Editors' note: This is the second installment in a series written by Dave Mikolajek, a longtime bartender and friend of OnMilwaukee.com.
Mikolajek -- aka "College Dave" -- will gather a group of friends and embark 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.
This month's tour brought us out on the night of Milwaukee's first major snowstorm, but we accomplished our goal. We went to the Five Star Bar, Gerry's Diamond Tap, Una Bar. Because of the weather and road conditions, I visited Jim's Time Out on a different occasion.
Safety first.... especially when the shuttle driver begins to get nervous.
Five Star Bar
2690 S. 8th St.
People are constantly asking me, "College Dave, where do you find these places?" Well, this one was easy because my father grew up a few blocks from the place and he's been wearing his now-vintage Five Star jacket since 1974, while either snow plowing his driveway or cooking our Thanksgiving turkey on the old Weber grill. Dad still makes an occasional stop to visit his old friend, Maria, whom he calls "The hardest working bar owner I ever met."
Maria has bartended at this recession-proof-priced Polish place since 1967, and later purchased it in 1991. And she was quick to tell me "I never thought I'd be here 40 years!" When I introduced myself, she promptly said "Oh, you're Jimmy's son." All of a sudden, I was meeting people that have been in the neighborhood their whole life -- very nice people. I bought a tap beer for myself. It cost 50 cents. Then, feeling so welcome, I bought Maria and the other nine or 10 people sitting at the bar a drink. The round came to about $14.
There is a nice hall in the back that various clubs use for functions and meetings. Way back in the day, when the place was called The Oasis," swing bands and other musical groups played Wednesday through Saturday night. It reminds me of bit of Joe and Tag's hall at Club Garibaldi in Bay View.
These days, The Five Star is only open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Thursday. Maria is the only bartender and, like everyone else, she needs a day off. "Thursday is my night to go bar-hopping," she told me. I told her I like to sometimes go bar-hopping, too.
Gerry's Diamond Tap
939 E. Lincoln Ave.
Gerry & Pete opened this pleasant place in 1987. Before that, it was Eddie's Diamond Tap, and before that, Flynn's. It was appropriately named the Diamond Tap because there used to be a softball diamond across the street where each bar in this Bay View area sponsored teams.
Unfortunately, the softball diamond is now gone. Luckily for us, many of the bars remain, including the Newport and what is now Burnhearts and Puddler's Hall, to name a few.
This corner bar feels like it's on the corner of the planet, because there's really nothing to the north or east but land, bridges and the lake.
I like it. When you're inside, you feel as if you've entered into an old lodge somewhere up north. Very nice woodwork graces the walls and bartop thanks to Bruce, who is a carpenter, a regular, and the Sunday morning bartender for the last 25 years. I was lucky to meet Bruce -- a very nice man -- the night we visited. Another nice guy who hangs out here is Nick Layne. Nick says this is "a small town bar in a big town atmosphere." Well put.
There is no kitchen, but if you're hungry, you need not leave. This place offers four different types of pizzas and 61 different kinds of snacks including chips, nuts, jerky and candy. Does anybody remember the munchies? I tell you, if the big bomb hits, this where I want to be. There is also a great CD jukebox and small game room in back.
Pete passed away in 2008. Rest in peace, Pete Villari.
4410 W. Forest Home Ave.
Proprietors Peter & Milan opened UNA in 2000 and tell me they plan to have a huge 10-year anniversary blowout in September. I'll be back for that. I'll be back before that. I suggest you mark your new 2010 calender right away. OK, enough about the party... Formerly a Chinese restaurant called The Jade Forest, this place is as hip as any East Side bar, but without East Side prices.
UNA has great lighting, decor, furniture layout, jukebox and staff. First, let me tell you about the CD jukebox, since I was able to play $5 worth of tunes in about 15 seconds. I played The Probers, Public Enemy, The Smiths, The Beastie Boys and The Velvet Underground, to name a few. I've always told my peeps that music and lighting really help define a place's vibe. So does the staff. Speaking of the staff at UNA, I can't help but to mention the bartender, an old friend of mine who goes by the name "Peaches."
Peaches is an awesome bartender. Peaches is a rock star. "Peaches," Peter tells me, "helped us take our bar to the next level in terms of having a well-known bartender who is known and loved throughout Milwaukee."
I believe it.
Just as the heavy snow began to hit on the night we were here, we were able to meet both owners. They couldn't have been any more friendly or any more receptive to us being there. Two very nice, down to earth guys and a guy like me would much rather drop a few bucks into their till than to give it to some newbie with a "God complex." They gave me a beer. They gave me some Christmas cookies. They even gave me a ride home after Steve the shuttle driver took care of everyone else. Thanks, guys.
Jim's Time Out
746 N. James Lovell St.
Although chains are trying to take over, you can still find the occasional corner tap in Downtown areas. Why should the Brew City be any different, right? Well, we have but one and it is all right by me: Jim's Time Out.
Jim Pappas bought the former Ding Dong in 1987 after he quit his bartending job at Chappie's on Wells St., which is now Flannery's, where the famous Marty Jackson tends bar.
Now tending bar four nights a week is long time barkeep, Tom Sorenson. Sorenson tells me he's been bartending nearly 40 years at places like his family's Gas Light East and Gas Light West, Angelo's Piano Lounge and Dewar's on Water. He also once owned The Maiden Voyage on the corner of Van Buren and Brady.
I remember the first time I walked into Jim's Time Out. It was about 12 years ago. It was late afternoon and I parked in front of the place to go pay an overdue ticket down the street. I walked in, blinded -- I couldn't see a thing. I walked out. A couple weeks ago, I finally got around to visiting Tommy. I originally planned to bring the whole crew, but the roads weren't safe. They would've loved it, too. A classic, old-time bar with a small pool table in the back. The next time you go to an event at the Bradley Center or anywhere else in the area, check out Jim's Time Out. You just may like it. All my friends that work at Summerfest sure do.