After reopening under new management last year, The Brown Bottle has once again closed its doors at 221 W. Galena St. in Schlitz Park.
The closure, which took effect Aug. 13, impacts operations of the bar and restaurant. The Alice immersive cocktail experience pop-up will continue in the space through Aug. 28.
Among the charms of Brown Bottle was its speakeasy-like setting. Located just off of Galena Street, it’s tucked away off of Martin Luther King Drive, making it feel like a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
But that quality was not an asset for the restaurant, which relied heavily on traffic from employees in the Schlitz Park complex for its core business. In fact, it's location was certainly part of the challenge facing F Street Hospitality Group when they reopened the historic bar and restaurant last August.
That, combined with the other pandemic-related trials faced by restaurants across the city, ultimately contributed to its demise.
"With tenants not returning to offices post-COVID and severe staffing shortages, the Brown Bottle experienced a difficult year that ended in a difficult decision," notes Kaelyn Cervero, CPCE, Vice President of F Street Hospitality of the closure.
"We want to thank our patrons for their support and our team members, who have found new homes within F Street Hospitality, for their hard work."
A long storied history
The restaurant, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018, has a history that dates back to 1938 when it served as a gathering place and tasting room for visitors who came to tour Schlitz, the brewery that “made Milwaukee famous.”
Schlitz was founded in 1849, following closely on the heels of the just Pabst Brewery, which opened its doors in 1836. In its heyday, Schlitz was the biggest beer distributor in the country. But, as the decades passed, multiple union strikes and changes made to the beer’s decades-old recipe, caused the brewery to fall from its former grace.
In 1982, when Stroh Brewing purchased Schlitz, the venue reopened as a tavern and restaurant called Brown Bottle, which operated without interruption for 20 years.
Interestingly, the restaurant was named to pay homage to one of Schlitz’s contributions to brewing history: the brown bottle. Traditionally, beer had been bottled in clear glass. But Schlitz decided to set their beer apart, bottling it in brown-stained glass. Not only was it a market differentiator, it preserved the beer inside the bottle by protecting it from exposure to light, a factor which gave it a longer shelf life. Following Schlitz’s bold move, brown bottles became the industry standard.
Between 2004 and 2012, the tavern was rebranded as Libiamo, an Italian restaurant. But in 2014, it was reclaimed and brought back to life as part of Schlitz Park’s Stock-House renovation. From there, it operated for five more years before closing in March of 2019.
In 2021, amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, F Street Hospitality (operators of Pizza Man, Bottle House 42 and Timmer’s Resort in West Bend) took over operations at the venue, hoping to bring new life to the historic pub.
In turn, the question is raised once again: What will happen to this longstanding Milwaukee institution? Only time will tell.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.