmark, of course, does own the businesses.
Good question about The Avalon. I used to work next door to it at the business that makes all the siren noise. Anyway, before I got a new job, back in July, last I heard was the new owner was planning to turn it into condos, food places, and a revamped theatre. I am not positive on this. I do know it is under new ownership though. Maybe OMC can look into this. I remember seeing the Dead Alewives at the Avalon in the early to mid 90s.
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