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.
May's pub crawl carried an extra element of fun because it was our good friend, Action Dan's birthday. You may remember reading about Action Dan, who was recently crowned the Barhopping with College Dave and Friend's cribbage champion. That said, we are eagerly awaiting our bocce ball tournament outside Monreal's Encore, a golf outing at Doyne and a ping pong tournament at The Blind Pig.
This pub crawl also had a theme: "'Inn it to win it," because we completely conquered three bars with the word "Inn" incorporated in their names. To be honest, they were all quite busy when we got there, so there was no true conquering done by the dozen or so peeps we brought along -- all of whom were strong and ready to party.
You may already be familiar with Balistreri's Bluemound Inn, the Walk-Her-Inn (Drag Her Out), and Inn Old Milwaukee (currently called Monreal's Encore), but have you been to Rail's Inn, Cedar Inn, or Cesar's Inn? That's where we went and here is a report from these three lovely little legendary liquor lounges.
Rail's Inn Depot
2222 E. St. Francis Ave., St. Francis
My good buddy, Curt Kluth, who hooked us up with the Saz's shuttle over most of the winter, told me about Rail's Inn and the bar was supposed to be part of our pub crawl months ago. Curt couldn't make it, so we didn't go; but I always kept it in the back of my mind.
Then, just after hearing about Rail's Inn, my family celebrated my folks' 40th wedding anniversary at a great little restaurant called Cool Water in St. Francis, just around the corner from Roman's Pub. The food was excellent. The service superb. And it doesn't hurt that their bartender not only has mad skills, but also is a Ford model.
After leaving Cool Water, my girlfriend and I were walking back to our car, saw Rail's Inn, and decided to follow Curt's advise and check it out. Seconds after walking in, with my eyes were still adjusting to the light, I heard "College Dave, boy, what are you doing here?" I couldn't believe it at first, but when I was able to see where the sound was coming from I realized it was my old pal, Jackson "The Original Como se Llama" Dordell sitting with his lovely wife, Judy. I met Jackson back when I tended bar at O'Donoghues, which later became Jimmy D's Steakhouse owned by Jimmy "The True Story" Douglas.
Ron and Gina Cook own Rail's Inn and they are the third owners to call it by this name. Barb Kowalski owned it before. Ron had tended bar for both owners. His resume includes Howell Gardens, Barbie's First Choice, and Chances Are. Barb moved to Rail's Inn in 1987, and Ron bought it from her in '91. Ron and Gina were very, very, nice to our group and I recommend that you visit.
There is a model train that runs over the bar that I have to explain. It's pretty neat and completes the whole train theme they have going -- the building is just a few feet from real train rails. For a long time, the model train didn't work, but in 2007 barkeep Billy fixed it. They turned it on for us and it's pretty unique.
Rail's Inn was a fun place and we met some cool people, including a gentleman named Garret who told me, "There's always a show, and never a cover." I believe him, because about 15 minutes after telling me this, his friend got served with divorce papers while sitting at the bar. That was quite a show... with no cover.
2178 S. 6th St.
Every once in a while, my friends will read this column and call me with slight anger because I "let another cat out of the bag: by exposing another super great little hide-out spot that they don't want anyone else to know about. Well, I'm doing it again.
Of all the bars I've written about over the last year, I have to say that I feel most at home at the Cedar Inn. I know this is a big statement, but it reminds me so much of my parent's rec room. It has the same paneling, bar top, mirrors and other knick-knacks. It has the same stereo behind the bar and roughly the same capacity (if a home rec room had a capacity). And, it has the same family values.
JoAnne Humsik has owned and operated the Cedar Inn since 1989. Her mother Stella owned it from 1962 to 1989. (Related aside: JoAnne's nephew, Mike, is dating my friend, Rachel, from Lulu's).
Stella turned 92 in April and still stops in from time to time. She's a legend here. When Stella first opened, she named the bar "Stella's", but according to JoAnn, "There were too many men coming in to see who this woman-owner Stella was."
It was uncommon for a female to own a bar back then. So, to avoid the hassle, Stella renamed the place Cedar Inn because of the cedar wood on the face of the building (similar to the cedar being used for Balistreri's Bluemound Inn's new patio).
Stella hosted all of her friend's and family's functions here, including a neighborhood Christmas party for the kids where Santa would show up and give each kid a present paid for by Stella herself.
JoAnne got married at St. Veronica's when she was 18, then had her reception here using the bar and both apartments at the same time. They put the wedding cake on the pool table.
Victor, a regular customer, met his wife here. Thirty-four years later, they're still together. He also broke a guy's finger here once during a little scuffle and he was kicked out for a while. To this, day he claims, "It was an accident." Speaking of broken fingers, one time a guy got his finger stuck in the front door. It looked real bad. So Stella cleaned it up, stitched it up, and took out the stitches a couple weeks later.
Guy LaPine, another regular customer, told JoAnne, "When I was younger I'd come here and play pool all night for a dime a game and a dime a beer." He met his wife here, too.
Prices today are a little higher and business is a little slower. But I have to say, this place is immaculately clean, contagiously comfortable, and the people here are too cool to be crapulous. I just love it. By the way, I turn 40 on June 29 and guess where I'm stopping for a brew after dinner? The Cedar Inn. Join me.
5527 W. National Ave.
My fellow scribe "Jumbo" turned me onto this bar/motel and, as turns out, some of my fellow bartender buddies actually have rented rooms here when they were having some problems at home or running a little low on their luck overall. There are 45 rooms (with bathrooms) for rent here -- and they aren't expensive.
Julius Caesar never stayed here. Five Card Studs frontman Caesar Palace never sang here. But, former Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn did own this place while also leading "Harvey's Wallbangers" to the 1982 World Series. Of course, back then Don Money owned The Chapter 5 and Gorman Thomas and Pete Vuckovich owned Stormin' & Vuke's.
Harvey Kuenn's father-in-law actually built this place in 1968, then passed it to Harvey and his wife, Audrey. The bar passed to their son, Harvey Jr.(now a scout for the Brewers) and today's pleasantly proud proprietor is Gary Janocik, who took over in 2000.
Before buying this place, Gary worked at Quad/Graphics. He is also a carpenter and an electrician and knowing those trades sure help when you are part of a property management team. He owns other real estate, including a bar in West Allis and a restaurant in the Lake Country area.
Gary told me he initially bought this building as an investment, a rental property. But it also came with a bar and I can tell he sure finds humor in owning the bar here.
"It's hilarious and you've gotta have the right attitude," he says. "The best time was when the steel workers from Miller Park stayed here... great guys, spent money over the bar and they were very respectful of the property."
I like the bar here. Its a very chill place, and from my few experiences, I can honestly say that the staff and customer base is very nice. As a matter of fact, the next time you go to a Brewers game, feel a piece of real Brewers history and have a pre-game brew at Cesar's. Then, if you don't want to pay the stadium parking fee, just cut through the VA and take a nice walk down the hill to Miller Park. It's less than a mile away. Just don't expect them to win at home.