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 Sept. 29, 2016
It's been four years since LEGO KidsFest has been to Milwaukee, and during that time, the LEGO craze has grown and grown. The event is back in town and we caught up with master model-builder Chris Steininger to find out what we can expect to find at KidsFest.
Published Sept. 27, 2016
Driving past, you might not really notice the changes at the Elite Sports Club-River Glen, 2001 W. Good Hope Rd., in Glendale, which was built as Le Club in 1972 and purchased by Elite in 2012. But on the inside, it seems that everything is changing.
Published Sept. 26, 2016
You know the old saying, "it takes a village." Well, that village is what's currently fueling the Milwaukee Public Museum's push to get its vast collections digitized and online. That and some funding from grants, too, of course.
Published Sept. 26, 2016
One of the oldest watering holes in the city, the White House, 2900 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., is celebrating its 125th birthday on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1-2 with drink specials, games, raffles, food and more, as well as a food drive for Hunger Task Force.
Published Sept. 22, 2016
There was a time when removing a building was a dramatic affair: buildings imploded with a boom or were pounded by a wrecking ball. These days, thankfully, there's a growing approach that seeks to keep as much waste out of landfills and reuse and recycle as much material as possible.
Published Sept. 21, 2016
Did you know Milwaukee Public Schools has what might be the largest group of public Montessori schools in the world? Now, led by school board member Tati Joseph, there's a push to add a new South Side dual-language program to that group.
Published Sept. 20, 2016
Even in a neighborhood full of vintage architecture, there's no mistaking it. The Italianate Cream City Brick building at 1704 N. 4th St. looks old. If the area has had a long, varied history (and it has), then Baasen House is perfectly at home here.
Published Sept. 18, 2016
There's no better way to get a peek inside Milwaukee's most interesting - and often most historic - sites, many of them typically off limits to the public, than Historic Milwaukee Inc.'s annual Doors Open Milwaukee event. Here are 10 must-see sites.
Published Sept. 15, 2016
This is Brew City, so it should come as no surprise that we value Milwaukee's beer-soaked history. And Regano's Roman Coin has been a part of that tradition for five decades. In honor of it Regano's is throwing a party and we asked Teri Regano about it.
Published Sept. 13, 2016
Yesterday morning, a group of kindergarteners from Milwaukee Public Schools' Rogers Street Academy visited BMO Harris Bank to judge auditions by local sports mascots for roles in the upcoming production of Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker."