When Kegel’s Inn collaborated with the War Memorial Center on an Oktoberfest celebration at the lakefront, it offered a tantalizing glimpse of what a season-long beer garden Downtown on the shores of Lake Michigan could be like.
The organizers thought the very same thing and now the two are hosting the The Beer Garden at the War Memorial Center, in the shadow of the Milwaukee skyline, beginning Friday, July 2.
A portion of the parking lot north of the War Memorial Center and some newly upgraded adjacent green space will host the garden, which will have eight tap lines running Hofbrau’s Original Lager, Dunkel, Weiss and Oktoberfest beers, as well as local brewery seasonals.
There will be authentic Hofbrau biergarten tables from Germany and a menu of German specialties from Kegel’s.
The the area around the new beer garden is currently under construction, as the space where Mason Street meets Lincoln Memorial Drive is reconfigured, that work is expect to wrap up soon.
That whole space has transformed so much,” says Kegel’s owner Julian Kegel. “The northeast corner of the parking lot, abutting that big green space, is where the trucks are going to be. We'll have a few beer garden tables, and then that whole green space will be available for people to bring their own lounge chairs.
“But I think that our location is probably the best in Milwaukee. We've got lakefront seating with a view, a great facility to support – this is a fundraiser for the War Memorial Center.”
The War Memorial Center, a nonprofit that runs the building, which in addition to being home to part of the Milwaukee Art Museum, also houses offices, memorials to fallen war veterans and a variety of rental spaces that helps keep it all running.
But, of course, over the past year, there have been no events, and that has spelled financial woe for the War Memorial Center. As a restaurateur also hit hard by the pandemic, Kegel can relate.
“It's a huge part of why we partnered with them,” Kegel says. “They got hit hard with COVID. Their revenue stream was tied to their events, and of course, like everybody else, it just dried up. We have great customers that come from the VA, and this connection sort of happened through those routes, because our restaurant (at 59th and National) is so close to the VA.”
A portion of the proceeds from every sale goes to the War Memorial, which also benefits from on-site parking revenue.
Kegel hopes the beer garden will help bolster both his business and the coffers of the War Memorial Center.
“Last year, it was day-by-day whether the business was going to survive, and now we're to the point where it's maybe a little bit more than week-to-week, but things still change weekly,” says Kegel. “As business owners, you try and plan for years out, and it's just impossible to.
“The War Memorial is a public space, it's its own nonprofit, and it's budget line item isn't part of Milwaukee County. There's some funding that they get from it, but I don't think a lot of people understand that the whole building is free and open to the public.”
Kegel says the hope is that the beer garden will draw people in to explore the building and to get a better understanding of its purpose.
“We're trying to drive people with the deal of parking there, getting a free beer and then we hope that they adventure through the building, and go up to the Fitch Plaza to see what kind of monuments exist there. It's a living memorial. Everything inside is dedicated to serving the people who are here with us now.”
Kegel’s Inn has reconditioned a 1957 step van from Gruman-Olsen Step – which during the war made fighter jets, says Kegel – to serve as the garden’s walk-in beer cooler.
It will have a 25 barrel capacity and a trailer with a full-service kitchen that will serve loaded brats, pretzels, cheese curds and soft drinks.
Kegel says the beer garden has a built-in audience already, thanks to regular lakefront users as well as standing War Memorial events.
“We're sort of building it on the base that already goes down there,” he says. “Let's just say this parking lot's perfect for bringing your bike and your car. You get a ticket to the War Memorial parking lot. It would normally cost you $8, and the War Memorial is buying your first beer. So let's just imagine we want to start group rides and bike rides that happen all summer long, that's just a perfect place to start and end, because the beer garden will service that crowd.
“They already do Thursday night Harley rides with the House of Harley; it's a great stopping point. ... Whatever other business is going to come, it's just a bonus.”
Kegel was excited to see that Milwaukee Art Museum is hosting its own activated outdoor space nearby, too, this summer.
“I was like, ‘yeah!,’ when I heard,” he says.
Running through Oct. 3, the garden will be open Wednesdays-Fridays, 4-8 p.m., and Saturdays-Sundays, noon-8 p.m.
A second annual Oktoberfest on the Lakefront is slated for Sept. 24-26 and complete details can be found at Kegelsinn.com/oktoberfest.
There is copious parking on-site and paid parking includes a free beer. Dogs are permitted and owners are required to clean up messes. There is no smoking within 25 feet of any beer garden table. Last call is 30 minutes before closing.
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.