Many of the young patrons at Milwaukee's new Dubliner gastropub probably don't remember the city's first bar of the same name. It was in a different, yet nearby, location, 922 S. 2nd St., and was one of the most authentic Irish bars in town. It closed 13 years ago.
Jerry Stenstrup remembers it well. As the owner of Steny's across the street, he's been a regular staple in the Walker's Point neighborhood for since the early '80s and always had an appreciation for his Irish neighbor.
This March, just in time for St. Patrick's Day, he opened a stunning new version of The Dubliner at 124 W. National Ave. as a tribute to the former incarnation.
The building used to house Switch, a small gay bar that closed in 2008 after a nine-year run, but to look at it, you'd never know it was the same place. Stenstrup, or "Steny" as he's often referred to, did a complete remodel of the existing space, transforming the exterior from white siding to stone -- yes, it's real -- giving it an authentic cottage feel.
Inside, the pub glimmers and shines from fresh, earth-toned paint, a wall of windows encouraging brilliant western exposure in the afternoon and the rich, honey-tinged hardwood floors. Everything about this place looks and feels brand new and clean, yet manages to be as cozy and friendly as you'd want a neighborhood Irish pub to be.
Stenstrup and his team also greatly expanded the building, adding a large, long kitchen in back to fulfill The Dubliner's label as a gastropub. The lengthy menu features traditional Irish fare (corned beef, lamb) as well as other Americanized comfort foods (pulled pork sandwiches and gourmet grilled cheeses.)
Sandwiches dominate the menu at this point, but the kitchen has plans to soon introduce a more entree-heavy menu. Side options include your choice potato salad, mashed potatoes, homemade chips or thick steak fries. A tangy, horseradish-kissed coleslaw complements each dish.
In Irish fashion, the bar -- a gorgeous vintage piece dating back to the 1920s that Steny rescued from another Walker's Point establishment -- is the focal point of the pub, and has phrases like "The truth comes out when spirits come in" painted on the walls above it. And, of course you'll find Guinness and Magners Irish Cider, but you'll also find craft brews from other regions, both near (New Glarus Cabin Fever) and far-ish (New Belgium Ranger I.P.A.).
Just past the bar is a vast mural of the Irish countryside's rolling hills and crumbling castles merging with downtown Dublin and the world-famous Guinness brewery. Stenstrup commissioned Milwaukee-area artist Chris Vincent to paint the 30-ft. work of art, which takes its inspiration from his recent trip to the Emerald Isle. Visually, it guides your eyes to the back wall, which boasts a great stone fireplace.
On St. Patrick's Day, a pair of west-facing patio doors opened up to an outdoor tent in the adjacent parking lot, which hosted drinks, music and general shenanigans. But by the time the Irish holiday rolls around again (actually, much before that -- Stenstrup is aiming for summer), a permanent outdoor beer garden will stand where the tent once was and extend the length of the pub.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”