By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 14, 2023 at 12:02 PM

On Memorial Day weekend, after months of planning and construction, local beer fans got their first taste of the improved and expanded riverside patio at Lakefront Brewery, 1872 N. Commerce St.

Now, Lakefront hosts a grand opening gala for its patio and beer garden beginning with a cheese curd cocktail hour at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18.

Find complete details on the event here.

Lakefront patio
The improved patio is as popular as ever. (PHOTO: Lakefront Brewery)

What was already one of the best patios in town – "the longest RiverWalk patio in Milwaukee,” says co-founder Russ Klisch proudly – is now even better.

The bartop-and-stools seating along the RiverWalk fence has been extended to the northeast, and a new mural has been painted at the southwest end.


In between, some features have remained – like the awning and table seating underneath – but much has changed.

The outdoor beer hut has moved northeast to where there used to be a more informal seating area, and it is now attached to a more formal seating that has planters creating something of a delineation. That means it can now be used as a dedicated space for private parties and events.

The beer hut and its new seating area. (PHOTO BELOW: Lakefront Brewery)
Hut seatingX

Heaters were added, too, to extend the season on this part of the patio.

Gone is the rough asphalt paving in this area, too, replaced with nice brick pavers.

Also departed? The port-a-potty that was useful but not a popular place near which to enjoy a beer.

Instead, a whole new staircase connecting the beer hall has been constructed.

Plans for this and other newly constructed features were designed by The Kubala Washatko Architects and built by Findorff Construction and a team of subcontractors.

“At one time we used to have the ’death stairs’ (coming) down here,” says Klisch. “So once you put all the footings in here for everything we figured, well, you might as well extend it a little bit.”

Upper deck
(PHOTO: Lakefront Brewery)
Russ Klisch
Russ Klisch in the Instagrammable spot.

That has created a much more navigable staircase that also has some seating on its upper level, along with a view toward Downtown that Klisch says, “is probably one of the better Instagram settings in Milwaukee. I can’t tell you how many people I see over there trying to their picture.”

Even better, space at the bottom – where that beer hut used to sit nestled alongside the building – now houses a pair of gender-neutral restrooms.

new restrooms
New restrooms tucked beneath the staircase.

“Before, you know, people would have to come all the way up the stairs and go all the way across the beer hall,” to get to the restrooms, says Brand Manager Michael Stodola. Or they’d have to use the port-a-potty.

Right now, three walls of the bathrooms are fairly plain, though Klisch says they’re planning to primp them a bit, perhaps with wallpaper. But the back wall is the exposed old exterior of the building – constructed in 1890 as a power plant – which is a nice touch.

new bathroom
One of the new bathrooms, still to be decorated.

Klisch says he has a small punch list of things he’d still like to do outside, in addition to bathroom decorating, but the space is for all intents and purposes finished.

“We really had it open on Memorial Day,” he says. "We had the beer hut done then, but there was a lot of other little things that we added. There's still a couple little things we want to get done, but I mean, stuff like, I'm going to put an outlet over here. Very, very small little things.”

In the meantime, the patio and beer garden is up and running and open every day by 4 p.m. (earlier on weekends), and it’s been a success.

“People are loving it,” Klisch says.

“There's just really nothing like it around,” adds Stodola. “On weekends we have kayakers and boaters stopping here.”

(PHOTO: Lakefront Brewery)

The upgrades haven’t changed the overall capacity of the beer hall, says Klisch.

“It's just more of an improvement in it.”

Combine that with overdue bridge work above and now a newly paved Commerce Street out front and the whole experience is improved.

And we haven’t even stepped inside yet.

At the top of the stairs is the most exciting feature of all the new patio-related work.

A foyer added just inside the building’s patio door is a real stunner and unique, too.

The pièce de résistance

The doorway was moved and a glass enclosure built to help keep the weather outside. Perched atop is the upper part of an old copper brewing lauter tun that has an interesting history.

“It was built in 1965,” Klisch says of the shiny copper vessel. “This was the original drawing that was done for a brewery in Weismain (Germany),” he adds, pointing to a framed architectural drawing hanging on the wall nearby.

“It was at Dietz Brau, and on July 9, 1965, they installed this piece of equipment in their brewery. And so they used it until about 1980-something, when they closed. Then it was purchased by the Buffalo Brewing Company in Buffalo, New York, and so it went across the sea and they installed it in Buffalo.

“They used it for three, four years. And then they decided they shouldn't be in the brewing industry, and they sold it to the Franconia Brewing Company in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, which lasted all of six months.

“But they put a bunch of money into the system. Back in the middle ‘90s, there was actually a dip in craft beer. There was an explosion in growth and everybody tried to get into it, and then there was a dip, as essentially there was more closures than openings. The price of all equipment went way down.

“So I went to an auction to buy this, and only two people showed up. It was me and Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, who nobody knew at that time I think. And so he bought the back half of the brewery, and I bought the entire front half of the brewery.

"I got this whole thing, this kettle, the one we're using downstairs, the brewing stand, the equipment, hot liquor tanks, grain pressure for $20,000.”

And Lakefront used most of the equipment from 1999 forward. In fact, some of it is still in use, including electronics, conduit and more.

This tun, however, had been retired and now is back in service with a new decorative function, and the result is truly stunning. It looks great from inside the beer hall, but you can see it from a distance.

from insideX
from outsideX

Approaching it through the door from the patio, however, it comes as a beautiful surprise.

“I’ve still got little things I want to do, shine up a little bit, and I want put an explanation here on what this thing really does,” says Klisch.

“I was with my brother (co-founder Jim Klisch) last week and he goes, ‘I can't tell you how many times I climbed in and out of this thing, to haul grain out of it.’

“To me it tells a story.”

A small display case hangs on the wall near the architectural drawing. It’s empty for now, but Klisch is planning to put some beer bottles in there from Buffalo, Franconia and Lakefront – beers that were made using the lauter tun beneath which the viewer will be standing.

He’s happy with the result, as well he should be.

“The structure here is exactly what I was hoping for compared to putting a box in the corner here with the door on it to go outside,” Klisch says.

New brews news

While I’m here, I can’t resist asking about what lies in the future of beer at Lakefront.

First up, Stodola says that a test batch of cold IPA is on tap and has been well-received.

“It's our first cold IPA, and the batch that we have on is our first test batch,” he says. “(Head brewer) Luther (Paul) pretty much nailed it right out of the gates. It's so good.”

Gluten-free beer fans will rejoice at the planned expansion of Lakefront‘s pioneering New Grist line, which includes a pilsner and a gose with lime. Soon it will also get a gluten-free IPA.

“It'll be called New Grist IPA,” Stodola says, adding, “it's not even test batched (yet). That's just in early development. I think you might see it in 2024.”

He says that will be available at retail in cans, as will Lakefront’s hop water.

“We've had a hop water test batch draft for a while. But, I think our test batch is pretty close to where we want it for that. That might be another 2024 package.”

Two new limited My Turn series of employee-created beers are coming later this year.

On Sept, 1, head of sales John Huber’s My Turn: Huber dark cherry lager will be released (described to me as, "closer to an Eastside Dark base with cherries"), and then exactly two months later, Stodola finally gets his shot.

“The most exciting My Turn news is for Dec. 1,” he says with a smile. “My Turn Stodola. It's going to be a dark Czech lager. Somewhere between Eastside Dark, and we had My Turn Chopper, which was also a nice, really easy-drinking lager. So somewhere between those. It'll have Czech hops in it and so it'll be a little fuller and richer than Eastside Dark.”

No less interesting – and arguably even more so – is news that Lakefront has acquired some sacks of Kernza, a grain that has many brewers excited because of its more climate-friendly-than-barley characteristics.

“It's a very small grain,” says Stodola. “It's not unlike wheat. But several important differences. No. 1, it's a perennial, so farmers don't have plant it every year. It just comes up. Also, the root system, instead of going two or three feet deep, it goes 10 feet deep. So it's drought resistant. It also takes a lot more carbon out of the air.”


Kernza is a type of wheatgrass that’s being developed by the Land Institute in Kansas.

Klisch opens a small packet of Kernza and pours some into my hands. It’s crunchy like a Triscuit but with a nuttier, more honeyed flavor.

The problem is that it comes in seed form which isn’t terribly useful to brewers, so Lakefront is looking at ways to use it.

“We are trying to flake it,” says Klisch, who says that it’s unlikely Kernza would ever account for 100 percent of a beer’s grain bill; perhaps more like 20 percent. But even that is exciting from a carbon footprint standpoint.

At the moment, however, it’s much, much more expensive than barley.

What's the flavor profile like in a beer?

“Good question,” says Stodola. “There's a handful of other breweries that have done them this year so far, and we have sackfuls of Kernza that we're going to be processing and then brewing test batches of that.

“Not sure of how much flavor difference you're going to have from barley, but it's something that, again, is very early in development. But a very exciting plant, especially when you think of that people will be baking bread with it, too, and the fact that it's so sustainable.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.