"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun bars and club articles -- including guides, bartender profiles, drink recipes and even a little Brew City bar history. Cheers!
Frederick Miller founded Miller Brewing Company in 1855 after purchasing Frederick Charles Best's 5-year-old Plank Road Brewery. Although Miller was a frontrunner in forming Milwaukee's reputation as Brew City, beer had already been a significant part of the area for some time. According to the Milwaukee County Historical Society, pioneer historian James Buck noted 138 taverns in Milwaukee in 1843 -- an average of one per 40 residents.
By 1918 there were 1,980 saloons in Milwaukee; one per 230 residents. A year later Prohibition shut down nearly all of them.
Beer City struggled financially and culturally during this time, so when the alcohol ban lifted over a decade later, Milwaukeeans did what Milwaukeeans do best: threw a big party. The 1933 Midsummer Festival on Milwaukee's lakefront was such a success that it became an annual event. Many consider it to be the prelude to Summerfest.
An abundance of new taverns popped up after 1933 and several existing ones reopened as booze-slingers after Prohibition stints as hotels, drug stores and other retail spaces. There are more than a few establishments that were built before the turn of the century that still stand today as great places to grab a drink and soak up a bit of local history. Here is a snapshot of some of the city's oldest.
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1847, Landmark1850 Inn -- Built in the late 1840s, this bar at 5905 S. Howell Ave. is usually pegged as Milwaukee's oldest functioning tavern. Its history is deeply embedded in German culture -- it opened originally as the Cologne House -- and its roots show. Make it through all 50 tap beer selections, which include everything from locally-made favorites to domestic crafts to Belgian-style beers like Delirium Tremens, and your next draught could come in your very own Landmark "Suds Club" stein.
According to owner Joe Halser, the Landmark1850 is currently closed for renovations. While he won't give a re-opening date, he is currently running another establishment, The Terminal, at 5917 S. Howell Ave.
1873, Puddler's Hall -- This cozy tavern tucked away at 2463 S. St. Clair St. is one of the oldest buildings Bay View. It was constructed in 1873 by the National Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers as a union hall for immigrant iron workers, known as "puddlers," who worked at the nearby -- and now gone -- rolling mill. The Bay View Historical Society has since designated it as a historical landmark.
The building housed many businesses over the years, including Barbieri's, Sue's Bay View Bandwagon and Marty's Party, and was renovated in 2003 by Tim Capper to once again become Puddler's Hall. Today it's a friendly neighborhood tavern known for good drink specials, wood paneling and the occasional live band.
1884, The Uptowner -- According to the Milwaukee County Historical Society, The Uptowner, 1032 E. Center St., was one of 54 "Schlitz taverns" that Joseph Schlitz opened in Milwaukee in 1884 to sell his family's beer. In the 1950s and '60s then-owner "Chic" Giacalone opened at 6 a.m. to accommodate third-shift factory crews looking to kick back after a long night of work. Today, you can still get your breakfast Bloody Mary at the popular Riverwest bar -- you'll just have to wait until 11 a.m., or noon on weekends.
1891, Kneisler's White House -- Designated an historical landmark by the Bay View Historical Society on its 100th birthday, this tavern, built in 1891, has the reputation for being the oldest running tavern in the neighborhood. Similar to the Landmark1850's "Suds Club," patrons here can pay an annual $45 fee to drink any of the bar's varied beer and booze selections at a discount rate from their own numbered house mugs.
Additions like the adjacent volleyball court make it feel slightly more contemporary, but a step inside the 117-year-old tavern at 2900 S. Kinnickicnic Ave. reveals a nice slice of vintage Milwaukee.
1908, Holler House -- Although built after the turn of the century (1908), The Holler House, 2042 W. Lincoln Ave., makes the cut thanks to its history-making basement. There are two small bowling lanes down there that go down as the oldest certified lanes in the country. Rolling a line today, in fact, probably isn't all that different than it was 100 years ago, back when the bar was called Skowronski's. Don't forget to tip your pin boys!
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.”