Editors' note: This is another 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 three 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.
First of all, I'd like to congratulate "Action Dan" Krass for his come-from-behind victory over Buddy Bree at the inaugural Barhopping with College Dave and friends cribbage tournament.
It was a pleasant evening and it makes me look forward to the upcoming Barhopping with College Dave and friends golf outing. Secondly, I hope and pray all of you out there had an enjoyable and safe St. Patrick's Day. I did.
And third, I want to personally thank my incredible crew and the personable pub proprietors for being so awesome and meeting us out on our March pub crawl -- which took place the night after St. Patrick's.
Anyone can have the endurance and adrenaline to go out on a drinking holiday, but it takes a true veteran to dominate the next day the way we did. We went to The Leprechaun Lounge, McKiernan's Irish Tavern and McGuire's Bar.
Here are the highlights:
2725 W. Wisconsin Ave.
If a place has an Irish name or an Irish theme, does it make it an Irish bar? Does the owner have to be Irish? To be honest, I'm a straight-up Polack and I couldn't care less. Like I said earlier, this pub crawl was the day after St. Patrick's Day.
Leprechaun Lounge owner Mike Silber is not Irish, but does own an Irish-themed bar. And that's OK, because from what I hear, many Irish-themed bars are not owned by Irish people in this touted tavern-touring town. Silber is a great operator and has owned this place since 1980.
The first time I walked through his doors for a cold adult beverage was in 2004 after attending a Morrissey show at The Rave alone because my good (Irish) friend, Dan Mowbray, canceled on me at the last minute.
Dan has a great wife and three beautiful daughters, so I understood. Dan's dad (Tom) was one of Milwaukee's premiere barkeeps for 25 years at Cassidy's Irish Restaurant on Bluemound Road. So, like any true Morrissey fan and barfly, I went to The Rave and then, on my good friend Crazy Bob's advisement, stopped at the Leprechaun.
I walked in. I liked it. "Marvelous Marvin," the door guy, was there for safety. There was a very nice and attractive bartender. There was a sense of stability. And six years later, I can that see not much has changed. Mike and his wife greeted my crew with open arms. Bobby Greenya (Champions Pub) and Mitch Wakefield were sitting at the bar making friends. What a great start to our evening, and I can assure you, we had a great time and could've stayed there much longer had we not been on a pub crawl.
The Leprechaun Lounge opened in 1965. Before that, it was Andre's. What I think is unique about this place is the diversity. Mike tells me, "You got a melting pot here for sure and it's always been that way. This place has always had that culture because of our traveling pool leagues and I credit my parents for this."
From what I hear, they even let a couple of my barkeep buddies from Envoy drink here; Holly B. and Paulie D., you have one coming on me.
2066 S. 37th St.
One Saturday night this past winter, I finished my dinner rush swing shift at Balistreri's Bluemound Inn at about 11 p.m. and was in the mood for a brew or two. So I drove over to visit my friend Michael at Jackson Grill, but he had taken the night off, so I was one and done.
Then, I figured I'd go visit Andy at his Concertina Bar. People were packed like sardines there and I wasn't in the mood for a big crowd, so I continued to drive south on 37th Street for a couple blocks toward Lincoln and head east to Tonic to visit Tom Julio. All of a sudden, this very interesting building caught my eye. I asked myself, "What is this place?"
Was it Oz? Was it Xanadu? Was it some mothership that happened to land here? I pulled over. I went in. I couldn't believe it.
In a building that once housed "Working Class Heroes," Gene McKiernan opened this bar which he still refers to as a work in progress. I think it's beautiful. He's still building a kitchen, plans to build a patio and still hangs random antiques all over the place.
I'm in love with this place and my friends on the pub crawl couldn't believe their eyes. I'm so glad Mike Silber and his wife from the Leprechaun Lounge followed us here. And it was cool that Andy Kochanski from the Concertina Bar met us here and bought a round, too.
I'm also not kidding when I say that McKiernan's Irish Tavern just may be the cleanest place of all the bars I've been to or written about since August. Of course, so much of it is new since Gene effectively gutted and rebuilt everything from scratch. Check it out for yourself. And, you have to meet Gene because he has a rich history.
Gene currently owns this bar, Barnacle Buds and Ducky's. Before those, he owned Chump's Rusty Bucket on 2nd, off National, Chump's on Booth and Center, and Chump's on 1st and Maple. He also owned a restaurant called Barnaby's back in the day. So, its no surprise that he's turned an old dive into a diamond in the rough.
One more thing, Happy Birthday Gene -- you are the man.
6235 W. National Ave.
I stopped at McGuire's for the first time last fall, when I wanted to grab a Miller Lite after running errands after watching a Packers game. A couple weeks later, I was at The Bluemound Inn on a Wednesday night and Danny McGuire walked in.
Before he could order a cold brew and a Tullamore Dew, I asked "Are you from McGuire's?"
"Yeah," he said. "I own the place."
"Nice place," I said. "I was just there a couple weeks ago and had a beer after the Packers game."
"Oh yeah, I remember you," he said, looking at my name tag. "Nice to meet you, Dave."
Then, I introduced him to some of my regular customers, a group that includes many service-industry people. Drinks were sent back and forth. Friendships were born. Nothing makes me feel better behind a bar.
Now, Danny almost stops in every Wednesday and occasionally I stop by his place. Therefore, I decided his place would be perfect for my post-St. Patrick's pub crawl. Irish name. Irish bar. Irish owner. Cool guy.
This was our third and final stop for the evening and I had a feeling it would be tough to top the time we just had tilting Guinness taps and Tullamore Dew at McKiernan's ... especially since Gene McKiernan came along.
But I have to say, Danny McGuire sure knows how to treat his customers. He really rolled out the red carpet for the crew by having a pizza buffet ready when we arrived. Great timing. We needed some fuel.
We all had a great time, too. We drank what we drank. We played and danced and sang to the jukebox music. Danny told stories. The bartender, Chris (a fellow Pius XI alum) was on top of his game. Of course, Chris could bartend blindfolded -- he's been doing it here for about 18 years.
It was getting late and it was time for our shuttle driver to either take my peeps to their cars or to their homes and I had to inquire about this whole Irish bar thing by asking Danny McGuire, "What place in town do you, as a true Irishman, think is truly Irish?"
"County Clare -- other than McGuire's of course, gives you the true feel of Ireland."
I like that answer.