"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round – brought to you by Aperol, Pinnacle, Jameson, Fireball, Red Stag and Avion. The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
In the six years since we last profiled 4th Base, the enigmatic West Milwaukee gourmet sports bar, a little has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. And that’s exactly how CJ Papara, the bar’s manager, and his father Peter, the owner, like it.
About five years ago, the co-owner of 4th Base, Daryl Scholl left the business. With the Papara now completely running the show, this unique sports bar at 5117 W. National Ave. continues to operate a tavern like none other in Milwaukee.
"The concept is still the same," says the younger Papara.
What’s so special about this small bar in West Milwaukee? First, it has no menu, but it’s not a stretch to call it a gourmet sports bar. Basically, you tell the chef what you’d like to eat, and he makes it for you.
Second, it’s a quiet neighborhood tavern for much of the year, with its regulars enjoying the peace and quiet of a friendly watering hole. But before and after Brewers games, this place is packed with fans downing Bloody Marys and burgers, then taking the bar’s free shuttle to Miller Park.
It’s one of those places where looks deceive. 4th Base is wall-to-wall sports memorabilia. Add in excellent, made-to-order food, and it’s a very, very special bar, indeed.
If you’ve never been to 4th Base, you’ve probably heard about it. And most people will warn you how expensive it is.
Papara has certainly heard that before.
"What it is, is more so a disconnect between the place and how it looks, and the food that we offer," says Papara. "If you’re going somewhere Downtown and ordering jumbo shrimp or jumbo scallops or Alaskan king crab, in that regards, we’re not going to be expensive. It’s just, how many sports bar places have the food that we have?"
His advice: just ask how much your meal will cost. Yes, if you order everything in the freezer case, you’ll be in for an expensive dinner. But if you compare the food to another restaurant serving this quality of food, it’s really a bargain.
People just don’t expect a bar like this to serve food like this.
"We can sell you anything, but each item has its own cost," he says. "But 49 out of 50 people never ask."
There is a little structure to the bar’s food offering, though. Paparas says he operates off of a specials board, but the cook can make whatever he wants on a day-to-day basis.
"If you have a taste for something, you’re not limited to our menu," he says.
The bar opened at its original Piggsville location in 1980, and moved to its current home in 1985.
After all these years, 4th Base is an establishment where service matters. "It’s always a priority. We make things as personable as possible. When you come in a week later, our bartenders remember what you’re drinking," says Papara.
And 4th Base is still known to different people for different things. Whether it’s a Brewers bar or a burger bar or a Bloody Mary bar, every customer finds a different draw to the tavern.
"If it’s not baseball season, I don’t know how much traffic we really get outside of West Milwaukee and West Allis. (During the season) four or five times a week, there are 40,000 people across the street. That helps business."
Moving forward, Papara says he wants to build buzz beyond Brewers games. He wants people to remember 4th Base for food – and to get back his "drinking crowd."
"We’re going after a younger generation through social media," he says. "We need to find people with an appreciation for food. If you come to eat and see the millions of things you can do, that’s where the value comes in."
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.