Editors' note: This is another installment in a series written by Dave Mikolajek, a longtime bartender and friend of OnMilwaukee.com. Once a month, Mikolajek -- aka "College Dave" -- gathers a group of friends and embarks on an evening pub crawl to three local establishments, focusing much of his attention on smaller places that are a bit "off the radar" and don't get a lot of attention.
The pub crawl this month did not have a specific theme. We just went to three cool joints -- The Corner Pub, Mary's Place and Drink ‘em Up. Each place was unique in it's own way. Here is the report:
The Corner Pub
7602 W. Lisbon Ave.
I remember the first time I went to Dave Peschek's Corner Pub. It was after his golf outing in 1993. It was a great day for golf. It was also a great day to sit in Dave's bar, which is what, we did. The atmosphere was warm and the meal amazing.
Roughly 13 years later, I returned with my buddy, Rick. Karen, who is Rick's sister, had been working there. I noticed Dave had remodeled a bit and vowed to return.
On my next visit, my friends and I stumbled into Dave's annual "Pub Olympics." The place was packed with patrons playing plenty of pub games including finger-flip football, hoopball, bean bags and bar dice. There was also a meat raffle. Yes, a meat raffle. And, the Miller girls were yelling "We want meat! We want meat!" I had to remove my mind from the gutter for a second, because it was too funny.
The Corner Pub, a quintessential corner bar, has occupied its corner since 1953 (the same year the Braves came to Milwaukee). Dave has owned it since 1990, when he took over for his father. His father's sister owned it before that and her mother-in-law had it earlier.
The place is very comfortable, with all of its pine wood. "It's like the old Knotty Pine Tap on State Street," Dave told me. I quickly told him I got kicked out of the Knotty Pine for dipping Copenhagen (smokeless tobacco). I never went back and the place closed down shortly thereafter.
I must admit, though, that the Knotty Pine Tap was one cool little place. It reminded me of the old Pop-A-Top Tap near 9th and Mitchell, but located in a basement.
The Corner Pub has a horseshoe league in the parking lot. There are 16 teams in-house twice a week for 15 weeks There is also a winter horseshoe league and a cancer fundraiser horseshoe tournament every year, if you are into that kind of thing. I sure am now.
One more thing, when I went back to interview Dave Peschek, I noticed he had a small kitchen. After having a burger, chips and a soda for lunch, I didn't want to leave. The place is that comfortable. It's like sitting in a clubhouse bar after a pleasant round of golf.
3643 W. Rogers St.
Scotty Bunker (Bunker's) told me about Mary's Place one night while he was tending bar at Jackson Grill. Later, after I had discovered McKiernan's Bar, owner Gene McKiernan also told me to check out Mary's.
Since it's located down the street from Kochanski's Concertina Bar, well, I thought it was a no-brainer.
One night, my friend Action Dan and I were on the way home from The Cedar Inn and decided to make a stop. Mary's had closed early for the night. We were bummed.
This happened again, and I hate when places close early. But, I didn't want to give up, so I stopped back for a soda on a Saturday morning. I asked the bartender if she was Mary. She wasn't. Her name was Sassy, and she used to own Sassy's up the block from Bryant's on Lapham. I couldn't believe it was her. I hadn't seen Sassy in a dozen years. I had some good times at Sassy's back in the day with my friend James, who employed Sassy's nephew Gilbert at his cafe on Water Street.
During another stop, I met Mary's daughter, Jessica. Finally, I met Mary. It was like playing "Where's Waldo?" for a while, but it was worth it.
"It's a family bar," Jessica said. "We're one big happy family here. There's camaraderie and a lot of people come out of their way to come here." Jessica is proof of that; she drives in from Waukesha every day.
A regular customer who goes by the nickname, "Peanut" said, "I lived in this neighborhood 17 years and I only started coming here when it was Mary's because the Rusty Nail was never open. I still come here every day and I now live in Cudahy."
Good dedication, Peanut.
My buddy, C.W., takes his dad, Ernie, to Mary's every once in a while. They don't live too close, either.
Mary's Place has two rooms. One room has a horseshoe-shaped bar surrounded by 12 stools. The other room has a small booth and some video games. I like Mary's Place, so I recommend it if you want to meet a friend for a drink in the afternoon or early evening. You have to make it an early stop, because they're not always open after 11 p.m.
Drink 'em Up
6404 W. National Ave.
Frankie Nohelty opened the Drink 'em Up in November, 2006. Before that, she owned Asti's on 15th and Lincoln. She moved west when that neighborhood destabilized.
This location is much smaller than her last place and my crew couldn't believe the size when we pulled up. One veteran said "It looks like a one-car garage with an addition." I nodded and agreed. It sure is unique from the outside.
Once inside, you forget about the outside world. You walk into a room with a pool table and a jukebox that is about the size of one-car garage. Then, you take a right, and there's the little L-shaped bar with a big-screen TV. The bar area undoubtedly looks like it could be an addition in a garage. Later research revealed that there actually was an addition at one time. It may sound weird but I think the unique design is cool -- like Tonic in Bay View, which once served as a horse stable.
Anther thing I like about Drink 'em Up is that its very clean and comfortable. Brand new blue paint covers the walls. Also, the size of the place was actually perfect for the dozen or so people we brought. Deb from Johnson Brothers shot pool with Buddy from TomKens as a few peeps watched.
Roy, aka "The Buddha," enjoyed a drink with another old-school bar veteran, Robin Travalute. Caroline McDonald from OnMilwaukee.com and her friend, Megan Monfre, chatted with Bobby Greenya (Champions) to save him from a random guest who was convinced that he knew the barkeep.
Before Drink 'em Up, this building housed My Bar, TK's, and Roscom's (which dates back to the 1960s -- long before the addition). Today, Drink 'em Up has some nice specials. From noon to 7 p.m. on weekdays, domestic bottles of beer and rail drinks are $2. Regular pricing is generous, too. If you are headed to State Fair, stop in at Drink ‘em Up for a quick fix.
Author's note: I'd like to close by thanking Bill Rouleau (Rushmore, Palomino) for all of his help in setting up the bocce ball courts for the inaugural "Barhopping with College Dave & Friends Bocce Ball tournament," which was held outside Monreal's Encore this month.
Liz Thorson from Eau Clare beat "Slick Nick the Ruler" Monreal in a nail-biter for the title trophy. Joe Domask -- attorney, Balistreri's Bluemound barkeep and tremendous RUSH fan -- beat veteran drink-slinger Marty Jackson (Flannery's) for the consolation prize. It was a lot of fun and you all are welcome to play next year.