"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs -- including guides, the latest trends, rapid bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Editors' note: This is the fourth 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.
A lot of my friends quit "suckin' the sauce" in February, because, well, it's the shortest month of the year, it's a bit depressing weather-wise and it's good to cleanse every once in a while.
You know what I say to that?
Here's the deal: my friends and I dominated four satisfyingly succulent spots, and every single one of us had the absolute time of our especially social lives. Our evening was controlled, captivating and quenching. We hit Champions, Swigs Pub & Grill, Mamie's and Sarge's Corner.
2417 N. Bartlett Ave., (414) 332-2440 championspub.com
Bobby Greenya is the third-generation owner of this praised pub and longtime regular Scotty Stone tells me, "It's been fun watching the evolution from father to son to grandson." Scotty knows his stuff, too; he was long a barkeep at Giovanni's and Eddie Martini's.
Champions opened in 1956 in the building which now houses the Jazz Estate on Murray Avenue. Then, 18 years later, Greenya's grandfather moved to the current location on Bartlett Avenue.
Bobby, clearly knows the neighborhood where he grew up. When he was 3 years old and after his mother had just delivered twins, he decided to take a little walk on his own. When his mother and grandmother noticed him gone, they frantically called his grandfather at his tavern screaming, "Bobby is missing! Bobby is missing." Bobby's grandfather then replied, "Well, he just walked in the front door of the bar." He took a four-block walk to the bar at age 3. Amazing.
"I just loved the bar from an early age and always wanted to be there," he chuckles. I laughed and had to admit I could relate and said, "At the age of 5, I could smell a urinal cake from a block away!" We both laughed so hard it hurt. We are now friends for life.
Champions has a great feel, a high comfort level. It also has a beautiful shuffleboard table which is free, Golden Tee Live and Silver Strike Bowling. And, if you're there when the weather changes, it also has a nice deck and backyard for your drinking pleasure.
Check it out. This is what its all about. A Milwaukee tavern with a Milwaukee history at its best.
Swigs Pub & Grill
3143 S. Clement Ave., (414) 431-1229
Salt of the Earth people, Chris and Theresa Brown bought the former Rumford's in 2003. When Chris told his mom the news of his purchase, she said, "I used to make fish fries there with your aunts and grandmother back in 1954 and '55." Little did he know, his family once owned the bar -- known as Quinlan's Tap -- and that story from his mom nearly floored him. Another great Milwaukee story. He says, "It's absolutely funny how things come back to you." Unbelievable.
When our group arrived at Swigs, I could just tell that everyone really loved it and just fit in quickly. Bobby from Champion's, who joined us, sprinkled the infield (bought a round), and that's when we let the games begin. A couple shots followed ... fun.
I introduced fellow bar owners Chris and Bobby to one another, and they shared stories as I visited with my fellow barkeep and tavern scribes, Tom Julio and Laura Heller, who met us there. Those two ended up joining the crew, too.
Swigs is open at 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and at 8:30 on Sunday. They have some nice specials, too, including a daily fish fry special. On Monday, you can get a 12-inch pizza with two toppings and five shorty beers for 10 bucks. So, basically, if you bring what the old-time gamblers call "a half-a-yard" to spend, you can buy five pizzas and 25 shorty brews. I know where I'm throwing my next intimate party.
Thank you for your hospitality, Chris and Theresa. Everybody loved the place.
3300 W. National Ave., (414) 643-1673
Debra Mickey has owned and operated Mamie's for 28 years. Prior to Mamie's, the building housed The Barrel Inn. Deb is yet another saloon keeper who has close family ties to the business. Her parents owned Doherty's on 33rd and Lisbon and her sister owned The Tiny Tap at 55th and Vliet Street. Her aunt Sophie owned Albanese's on Keefe.
Walking into Mamie's reminds me of walking in to the Walker's Point Antique Center because there are not only old classic signs and wonderful woodwork, but there are quit a few antique bicycles hanging from the walls and ceiling. It almost seems as if you are walking back in time; very unique.
Considered to be The Silver City Neighborhood District, the area has a lot of history. It got its name Silver City because long ago, the railroad workers and other employees who travel would be paid in silver. So, all the merchants along National Avenue were paid in silver.
To this day, some of the local businesses still have the word "Silver" incorporated in their name and once a year, on the first Saturday in June, 40 of these businesses close to celebrate Silver City Day. On this day, they all close to sell an item in Mamie's parking lot for one dollar: hot dogs, soda or other things. And every August, Mamie's throws an anniversary party with a pig roast.
I could tell Debbie takes pride in her neighborhood and how close-knit the people are. It makes me proud to have met her and I will surely be back to take advantage of some of her specials including "2 buck 2 buck 2 buck" which means Monday through Thursday from 2 to 7 p.m., all domestic bottles, rail and call drinks are two bucks apiece. On Wednesday from 4 to 10 p.m., you can buy a taco for $1.50. Also, on Tuesday night they have an open blues jam from 8 p.m. to midnight and on Friday night, live music begins at 9:30.
My friends and I had a boatload of fun at Mamie's with Debbie and her friends that night and she even joined us at the next bar, Sarge's Corner. Debbie, coincidentally, was in Sarge's wedding party. Small world.
1979 S. 54th St., (414) 327-7740
I have to admit, it was a lucky day in my life when I met Rick "Sarge" Sargeant 13 thirsty years ago. Rick is one of those bar people I admire for three reasons. One, because he has a long history of bartending and owning cool spots. Two, because he's one of my three barkeep buds who've bowled a 300 game (my pizza cook pal, Franko Balistreri, also bowled one). And three, I know Sarge will have my back in case anybody wants to start a beef for no apparent reason in his joint.
Back in the early 1980s, Sarge tended bar for Angelo Martellano (Angelo's Piano Lounge) at The Focal Point on South 5th Street off Becher Street down from the infamous butcher shop, Becher Meat.
"We had some real high-line people in there; big-money people," he tells me. Sarge later went on to own a bar on Van Buren that now actually houses Angelo's Piano Lounge. Talk about keeping it in the family. Then in 1990, he migrated west and opened Sarge's Corner on the corner of 54th and Rogers.
Sarge's Corner, formerly N&B's II, holds about 25 people comfortably, which was perfect because that's nearly how many peeps we ended up with in our group that night. We kept making friends along the way with other bar people who wanted to join us including Tom Julio (Tonic), Laura (My Office), Bobby (Champion's), Debbie (Mamie's) and Chuck (CW's). The more, the merrier, and I was proud to have such local celebrities join my crew. I think Sarge was pretty happy, too.
Danny McGuire from McGuire's Bar was also in Sarge's Corner that night and was able to meet me and my friends. Danny's a funny guy (not funny like a clown) and told me, "Rick's a good guy and a friend. But you tell him I got seniority over him because I opened my joint in this area in '89 -- a year before he did." I'll let you tell him that, yourself, Dan.
We'll see you again when the pub crawl hits your place March 4.