Hours before Victor's begins filling up with adults looking to connect with friends and the opposite sex, a different group of customers is sitting in Milwaukee's most enduring nightspot. The lights are low, Sinatra is on the sound system and the patrons are scanning menus.
In the fickle world of clubs and nightlife, Victor's has been amazingly impervious to fads and trends. For two generations it has been a beacon for the single – and the wannabe single – adult hoping for a hook-up.
Many of those folks have little idea it is also a serious restaurant. Victor's leads a double life.
"We are relatively unknown for our food," the business' affable namesake, Victor Jones, says.
You can start dinner at Victor's with a jumbo shrimp cocktail ($12) or brie wrapped in phyllo dough with raspberry Chambord sauce ($9.50). Entrees include shrimp de jonghe with pasta or rice ($24.75), chicken parmesan with pasta ($19.75) and a veggie plate ($16.50).
Beef eaters have a choice of a 16-ounce New York strip ($27.50) or a 12-ounce filet (26.50). Two cuts of prime rib ($21.75) and ($25.75) are available on Friday and Saturday nights.
Crab legs and fried shrimp can be added for combo plates. The steaks and prime are accompanied by sauteed mushrooms, grilled vegetables and onion rings.
All entrees come with freshly baked bread, soup or salad, and a potato or veggies.
An all-you-can-eat Friday cod fish fry ($12.25) has a baked cod option. Upgrade to perch for $14.25. Baked ($12.25) or parmesan crusted ($13.25) tilapia is also offered.
Friday fish specials include a choice of fries, baked potato or homemade hash browns.
Although Victor's is not open for lunch, its menu contains a selection of dinner sandwiches. A couple of burgers, pulled pork sliders, steer tenderloin and chicken cordon bleu are among them. Several entree salads are also available.
An under $10 menu that includes all-you-can-eat pasta for $7.95 is offered on Mondays.
Desserts, including an airy cheesecake and chocolate mousse in a graham cracker crust, are home made.
Victor's traces its roots back to the end of prohibition, when Jones' father, Casey, opened a neighborhood tavern called the Green Parrot on East State Street. During Victor's freshman year at UW-Madison, his dad became too ill to run the bar, and the 18-year-old college student came home to operate it.
"My dad still had the license, and I told everybody I was 22," Victor, who is now a lively 82, recalls. Over time, the younger Jones changed the name to Victor's, remodeled the saloon into a more upscale establishment, and added food. His mother was the cook.
Downtown redevelopment that led to the construction of Juneau Village wiped the original Victor's off the map in the '60s. Jones bought several houses on Van Buren Street, razed them and built the present Victor's, which has been expanded a number of times.
His mother moved to the kitchen in the new location and began showing her granddaughters how to cook. "We all grew up in the kitchen. I started when I was 10," Victor's chef Mary Ann Jones says.
Another granddaughter, Susan Clark, makes the desserts and supervises the waitstaff.
Victor's epitomizes the concept of a family business. Victor has seven adult children, and all are involved in the restaurant and club. On a recent Tuesday night, four of them were working – two at the bar and two in the kitchen.
Some of their spouses also pitch in. "We all do whatever we have to," Mary Ann Jones says. "Wherever we are needed."
"If it were not for my kids, I would have been out of this years ago," Victor says. He continues to go into the business most days.
Victor's serves dinner from 5 to 9:30 Monday through Saturday. It can seat about 100 for indoor dining and another 40 persons on an outdoor patio.
The restaurant side of Victor's accounts for about 25 percent of overall income, according to Jones. The kitchen also services a sizable private party business.
Longevity is such a rare achievement in the nightclub trade, and Victor was asked the secret of his success.
"We make the place attractive to women," he said. "We respect women. We don't allow (male) goofs in here, anybody who is obnoxious or too forward."
And of course, wherever the women are, the men will follow.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.