By Dan Curran   Published Jan 20, 2005 at 5:38 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1}Two South Side bars serve up a distinctly local flavor to a not-so-local crowd. The clientele at Landmark 1850 Inn and O'Keefe's House of Hamburg is partially shaped by the presence of General Mitchell International Airport across the street.

"We've had regulars who are from West Virginia and California," says Joe Halser, who runs Landmark 1850. "For a few weeks they check out the city, but then they want to find a regular place to settle in," he says of the out-of-town commuters who frequent his place.

For a while Landmark, 5905 S. Howell Ave., was a favorite stop for professional wrestlers who stayed at a nearby hotel when the wrestling circuit came through town. Halser recalls Bret "The Hit Man" Hart and "The Hart Foundation" as regular guests. Hulk Hogan came in once with the late John Matuszak, a football star turned actor and a native of Oak Creek.

{image2}O'Keefe's, 5937 S. Howell Ave., which was known as Port of Hamburg until Tim O'Keefe purchased it last year, is a hangout for members of the 440th Air Force Reserve Unit. O'Keefe says the tie between the unit, which is based at General Mitchell, and the tavern dates back at least 50 years.

O'Keefe wishes that two well-known politicians who were Milwaukee regulars this fall had paid a visit. "I'd (have) liked to get Bush or Kerry to stop by since they were always pulling in the gate that's right in front of my window."

Both pubs draw from the well of traditional Milwaukee bar themes.

At O'Keefe's, it's our town's predominant ethnic heritage that provides the inspiration. Billed as an authentic German bar, O'Keefe's offers 21 beers on tap, including Delirum Tremens, Piraat, Frankenheim Alt, Paulaner Salvador and a line of Hofbrau brews.

{image3}Every Saturday for lunch O'Keefe's serves a lineup of German cuisine that includes Konigsberg klops (a pork and veal meatball-like dish), pork roast, sauerbraten, potato dumplings and red cabbage. Tuesdays at O'Keefe's is rib night, featuring a rib sauce made with German smoked beer ("Rauch Bier").

Landmark 1850 has the bona fides of a traditional Milwaukee bar in spades. The two-story brick structure has operated as a bar for its entire 154-year history, making it the oldest bar in Milwaukee, according to Halser. The interior is decorated in a Victorian tavern theme, with antique woodwork, a tin ceiling and oak bars, including one originally made for one of the Pabst-sponsored bars in town. Outside the bar sits another Milwaukee trademark, a beer garden surrounded by black iron fencing.

The big draw at Landmark is the 50 beers on tap, the most of any bar in the Midwest, as far as Halser can tell. Some of the labels you're unlikely to find at another bar include Lindemann's Frambois and Dogfish 90 Min IPA. Landmark is the exclusive vendor of its own line of house beers called Three Daschunds, though Halser hopes to make the brand available to bars and liquor stores within the next several years.

{image4}For Halser, running a bar is family tradition. His father purchased the bar 21 years ago. But O'Keefe came to the business unexpectedly.

A regular at the old Port of Hamburg establishment for 27 years, O'Keefe was a Teamster, working as a trucker at a company that went out of business. The previous owners brought up the possibility of O'Keefe taking over the place, and he decided to go for it. Up until that point, he had never even been a bartender.

"This had been more of a pipe-dream of mine," says O'Keefe. But he says it was a move that made sense to the other regular customers. "They said it's almost like I had always been a part of this place."

Call Landmark 1850 Inn at (414) 769-1850 and O'Keefe's House of Hamburg at (414) 747-9444.