Welcome to another edition of the most intoxicating column known in town. This time there is no theme or broken dream; just four stories about four nice neighborhood mainstays and the people responsible for them.
Mike's A Little Bit Country
2608 W. State St.
How many people do you know have owned five different taverns which were all on the same block? I know one, Mike Christ, owner of Mike's A Little Bit Country. You will never know or understand the sheer elegance of Mike's bartending style until meet him, see him work the room and try to beat him in a game of bar dice on any given Friday.
Actually, if you want to see Mike, you have to go on a Friday. It's his only day behind the bar and you can find him there from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. He's kept these hours for many years because, as a single father raising a daughter, he wanted to be able to pick his daughter up from day care and spend time with her at a decent hour.
Mike is very, very funny. When my friend Marcella asked him for a lemon in her cocktail, he replied with this gem: "Sorry baby, but you are not going to believe this: There was a four alarm fire in the backyard last night and the lemon tree burned down to the ground. We're lucky no one got hurt! No lemons left."
A lady came into a bar whom Mike hadn't seen or heard from in a while.
"Honey, where 'ya been?" Mike asked. "I've got scabs on my knee caps from praying for you!"
Mike asked my brother Brian if he wanted to shake a game of dice. When my brother said he really didn't know how to play, Mike questioned whether or not we were really related.
Retired Milwaukee bartender Rich Malak asked me during our visit "Who would think that the only building on the block that's not boarded up would enhance the quality of our lives so greatly?"
With that being said, I aggressively beg you to meet Mike Christ before it may become too late. He's been tending bar for 51 years now, and well – we all know he's already beaten the odds in that department.
He began when he was 21, just after his father passed away and left him his tavern on Water & State.
"After my first night I was hooked and I've been doing it ever since," he told me. And I told him that I can relate 100 percent.
Mike's has the happiest of happy hours I have ever seen. All drinks are two bucks from 4-7 p.m. and the jukebox is free. While playing the jukebox, be sure to make a selection from CD No. 56, "Barhopping w/ College Dave & Friends Dive Bar Downloads, Vol. 1. : 'Mike's A Little Bit Country.'"
TJ's on 35th (aka: TJ's Packer Backer)
237 N. 35th St.
Jimmy Pitch recommended that I go meet TJ and check out his bar.
"It's a nice place, Jimmy told me. "and TJ is my friend."
Trusting Jimmy, I went there, went in, met TJ and had a few drinks with him, some of his friends and his sons. We had a really nice time.
TJ Jones opened this, according to pub crawler Dan "Action Dan" Krass "most righteous Packer bar in the city of Milwaukee" in 1993. Beforehand, TJ tended bar there when it was called the Outer Limits Social Club.
He also spent 39 years working for the Falk Corporation. When an explosion rocked the company's Menomonee Valley plant in 2006, his friends, family and customers were concerned.
"Everyone thought I was in it," he tells me.
Thank God he wasn't. He is truly loved and respected by his family and friends.
TJ is a kind and charismatic man. He's pretty deep, too, evidenced by his explanation of a mural of an eagle flying towards the sun facing east painted behind his bar.
"The eagle represents man and the sun represents God," TJ told me. "Only man can damage the planet."
No matter where you look in the bar, you'll see amazing amounts of Packers pride on display. I mean, there is Packers stuff everywhere! Even the bar stools have been reupholstered with the team's logo. The timing was perfect for me to find this place since the Packers had just won the Super Bowl this year. And I personally like the "Suck my Ditka" bumper sticker on the back cooler that references former Bears coach Mike Ditka.
The music at TJ's, which includes blues, jazz and old school, is pretty chill.
"Safe music," TJ calls it.
I like it here. The place is very comfortable and TJ and his family make you feel safe. So, check them out sometime. They open every day at 6 p.m. except Tuesdays and Sundays – unless, of course, the Packers are playing.
Double Barrel Saloon
1100 S. 60th St.
Andy Lomax opened the Double Barrel Saloon with about thirty-one dollars in his pocket and some generous knowledge from Larry Robe of nearby tavern, The Doctor's Office.
"I really liked the way he ran his business," Andy says of his industry mentor. "I rolled the dice and I threw a caution in the wind."
This young proprietor is also a rock drummer and plays with Choogy Bad and Everybody. This rock and roll attitude is reflected here, and the jukebox is constantly cranking out the heavy beats of Tool, Dio and Rush. I frickin' love it, man, and have a blast every time I come to this place.
Besides Andy and his "Too Much Metal Fred" attitude he exhibits, his regulars including Jimmy Nipples, Sammie, Sick Sean OB, and Greg rock this house as well. It's powerful. Sometimes I think the place is about to explode or take off to the sky like a rowdy ragging rocket ship.
Prior to current establishment, this place also once housed Top Gun, Chuey's, and Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was owned by the fabulous Tony Polkowski, and I personally will never forget that amazing man. Tony was a customer on my morning paper route when I was a kid. I'd often hand him his paper as he was just getting home from the bar and he always had a bright smile on his face. When it was time to collect, he'd always pull out a fat stack of bills from his pocket, give me a ten dollar bill, and say, "Keep the change, Dave." That's just another experience I had at an early age that taught me that bar people were the coolest people in the whole entire world.
Lomax runs a good business and is a super cool guy too. If you want to really meet him without too much interruption, I suggest you stop in for his Monday taco lunch special. He bartends and cooks that shift. He has other specials too that you may want to look into and, beginning June 3, every first Friday all tappers will be sold for 25 cents until Fall.
"Old school," he says.
One more thing, there's a lot of road construction going on in this neighborhood now, so be sure to enter from the south end of either 59th or 61st. Do not get off I-94 on the Hawley Road exit... (unless of course you're just "accidentally" heading to The Encore).
Brew City Tap
3105 W. Forest Home Ave.
Mark and Carolyn Silber opened the former Gill & Eileen's Log Cabin in January of this year and I'm glad because all of last summer I had been driving my scooter past the place and always wondered what it was like when it was open.
Then again, my imagination can't look into the past far enough to know how this place, opened in 1941, really was. Mike and Carolyn did an awful amount of cleaning up before they opened the place. And you can tell. The place is amazingly clean.
The name Silber may ring a bell for you since his father, brothers, and self & wife own quite a few taverns. Mark and his wife also own the Fin & Feather and Flappers.
"Carolyn and I work together," he tells me. "That's how we're able to run three places and stay solvent."
I personally do not know about Mark's two other places, but I do know that the Brew City Tap has a lot to offer. Every day there is free pool from 2-6 p.m. There is a $5.75 pitcher special during all Brewers games (Miller Park is 5 minutes away). They are starting an in-house volleyball league. And they are in the process of opening a beautiful smoking patio. I must admit, even though I do not smoke, their smoking patio is the best one I've seen.
Bye the way, I'm not one bit surprised by Mark's success since I hear he got his feet wet working with Gary Lieske (Gare-Bare's) at the Melody Bar back in the 1970's. Keep up the great work, Mark and Carolyn. Our crew had a very nice time at your bar.