Kelley Arlt has worked at Just Art’s Saloon, 181 S. 2nd St., for 15 years. She tried to quit once, but that only lasted a few months and she says she missed the people and the job so much she returned and has no plans to ever leave again.
"Art (the owner) has been like a father to me," says Arlt. "And the customers here are really great. There’s such a mix, from millionaires to neighborhood people."
We stopped in recently for a couple of pints and chatted with Arlt about musicals, growing up with twin sisters, New Year’s Eve and more.
OnMilwaukee: Are you from Milwaukee?
Kelley Arlt: I was born in Colgate, Wis. and moved to 84th and Congress when I was 7. Currently, I live in Walker’s Point.
OnMilwaukee: Where did you go to school?
Arlt: I graduated from Divine Savior Holy Angels and, although I liked it a lot and was very thankful my grandparents sent me – and my sisters – there, I did not have any interest in going to college. My mom said she would still be proud of me if I got a full time job, and so I did, and I have ever since.
OnMilwaukee: Is bartending a full time gig for you?
Arlt: No, I have also run the box office at the Broadway Theater Center since 2006. I work here two nights a week. I have, however, worked here for 15 years. Well, I quit once for five months, but I missed this place – and Art (the owner) – so much that I came back.
OnMilwaukee: What do you like about Just Art's?
Arlt: There’s a really great, laid-back-yet-lively vibe in here. People love coming in here and listening to Art’s stories and jokes. He never runs out of them, either. It’s crazy, I have been here 15 years and I haven’t heard him retell anything. Art has been like a father to me.
We also have really good bar food – excellent steak sandwiches, we make our pizza from scratch – and it’s cheap as dirt. Two people can get a couple of drinks and dinner for $24.
OnMilwaukee: The spelling of your first name is unique – with the second "e" in it.
Arlt: My mom wanted to be a little different with me, I think. She had already named my older sisters – who are twins – the most popular names from the 70s: Jenny and Lisa.
OnMilwaukee: Did you feel left out being the younger sibling of twins?
Arlt: Totally, but my mom was my twin. We have a really strong bond.
OnMilwaukee: Does this place ever get confused for Arts Performing Center (Downtown strip club)?
Arlt: Oh, it sure does!
OnMilwaukee: What’s going on here New Year’s Eve? Are you working?
Arlt: I am! I have worked here every New Year's Eve for 15 years except one when I was the maid of honor in a friend’s wedding. Art throws a big party here – we call it Just Art's Unpretentious New Year's Eve – and we have a great spread of free food featuring a whole ham, raw beef and onion, meatballs and wild rice, shrimp, cheese and sausage plates, veggies and dip and so on. It comes out around 11 p.m. and then we have free champagne and party favors at midnight.
OnMilwaukee: What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Arlt: I like to spend a lot of time with my family. We have gotten together every Monday since my niece was born and she is 12. We’ve only missed six Monday night dinners in 12 years. I go to all of my niece’s and nephew’s games.
I have been playing volleyball at Fat Daddy’s since I was 21 and I love seeing musicals. I have been to Broadway twice and I have seen "Rent" 23 times in 10 different cities. I was a "Rent-head" back in the day.
I also really like Ellen DeGeneres and I DVR her show every day while I’m at work and watch it at night.
OnMilwaukee: Have you ever performed in a musical?
Arlt: I have not. My mom started taking us to the theater at a very young age and I have always loved watching musicals. I listen to show tunes. It’s my "get sh-t done" music.
OnMilwaukee: What would you like to do someday? Anything on your "bucket list"?
Arlt: I would like to return to Paris and spend time in tropical places, and I want to go to the "Ellen" show someday – I try to get tickets all the time – but mostly, I am a person who lives day to day and is really appreciative of what I have.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.