Editors' note: This is the third 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 four 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.
Here is the installment for January 2010:
Happy New Year to everyone. Let's hope that 2010 will be a better year than '09 for bar owners. A source in the beer industry told me that more than 90 bars in Milwaukee and seven surrounding counties closed during the past year.
This, however, will not stop our monthly trips. So let's say "cheers" while we still can at the local non-chain pubs that make Milwaukee great. This month's tour took our crew to Dana's Fieldhouse, Club Tap, The Newport and Dick & Gloria's Cocktails and Dreams.
5004 W. Vliet St., (414) 258-2622
Dana's Fieldhouse was known Seehaver's from the mid-'40s until 1970, changed to The Fieldhouse until 1982, and has been Dana's Fieldhouse since then. There have been just three owners since the building rose. That's pretty cool and says something about the place.
The people at Dana's are very nice. It's not the "old boys club" that you often encounter at sports bars. If you know or meet one person there, you end up meeting the whole room. Bartender and former Pius XI High School basketball standout Bobby D. tells me with a grin, "Everyone here is just so nice ... and they all know each other."
I tended bar down the street from Dana's Fieldhouse for a couple years a long time ago, and when business was slow and I would get the early cut, I'd trot down to visit my old buddy, Plunkett. Plunkett worked at Dana's for many years. And although he suffered many health problems, he always had high spirits and a bad joke to tell me. Through him, I met a lot of likable, laid-back, lounge-lizards that couldn't have been more lively. Not surprisingly, I pretty much always ended up closing the place with Plunkett and his friends. Good people, good times. Plunkett recently passed away and, unfortunately, Milwaukee lost another one of its great, old-school barkeeps.
Dana's Fieldhouse has eight beers on tap and a pizza oven in case you need something to eat. I think the pizza oven is a great idea, since he sponsors a few sports teams at neighboring Wick Field. Sometimes you just don't have enough time to eat between work and a 6 p.m. game. Speaking of Dana's teams, I was in there one night when one of his female flag football teams were there after a game. They were one of the more jovial groups of people I had ever seen.
8828 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
Bill Poull has owned and operated the Club Tap -- aka "The Trap" -- since 1991, which happened to be the year I turned 21 and was able to hang out there -- and then crash at my folks' house for the night.
One thing that surely comes to mind when I think of the place today is Bill's loyalty to his customers and friends. He has come to visit me, at least once, at every single bar where I've worked slinging drinks. That's the biggest compliment a bartender could ever get from a bar owner, especially since I've never worked for him. My friend, Jeremy, works for him. He's good behind the wood.
Club Tap originally opened in 1939, which makes it the oldest tavern in Tosa. But because of some recent renovations, it's hard to tell the place is old. Large, pretty, picture windows encompass the front wall now and provide a view of the new patio complete with bike rack. Nice touch.
The doors are open to the public 365 days a year, so that will give you welcome newcomers plenty of time to sample all 14 beers that "The Trap" has on tap.
There also is a corn roast every year the first weekend in June. Good stuff. And don't be afraid to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, which now makes me surprised all bars don't offer it. As a matter of fact, the Club Tap was the first bar that allowed me to check my e-mail with a laptop at the end of the bar. Slim's on 1st was the second, and when I used it there, I thought to myself "Good idea, Club Tap's been doing this for years."
My friends and I had fun, felt very comfortable here and would've stayed a lot longer, but we had to leave because we still had two other stops to make. And, I didn't especially care for the bartender eye-balling the girls that were with me. Just kidding, Jeremy. See you soon.
939 E. Conway St., (414) 486-1768
My uncle Bill tended bar at The Newport when I was a kid. Many years later, back in '99 when I moved to a house in Bay View from my little apartment above Angelo's, I stopped in. I didn't actually care for it all that much, really. I know that sounds shocking -- me not digging a local watering hole -- but I guess it didn't do anything for me and the bartender seemed a bit unfriendly.
Then, in 2003, I met a couple of nice people at Libby's golf outing and they told me they had purchased The Newport. I stopped in and noticed a few nice things right away: They cleaned it up, they classed it up and they had a very nice mural painted with famous actors and local bar people (including Libby himself) on the west wall by the bar. Very cool.
They also hired the right guy to run the place, Frankie Creed. Frankie wound up purchasing the place from them in 2004. And just like there's only one Pepperoni Cannoli guy, one Freeway, and one Jose the Barber, there is only one Frankie Creed behind a bar. He's been around a while and he is special. Not only for his gentle demeanor, but his amazing and interesting following.
Frank has three sons working at The Newport, too: Tim, Mickey and Brendan. Good guys. And this story would not be complete without mentioning Patch the Wonder Dog. Patch not only acts as head of security, but also as everyone's best friend.
Dick & Gloria's Cocktails & Dreams
2201 S. 55th St. (414) 541-4729
Maria from Five-Star Bar suggested this place to me and I'm glad she did. There must be something about red neon open signs that have a way of catching my eye, because I wasn't even going out of my way to find the place. I was simply driving east on Grant Street, saw the neon out of the corner of my left eye, made a U-turn, took a right and there it was. I then had to stop in under Maria's advisement.
I walked in and was greeted pleasantly by Amy, the bartender. Then I met her friends. Then drinks were being bought back and forth. Worse things could happen. I played the jukebox: R.E.M. seemed a perfect choice at the time.
One week later, I brought the crew. We had even more fun, played more songs, and Ashley danced on the bar for a short while. Amy, once again, was very pleasant and made us all feel welcome. She's worked there for seven years now. That's a sign of a comfortable work environment with nice bosses.
Dick and Gloria opened their bar in 1995 and Dick is really into wrestling. He is not only a fan of the sport, but a supporter of Mid-America Wrestling. When I found out Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and some other wrestlers hung out there after matches, I grew a couple goose bumps and had flashbacks of doing flying hammer throws onto my little brother, Brian, from the couch as he laid on the living room floor. Brian later learned the figure-four leg-lock, applied to me, and I had to submit.
Dick & Gloria's Cocktails and Dreams is a classic Milwaukee tavern. It's a bit hard to find if you don't know the area, but I do recommend it. The drinks are affordable and the staff is congenial.