I've been in Best Place before â€“ with its intimate courtyard and stunning beer hall. I was even in there a few times when it was the visitor's center for the then-still-operating Pabst Brewery.
It's gorgeous, thanks to a well-preserved mid-century renovation that recreated a medieval German beer hall. Recently I learned a bit more about the building's history.
Being an old schools geek, I was happy to learn that Best Place's building on the corner of 9th and Juneau, which was previously a Pabst building, was â€“ even earlier â€“ the District 2 School, also called The Jefferson School.
Since so much of why we love a bar is because of its location, its atmosphere, its history, Best Place â€“ located in the former Pabst Brewery â€“ just might be my new favorite bar.
Built in 1858, the school was closed and replaced with a new building, designed by Edward Townsend Mix, on nearby 10th Street and Highland Avenue in 1889. That same year, MPS sold The Jefferson School to Pabst, which removed the pediments and cornice and replaced them with castle-like crenelations and replaced the belfry with a taller crenelated tower so that the building would match the architectural style of the rest of the brewery's buildings.
Pabst reopened the renovated building as its new offices in 1890. Ironically, The Jefferson School has long since outlived its replacement, which was torn down to create the parking lot for the current MPS Facilities and Maintenance Building.
If you view the Best Place building today, it's quite clearly the same structure, despite some bricked up windows, those other changes and more than a century's work of gunk darkening the bricks.
In the front corners, for instance, you can still see the ornamental stone work, though you have to go into the courtyard to see the northeast corner.
Yesterday, owner Jim Haertel agreed to give me a tour of the interior, though he warned me in advance there didn't appear to be any signs of its former incarnation as a school.
As we walked through, I was pleased to see Haertel went back a bit on that. Though it's often hard to tell what dates back to the school days, there is wainscoting throughout, along with window trim that looks a lot like similar details in old schools.
The pressed tin ceilings and the cast iron pillars don't necessarily shout "schoolhouse," but they look original and, in the case of the ceilings, they were covered up later and have since been revealed.
Some rooms have hardwood floors that are clearly original, while at least one has what appears to be a laminate floor laid over the top. The staircases are wider than one would expect in a small office building and are most definitely original.
Behind drywall, there are interior walls that are wainscoted and lined along the top length of the wall with transom windows that likely helped light the double-loaded corridor that appear to have had, at most, a single window on one end.
Haertel says that up in the attic, there is a roof below the current roof and comparing photos we can see that the current roofline is higher than the original one, which explains it.
After Pabst bought the building, it opened the back (west) wall to connect the former school to an adjacent Pabst structure erected in 1880. But, even inside, it's pretty obvious where one building ends and the next one begins.
Down in the basement that's even easier to see. Descending the steps, we realize that we're at the back of the original part of the school, which had an addition put on at some point. On the wall next to the staircase we can see some former basement windows and a change in the foundation construction.
The addition is also obvious at the roof line. The original section has a peak running east-west, while the apparent addition's peak runs perpendicular.
While the main floor at Best Place is in terrific condition, the floors above require a lot of work. Haertel has plans, but he knows that it will take a lot of energy and money to make them happen. I hope they do happen and I hope he's able to work the old school details into the new design, to help preserve a real piece of Milwaukee's brewing and education history.
In the meantime, yes, you may now go to a school (albeit a closed one) and have a drink.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Bobby Tanzilo
Published Aug. 24, 2016
This past spring, the Wisconsin Center District and the Milwaukee Admirals began work on $6.3 million in renovations and building upgrades at the UWM Panther Arena. We've been popping in to check on the progress of the work. Here are a few photos.
Published Aug. 24, 2016
After a kidney transplant this summer Judge Derek Mosley, who I have no hesitation describing as a beloved-by-all Milwaukeean, hopes to be back at work next week. But when he talks about his usual first day of school greeting of students at Siefert Elementary, there's no maybe.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
Yesterday, St. Josaphat Basilica, 601 W. Lincoln Ave., got some new sandstone to replace exterior stone that had deteriorated. Crumbling stones were replaced with new 9,000-pound blocks from the same Ohio quarry as the originals.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
We recently got a tour of the new Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons, and in addition to taking in some absolutely breathtaking views from the 30th and 32nd floors, we learned a little bit about the environmentally friendly features of the building.
Published Aug. 22, 2016
After a couple years of work, the former Malcolm X Academy is ready to swing open its doors and welcome kids back. The school, at 121 E. Hadley St., will officially reopen on Thursday, Sept. 1, as home to the Rufus King International Baccalaureate Middle School.
Published Aug. 22, 2016
Recently, national gay magazine The Advocate posted a glowing blurb and slideshow of images from "Images of America: LGBT Milwaukee," a new book by OnMilwaukee contributor Michail Takach. The book is now available, and we asked Takach about it.
Published Aug. 18, 2016
With its marquee and vertical Fein Brothers sign, the restaurant and bar supply store on King Drive almost looks like an old Milwaukee movie palace. But the building never had a silver screen. It's history, rather, is linked to a beloved Milwaukee retailing icon.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
Last year, Milwaukee Public Schools joined with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County to create the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership and launch a wraparound services program at four schools. Now, two more schools are joining.
Published Aug. 11, 2016
It makes sense if you think about it, but it was news to me that Wisconsin has three - not one - annual State Fair. And just because I hadn't heard of them doesn't mean the Northern Wisconsin State Fair and the Central Wisconsin State Fair are newbies.
Published Aug. 10, 2016
One of the most exciting projects about to get underway at the former Pabst Brewery complex on the edge of Downtown is the conversion of the 165,000-square foot Pabst distribution facility into the new home of MKE Brewing Co.