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This being Bar Month at OnMilwaukee, the time seemed right to stagger down the memory of lane of Brew City taverns.
I warn you in advance that I've always been a fan or hearing (or playing) live music, so a lot of these will be places that offered that.
I also warn you that I'm definitely forgetting a ton of places that I'll surely remember seconds after I click the "save" button.
Cafe Voltaire / Odd Rock Cafe, Bay View
The same space, two consecutive rock and roll venues where I played a lot of gigs and witnessed even more. The owners provided a place not only for burgeoning young bands like Soundgarden and Goo Goo Dolls to come play for hungry Milwaukee rock fans, but for many local acts, as well.
Century Hall, East Side
(PHOTO: Mark Spieth)
The East Side's favorite gathering place, Century Hall – on Farwell Avenue, where a mini-mall now stands – was more than a club. It was a place for East Siders of all stripes to meet, have a beer, eat some food and catch a wide range of music. I saw all kinds of great music there, from locals like the R&B Cadets and Semi Twang to national and international acts like The Cramps, Fishbone and reggae's Freddie McGregor and Michigan & Smiley. When it burned to the ground on April 24, 1988 it seemed that all of the East Side was gathered outside looking on in tearful horror.
The Dubliner, Walker's Point
Don't be fooled by the National Avenue place that ran briefly after opening in 2010, the real Dubliner was a block south on 2nd Street and poured a great pint of Guinness, had a fun set of regulars and lots of live local Irish musicians. It was always a fun night out.
Kodric's, Walker's Point
Tony Kodric was an old-school tavernkeep with a stunning midcentury bar on 5th and National that had a history of hosting live music in its hall upstairs, including great jazz acts long before I ever went there for the first time in 1983. As I wrote here, Bern Boys next door was my entry point into the Milwaukee music scene and we went to Kodric's a lot, and I played my first Milwaukee gigs upstairs.
National Liquor Bar, Clarke Square
Opened in 1939, the legendary National Liquor Bar with its distinctive sign (which survives out at Heaven City in Mukwonago), was a landmark, torn down to make way for a Walgreens. It was owned by Mike Cmeyla from 1981 until it closed in 2005 and it was a remnant of another age, like walking in back into Old Milwaukee. Many are still not over it.
The Underground (versions 1 and 2), Downtown
Tony Selig opened the tiny subterranean Underground in 1984 on the west side of Broadway between Michigan and Clybourn. The place had an amazing vibe and you had to cross the "stage" to get to the bathroom. By mid-1986, he moved above ground, opening a few doors south in a the sprawling former Papagaio’s (where others had booked a few gigs, too, including Shank Hall's Peter Jest, who booked The Replacements in 1985), 515 N. Broadway (called Club New York by 1987). Here he hosted the likes of Die Kreuzen, Del Amitri, Henry Rollins, The Jazz Butcher and Sonic Youth. Tony let me in to play and to see other bands at the first Underground despite knowing I was underage. He just made sure I knew how to get to the back door.
Zur Krone, Walker's Point
The home of the giant boot glass, Zur Krone, like National Liquor Bar and Kodric's, felt like a piece of classic old German Milwaukee, even though Dave Winkler had opened it in 1976. In 2001, then-owner Doug Haise moved it north to Thiensville, where it lasted barely a year before closing. Softening the blow in Walker's Point was the opening in the old space of Peggy Magister's amazing Crazy Water restaurant.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.