Dining at the 4th Base sports bar is a little like being president: Just pick what you want out of the fully-stocked refrigerator case, they'll make it for you, and it'll be great.
It's in this way that the "gourmet" sports bar is unlike any other tavern in Milwaukee. There's no menu, and the food you'll eat is surprisingly excellent -- especially considering you're sitting on a bar stool in an old-school West Milwaukee corner tap.
Yet owner Daryl Scholl is quietly humble about the bar that opened at its original Piggsville location in 1980, and moved to its current home, 5117 W. National Ave., in 1985.
Scholl, 60, worked in the restaurant and bar business while in college, and he says the decision to open his own place, "just seemed like a natural outgrowth."
Now, it's known as a place to go before a Brewers game or during a Packers game, or even on a Friday night out on the town. But its lack of a menu is what really turns heads.
"There's a menu, it's just not printed," says Scholl. "Whatever we've got, we'll make for you. It just sort of evolved. We just started adding different items, and we thought if we had to print a menu, it would be endless, because it would be as long as your imagination."
Scholl also knows -- and is sensitive about -- a reputation of exorbitantly high prices. In fact, Scholl admits that the first thing people ask someone who's eaten at 4th Base is, "What did you pay?"
"Everything has a set price," says Scholl. "But to alleviate that sort of question coming up at all, I should probably come out with a menu, to be honest with you. But all of the flexible dishes would be available."
Until then, Scholl recommends patrons just ask what an item costs. They'll find that a meal is hardly cheap, but considering the quality and size of portions, it's on par with what you'll pay elsewhere. Yes, if you ordered a bunch of jumbo Bloody Marys, pints of imported beers, appetizers and steaks and side dishes and desserts, you'll wind up with that $100 bar tab. But if you can put aside the fact that you're in a corner sports bar and concentrate on the food, the pricing isn't much of a mystery:
Take the $10 farmer's omelet. Heaped with vegetables, cottage fries, bacon, (and anything else you can imagine), as well as a loaf of freshly baked bread, it's double the size of what you'll pay $6 for at a Greek diner. (Yes, double -- trust us.)
Or for dinner, a top-quality 8-oz. Filet Mignon will set you back $22.
"My father told me you get what you pay for," says Scholl. "I think some people got stung and it carried on and on. Every year, Mark Belling rips us apart. I remember when Dennis Getto was alive, he gave us a half star, so we hung half stars all around the restaurant. Some people think that because it's a casual bar atmosphere, they shouldn't pay over $12 for a steak.
That's probably an understatement, but the bar's famous burgers are gigantic, too. For $6.50, you can get a huge cheeseburger, and a big basket of fries -- too much for two people, really -- goes for $4.
"Those prices haven't changed in 20 years," he says.
In terms of décor, the walls are adorned with loads of Milwaukee sports memorabilia, most which would fall under the category of "vintage."
Says Scholl, "A lot of it was donated. People would say, 'Hey, this would look great on your wall.' I think there are a lot of things, that if you look around, are really unique.'"
Is 4th Base more of a bar than a restaurant?
Scholl says it depends on who you ask. "But I think it's the best of both," he says with a smile.
But the understated Scholl, who still makes enough time for his golf hobby, takes his success with a grain of salt.
"It's enjoyable; it gives me something to look forward to."
And apparently, patrons appreciate the "delightful dining and luscious liquids," as Scholl's business card proclaims.
While perhaps not the obvious location for a bustling, high-end sports bar, 4th Base is constantly packed with regulars from all walks of life. On a Tuesday early afternoon, the tavern is doing a surprisingly brisk business.
"They come to have a good time," says Scholl. "It's a friendly, outgoing place. People come to eat and drink, and people enjoy it, and that makes me happy."
The bar is also known for having extraordinarily attentive bartenders, who will remember your name every time you visit. It's that kind of attention that keeps people coming back.
"Everybody's noticed here, and everybody is welcome. A lot of places, you can be ignored. But if you go out, part of the reason is to be sociable and to be recognized."
"Last Sunday night, I had a birthday party for a group for 40 from Highland Park, Ill.," says School. "It was his 60th birthday, and they all drove up here. I think that was great."
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.