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 Jan. 26, 2015
Maybe it's just because I love visiting schools, but I always tell prospective parents to go to a school that interests them as a potential option for their children. Sure, read Great Schools' ratings, talk to other parents, Google the school, but if you're going to do one thing only: go to the school. Not sure which school or schools to check out? Then the first step is to visit the MPS All-School Enrollment Fair on Saturday, Jan. 31 at Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
Published Jan. 26, 2015
DNA testing for genealogical purposes can open up new vistas in your self-identity and your self-awareness. We took a test and here's what we learned.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
When Milwaukee's Italian community read the news that a group of Americans - including many prominent city residents - would protest Italian intervention in Spain outside the Italian Consulate in June 1937, it must have awaited the event with at least some trepidation. When the protests took place, everyone - including the picketers themselves - were surprised by what occurred and by the reaction of Milwaukeeans.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
By the 1970s, an ugly addition and the gutting of the deco charm inside left The Edgewater a mere shadow of its original glory on the shores of Lake Mendota. But now, with a new owner, a completely new renovation and a brand new sister building across an inviting plaza, The Edgewater is clearly atop the world of Madison hotels once again.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
If you want to hear more about Dermond Property Investments LLC's plan to develop the site long occupied by Faust Drum Center, 2204 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., and weigh in on it, Ald. Tony Zielinski hosts a town hall meeting on the proposed development on Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Bay View Post 180, 2860 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
The Williams House, 606 E. Homer St., holds special significance - both tragic and joyful - for Beau Walter's pioneering Bay View family.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
Much like a traveling tent show, the Wisconsin Historical Society is moving its new exhibition around the state and this month it's in Milwaukee. "The Wisconsin History Tour: Sharing Wisconsin's Stories One Community at a Time" is on view on the first floor of the Central Milwaukee Public Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave., through Jan. 29.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
Driving down Greenfield Avenue last week I spied the sign outside Paulie's Pub and Eatery, 8031 W. Greenfield Ave., in West Allis, and was reminded that trying the wings there was on my Milwaukee to-do list. Despite that salad in the fridge back at the office, I called an audible and pulled into the parking lot. Only when I sat down did I realize that it was Friday, which, of course, means fish fry. What to do? Well, improvise!
Published Jan. 16, 2015
When I lived in Bay View for about seven years in the 1990s and early 2000s, I spent a lot of time walking. So, as you might expect, I have way more than seven, but here is one for each year I loved in the Oh-Seven.
Published Jan. 15, 2015
When the Milwaukee Art Museum reopens its reinstalled collection in revamped galleries something will be missing, but many won't likely even notice. What have been called the "Bradley Rooms" or the "Bradley Apartment" will have vanished.