"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, bartender profiles and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
The votes are in and the winners have been selected for OnMilwaukee's Best: Bars & Clubs, 2011. Find readers' results in 50 categories, including an editors' pick, in this series of articles that run daily in the Bars and Clubs section of OnMilwaukee.com.
Happy and safe holidays to our friends, family, and fellow barflies who have read and supported this column over this past year. I'd also like to particularly acknowledge three people before moving onto the next pub crawl and history lesson: First, I'd like to congratulate Erin Thorson for winning the Second Annual Barhopping w/ College Dave & Friends Cribbage Tournament over last year's champion, Dan "Action Dan" Krass. Second, I'd like to dedicate this edition to our good friend Joe Natoli from Brown Deer Lanes who recently bowled his 18th (yes, 18th!) 300 game. I can't believe you rolled another one, pal! And third, I have to communicate that my new friend, Carey Catania from Motion Plus Lanes in Cudahy also recently bowled his 18th perfect game. Wow! On Monday nights at Motion Plus, bowling only costs a buck a game. Its a great deal and make sure to check out the Barhopping w/ College Dave & Friends poster sponsoring Toys for Tots which hangs over lane one.
Speaking of bowling, for the Fall 2010 edition, we went to a couple South Side spots which once housed and operated bowling alleys. For this installment, we venture to the North Side. Two of the places once housed bowling alleys back in the day. They are People's Lounge and the Roman Coin. The Encore shuttle also took us to two other north side bars being RET Lounge and Gare-Bears.
3328 W. Burleigh St., (414) 445-5112
MC Willy Lewis has owned and operated People's Lounge "House of Champions" since 1981. For ten years prior, this building housed a disco club named Arbian Palace. And before that, it was appropriately named the Tu-Lane-Tap because it housed and used two bowling alleys. It was the owners of the Arabian Palace who tore out the lanes to make room for an attractive dance floor and back hall for group events.
Milwaukee legend Roy "The Budha" Tonkovitz told me about this place because he was indeed familiar with it back when it was the Tu-Lane-Tap.
From what I hear, current owner MC Willy is one helluva pool player. Back before he owned People's, he captained many pool teams who won many city bar pool leagues while he was also working at Patrick Cudahy. Back then, his friends were often telling him that he should own his own bar to shoot pool at, and thats how it all began. Plus, he had some previous bartending experience working at The Whole Story, The Downhill Bar, and Chatmoore's.
Today, People's Lounge "House of Champions" sponsors many teams and has a wall full of plaques & trophies to prove it. The place is pretty cool and well situated for its large size. When you walk in, you see a nice large horse shoe shaped bar with the wall of trophies to the right. Then as you walk through to the left of the bar, you enter another bar room, then pass a nice dance floor, then see the the back hall where the pool is played. As a matter of fact, there was a pool league meeting going on in the back room on the night we visited.
In all honestly, I have to admit that I was (for the first time ever) a bit nervous entering this unfamiliar territory in the middle of Milwaukee's north side. But like anywhere else, and after meeting and talking to LC and some of his patrons, I felt pretty close to home. Plus, I had my fearless, former police friend Andy "Short Pour" Gebhardt with me. Short Pour got his nickname after he left the MPD, became a barkeep at Colonel Hart's, and gained a reputation of pouring weak drinks.
The people at People's Lounge are nice and the place itself is pretty cool. MC Willy was very busy, but still made time to answer my questions, and more importantly, kept the ice cold Miller High Life's coming for me & the Short Pour. Therefore, I honestly recommend this spot, even if it is unfamiliar territory for you.
I told MC Willy that I'd stop back with a copy of the story after it published, and I'm glad I did because this gives me an excuse to get back down there. People's is a great place with great people. There's a DJ spin Thursday through Sunday nights. There's also a Friday night fish fry; yet another reason to get back down there.
1004 E. Brady St. (414) 278-9334
I'll never forget the first time I went to the Roman Coin. It was one of those daylight savings nights when 2:30 became 3:30. I didn't get out of Angelo's until about 4:30 w/ my friend Frank Loccoco who said he help me move from my Bay View house to the Shorecrest Hotel after work. Well, seven a.m quickly rolled around after the move and I offered to buy breakfast at the Brady Street Pharmacy. But, as we were approaching what was to be our breakfast location, Frank saw the open sign snap on at the Roman Coin.. and we never made it to breakfast.
That was over ten years ago and I only made it back to the tavern maybe twice since. Since then, in 2002, Teri Regano did a nice makeover on the place from the inside out. One night from 2 to 7 am she stripped down all the old paneling. She also had the windows built bigger - the way they were originally when she was a kid. Unfortunately during the riots in the late 1960's, Teri's father had the original picture windows covered up. He was afraid that someone may throw a brick through one of his windows, and back then, such a thing wasn't covered under the insurance plan. She told me that it was an emotional day when the new picture windows went in because it reminded her of how the place looked and felt when her father was here and she was just a kid. The south bar has also been replaced with a longer bar. As a matter of fact, the bar that was replaced was actually the original horse shoe shaped bar that was in Pitch's restaurant a few blocks away. And there is still a single hanging light overhead where the bar looped out in front of Teri's new tapper system.
In 1966, Teri's father bought this place from George Suami who then appropriately called it Suami's. Before Suami's, it was the Happy Go Lucky and operated the two bowling alleys which still rest on the basement floor beneath the bar room near the front door. Before the Happy Go Lucky, this building was an original Pabst "tied house". Pabst built and owned the building and rented it out under the condition that Pabst products were mostly bought and sold there. Otto Strack, who was the architect who designed the Pabst Theater also designed this very bar building. I think that's just awesome, and I'm sure my little sister Aimee who's super into architecture will really dig this too.
Today, unlike a bad stretch in the late 80's, the Roman Coin and the entire neighborhood have tremendously improved. Teri Regano has pumped a bunch of her own money into the place for not only her interior remodel, but also the restoration of her building's facade. This new and improved Roman Coin offers free WiFi , an internet jukebox, satellite radio, a pool table, two long bars, three flat screen televisions, and some patio seating in the front. She also offers more craft beer these days, a popular trend in today's retail and wholesale market. The bowling alleys aren't used anymore; its more a storage area now. Plus, the lanes have been a bit water-damaged over the years.
I think the stars perfectly aligned the night my crew and I were there on our pub crawl. Bartender Joel Vallejos poured me a tasty CC press w/ a fresh lemon twist while also serving everyone else and making us all feel at home. Some of our other friends including Ivy Gilday, Mike & Kim Theoharris, Rick Emerick (OD's & OB's), and Phil Puerling met us there. We played games, told stories, enjoyed our adult beverages and sang along to The Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again" on the internet jukebox. And all in a perfectly comfortable tavern environment. What more can you ask for?
3400 N. Holton St. (414) 332-3655
LC Whitehead opened RET Lounge in 1985 after owning Whitehead's Lounge on 14th & Highland. Whitehead's Lounge was an old classy joint that had a fountain and bamboo everywhere, according to this friendly proprietor. He also says, "It was more of an exclusive club -- Bo Ellis and Kareem Abdul Jabbar went there." LC also had a profession as a Therapist for the state.
Once a high school football standout at Wisconsin Lutheran HS, LC accepted a scholarship to play football at Yale University where he studied Psychology. Psychology and helping others was LC's passion, and after college he became a Child Therapist. He also got his feet wet around that time in the bar business tending bar for his uncle at the Holiday Bar on 4th & Clarke.
After a while, the therapy work became very stressful because he almost felt as if he couldn't do enough for the kids he was trying to help. And that's when he decided to switch to the bar business as a full time career. He says, "Its less stressful. It gave me a chance to meet new people ... to be with people. It's enjoyable." I must say that it sure was enjoyable meeting and talking to LC. There's a sophisticated charm about him that makes you want to keep watching and listening to him as he speaks to you. He's vibrant, yet consoling at the same time, and I noticed that he's passed some positive traits onto the next generation.
His daughter Tekinsa was bartending the night our crew stopped in. I can tell that, just like her father, she enjoys it here too. Always with a beautiful and happy smile, she does her bartending duty as if her world just may be a perfect place after all. She has a full time day job too. Action Dan & I left the group at the tables we occupied to have a brew and do a shot with Tekinsa and we agreed that she's the best bartender that we have met in quite some time on a pub crawl -- maybe the best one yet. She has a brother, Tony, who helps out here too -- nice guy. And the bar manager's name is Annie, whom LC refers to as "the heart of the place".
LC not only has a rich history as an athlete, caring therapist, and bar owner, but also one in the music business too. He also manages the popular band The Esquire's. Along the way with his music managing work, he's met the likes of Joe Jackson (Jackson Five), MC Ren (NWA), and many others of whom he is pictured with on the south wall of his bar. There is also a picture of him with famous actor, Sidney Poitier.
RET Lounge is a very nice place. Its safe, clean, fun, and the natural light from the newer large picture windows add an element of comfort during both the day and night time hours of operation. They are open from 11am to about midnight during the week and later on the weekends. There is a Biker Club DJ spin on Sunday nights too, so Sunday night 's open hours can be flexible depending on how busy they are.
927 N. 27th St.(414) 344-6060
Gary Lieske holds fort at the end of his bar while mingling with customers, watching over his bar room, and checking out the monitors over his front door which are connected to surveillance cameras outside. One night I was here with my friends Celeste and Liz just after a band of crackheads bum-rushed the Dollar Store across the street. The police came in to see if Gary had caught anything on his cameras. This, by the way, is the same police department that once falsely accused Gary of being "a white pimp in a black neighborhood condoning prostitution" so he tells me. Now they ask him for help, and he helps them. Gary's charismatic bartender, Corey, told me "It happens every once in a while. The crackheads rob the store. And the police come in to see the videos. No big deal."
Steve Silber Sr. (Harp & Shamrock, Leprechaun Lounge, The Network, etc.) helped Gary get his start here in 1983, and Gary was able to buy him out in 1999. He is very thankful to the Silber family for their help and friendship. Gary tells me that "Steve was a great teacher."
Before owning his own joint, Gary worked full time for the Park's Commission and part time tending bar at Essinger's at 826 N. 27th Street. "Essinger's had 29 bar stools straight. It was beautiful. You needed roller skates to bartend that SOB," he says with a wide smile. This story actually reminds me of a guy I bartended with back in the day. I think he was 'on' everything but roller skates behind the wood one night.
Gare-Bears offers a wide variety of not only beer and booze, but also snacks. I think our table ate about eight bags of chips here on our pub crawl. It was mostly Sid, actually. Behind the bar, they also sell handkerchiefs. I tried to ask my new bartender buddy Corey what they were or why they were there, but all he did was look at me as if I was joking or dumb. So, well -- I just left it alone.
In all, Gare-Bears is a super cool little lounge and our group had a real good time here even though it was so crowded when we were there. 27th Street doesn't scare us and it shouldn't scare you either as it sure doesn't scare Gary. He says, "I adapted to the neighborhood. And it's not about black or white. People are people. Drugs are what hurt this neighborhood." That explains the crackhead bum-rush that happened across the street that one night.