The Alley Cat Lounge, located on the second floor of the Five O’Clock Steakhouse, formerly named Coerper’s Five O’Clock Club, 2416 W. State St., opened in the late '40s as a VIP lounge.
Back then, customers could enter the lounge through the restaurant or by a private alley entrance complete with an unmarked door and a buzzer.
"Customers who didn’t want to be seen came up this way," says manager Stelio Kalkounos whose family owns the restaurant.
This Friday, Nov. 1, after months of renovations, the Alley Cat Lounge will reopen – sans the private entrance and the buzzer.
Five O’Clock Steakhouse – which turned 65 this year – will celebrate the grand re-opening of the new Alley Cat Lounge with a night of classic cocktails, complimentary appetizers and live music by local jazz artists the Kevin Hayden Organ Trio featuring special guest "Miss Kitty."
The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and is free.
"Guests are invited to enjoy dinner in the dining room and then join the festivities in the lounge," says Kalkounos.
The plan is to have live music in the lounge every Friday and, if all goes well, to offer music on Saturday nights, too. The lounge will be available other nights of the week for corporate or private rentals.
The second floor space had been vacant for 30 years, but renovations started this past February. The vision was to create a new space that reflects the past.
Back in the day, Alley Cat servers wore bustiers, fishnet stockings and cat tails – think feline versions of the Playboy bunnies – but Kalkounos says the current servers will not sport such attire.
The walls feature framed vintage Miller beer ads along with a recreated original ad of the lounge that ran in local publications in the late ‘50s. There are also red velvet curtains at the windows and chandeliers.
Although remodeled, the new second floor space has many nods to the old days, including the original bar – complete with a padded, boomerang-patterned bar top – along with a vintage refrigerator, light fixtures and a 1952 Bob Kames organ.
This is particularly exciting for Kalkounos who is a longtime musician.
"Bob Kames (from Milwaukee) was one of the biggest Hammond organ dealers in the country. Paul Schafer, the Grateful Dead, Ray Manzarek from The Doors all bought his organs," he says.
Kalkounos was also thrilled to find a Leslie speaker cabinet in the space. The Leslie speaker is a combo amplifier and loudspeaker that modifies the sound of an instrument – typically an electric organ – as well as amplifying it by rotating sound waves.
"It’s extremely rare and it was just sitting up here all these years," he says.
The Alley Cat – like Five O’Clock – will specialize in old school cocktails including side cars, sloe gin fizzes, stingers, Harvey Wallbangers, martinis, wine and Old Fashioneds made from Scotch, bourbon, whiskey or brandy.
The Five O’Clock building, built in 1906, became Coerper’s in 1948. Kalkounos’ family bought the business nine years ago.
"We’re trying to keep everything the same, but also adding a few touches here and there," he says.
The wine list was expanded and online reservations became available earlier this week.
The restaurant has undergone changes, too. Four years ago it welcomed George Tourloukis, who is Kalkounos’ uncle, as executive chef.
"He makes everything from scratch, from the desserts to the sauce for the calamari," says Kalkounos.
The Five O’Clock Steakhouse, which still boasts a '50s look and feel, has been named one of the "Best Steakhouses in the U.S." by Travel and Leisure, one of America’s Best Steakhouses by Rachael Ray, A Classic Steakhouse Experience by Zagat and one of the Top 10 Steakhouses in the U.S. by CNN.
Five O'Clock Steakhouse appeared on the Travel Channel's "Steak Paradise" last March.
"We are thrilled to finally show off the all new, completely renovated Alley Cat Lounge," says Kalkounos.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.