Most bars in Milwaukee – and beyond – have a television or televisions. It might be difficult to even come up with a few local bars without TVs, but there are more around town than one might think.
Bruno Johnson and Adrienne Pierluissi made the conscious decision not to have a TV in their first bar, Palm Tavern, as well as their second bar, Sugar Maple. Both bars are located in Bay View.
"I watch TV at home and I have nothing against it," says Johnson. "But when I’m in a bar, I enjoy talking to friends and the bartender or listening to music."
For a short period of time, Johnson says he screened movies in the back room at Sugar Maple, but eventually discontinued doing that, too.
Johnson admits that he loses business on Packers Sundays.
"We get creamed during Packers games," he says. "Even people who aren’t sports fans go with their friends to watch the game somewhere."
However, he sticks by his decision not to offer television at either of his establishments. Similarly, Johnson and Pierluissi made the decision to make their bars smoke-free a year before the smoking ban, knowing that it might decrease business.
"When people come (to Palm) they focus on conversation and beer and whiskey – we have more than 300 kinds of whiskey," says Johnson. "TVs are just too hard to ignore."
Lee Guk was inspired by Johnson’s and Pierluissi’s decision not to have television and went TV-free when he opened Lucky Joe's Tiki Bar in Walker’s Point.
"The first time I went to Sugar Maple I realized I was digging the ambience and noticed how much people were talking instead of staring at Sports Center," says Guk. "Knowing that other bars can survive without TV made it easier for me not to include them in my project. I was a little nervous because I knew we’d miss out on sports business, but it’s worth it."
Foundation, a tiki bar in Riverwest, doesn’t have television, either. In general, most tiki bars don’t have TVs because the devices don’t fit with the tiki theme, but some do.
"TVs change the whole dynamic of a bar or restaurant," says Foundation manager Don Nelson. "When a bar goes to the trouble of creating a theme or environment, the TV takes away from that."
Nelson and Guk agree that televisions should be in sports bars, but not every bar.
"Sports bars deserve the business, that’s what they cater to. Why does every bar in town have to have a TV with sports on it? Let sports bars be sports bars," says Guk.
Foundation bartender Mary Oglesby says no one has ever complained about the lack of TVs. "They just watch the fish tank instead," says Oglesby, who also tends at another television-less bar, Boone & Crockett.
Boone & Crockett – like Burnhearts – does not have TVs but brings out portable screens during Packers games.
"We get a good crowd (at Boone & Crockett) for Packers games, but most of the time we’re known as a bar that’s awesome for a first date, or anytime someone’s in the mood for something quieter and more about conversation," says Oglesby.
Burnhearts bartender Amy Nugent says she likes working at a bar without TVs (except for games) even if it puts more pressure on bartender small talk.
"Without TVs, we’re your entertainment. Sorry. That’s why they hire multiple-personality bartenders. I just don’t take my meds before my shifts," says Nugent.
Some music venues do not have television, either, including The Jazz Estate and Shank Hall. Neither Two in Riverwest nor Craft and Vessel in Shorewood have television and neither does At Random and Bryant’s.
"I have worked in both TV and non-TV bars and I can say with 100 percent confidence that I love owning a bar without a television. The atmosphere of Bryant's is pure cocktail lounge – no TV, no pool and no video poker," says John Dye, owner of Bryant's.
Because a lot of people go on first dates at Bryant's, Dye believes the lack of TV might lead to another date.
"When there are no entertainment distractions you are forced to interact with your date. This forced interaction generally turns into conversation, which can easily turn into a second date and eventually a strong relationship," says Dye. "Social conversation isn't just good for dates – any relationship can be strengthened over a cocktail conversation."
Guk believes more bars in the future will not have televisions, in part due to the backlash of social media.
"Due to social networking, we are become anti-social in real life. It’s bad enough we have our phones in front of us constantly. I’d ban cell phones in my bar if I could," says Guk. "The foundation of bars was built on community and engaging each other. Not mindless zombies zoning out to TV."
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.