A Riverwest classic is saying goodbye.
The long-lived Klinger’s East bar and grill at 920 E. Locust St. is closing and there will be a big retirement party for Glen Klinger, 73, on June 12 at 1 p.m.
"I had already made some arrangements for the Locust Street Festival (which was canceled)," says Klinger, "and instead of canceling everything we're kind of bringing it inside."
Klinger says the last day of the bar has not yet been determined but expects it will be sometime between June 18 and 30.
"My goal here is to run my inventory down and some of my employees, I don't want to cut them off, until they can stay employed," he says. "And there's a lot of cleaning out to do after 50 years."
Klinger and his wife Susan put the 1906 tavern building up for sale in December 2020. The building was recently sold for $575,000 according to Redfin and, Klinger says the new owner is Marcia Taylor, who owns Lush Popcorn.
"I don't think she 100 percent knows what she's going to do, if she's going to keep it a bar," Klinger says, "I think she's going to run some of her popcorn business out of it on one side and possibly a pizzeria or bar and burger joint on the other side.
"She wants to keep a lot of the old memorabilia, the pictures of the building, the newspaper articles about the restaurant," he says. "She's kind of a history person herself, I guess."
Taylor has not yet responded to a message.
Klinger got into the business via his parents, who owned Klinger’s Tap, 3702 N. Richards St., hence the “East” in the name of Glen’s place, which he opened in 1976.
“Over the past 100-plus years, it has housed countless establishments, most, if not all of which, were taverns,” noted Lori Fredrich in this OnMilwaukee article.
“In the '50s it was Eugene’s Tavern and became Club Rendezvous in the '60s. New owners named it the Mousetrap in the early '70s.”
Over time Klinger expanded the bar’s footprint and added a food focus.
Over the years, Klinger’s expanded, added a food focus, has hosted live, local music and has been a sponsor to sports league teams. It’s become especially well-known for billiards and for its fish fry, which has drawn attention from outside the city, including Gourmet magazine in 2004.
"This is a shadowy bar that we daresay no stranger in search of a good meal would likely feel obliged to enter. The swinging door opens onto concrete stairs that lead up and inside, where it is so dim that we see nothing other than a few neon window signs; the light at our table under a corner television seems to go from noon-bright to twilight and back again as the TV flickers light and dark.
“Even though half of Klinger’s East is a pool hall and the bleak décor includes a sickly green rug and tables covered with matching green oilcloth, it’s still a cozy place to eat, even for out-of-towners like us,” wrote Jane and Michael Stern in the magazine. “Customers include wholesome-looking families you’d never see dining in a similar establishment in other parts of the country. But in Milwaukee, taverns aren’t just for drinkers – they are community centers.
“And the fish fry at Klinger’s East is brilliant. Cod is on the menu, sheathed in a crunchy coat of beer batter, but you can also get smelt, which Brad informs us is properly pronounced “shmelt” hereabouts. It is a fish lover’s fish with vivid, oily character – a heap of two-inch sprats well accompanied by a short stack of flannel-thin potato pancakes.”
Klinger says he doesn't have grand retirement plans at the moment, though he's an avid golfer.
"It's going to be very strange," he says. "My wife is very concerned about me. That I'm going to have no direction, no reason to get up.
"We have a little trailer up here (in Rome, Wisconsin). We'll spend a little more time up here. We have some friends that used to play softball for me that moved up here. I've got some direction up here and hopefully some winter travel vacations.
"I still have the rental properties next to (the bar), so that's going to keep me busy for a while."
Entertainment at the party, according to a Facebook post, will be provided by Buddy Love.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.