It seems a little hard to imagine these days.
A DanDan download? A Cafe Hollander CD? Some vinyl from The Vanguard?
But restaurant records were a thing and typically they featured music by entertainers who could be heard performing at the restaurants that released the records, which were likely sold as souvenirs.
Here are a few we’ve come across, though surely there are many others out there somewhere. Thanks to John Teggatz and Kurt Young Binter for most of these photos (the Mader's mailer was found on Ebay).
John Ernst Cafe
The sadly departed John Ernst Cafe, which long stood at the corner of Odgen and Jackson – one of the legendary German eateries in Milwaukee – released an LP featuring performances by piano and violin duo Irv and Chet playing American tunes and Doris and Ernie Wicki – she the bassist, he the accordionist – performing “Alpine treats.”
The disc was recorded by well-known local recording engineer Dave Kennedy and pressed by RCA Custom Records.
This one clearly explains that it’s not for sale and its heavily promotional cover suggests it was a giveaway used to advertise the restaurant.
As I wrote about the legendary place here, Frenchy's was an East Side landmark, which was run by Paul LaPointe, at 1901 E. North Ave., where Beans and Barley now stands. There was also an attached Bulldog Pub below. The restaurant served a mix of French and American specialties and featured waitresses dresses as French maids. A 1960 menu shows a variety of unexpected items, including racoon, "Norwegian reindeer," moose and partridge, and other menus reportedly offered lion and "African hippopotamus." Frenchy's also had a hoppin' jazz scene and recordings made there by Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson can be found online. The restaurant, which opened in 1945, closed in 1976 before reopening briefly under new ownership.
A 7” 45 titled “An Evening At Frenchy’s,” on Zar-Zee Records (recorded by Mag-Na-Craft), featured the Trio Zar-Zee, which comprised accordionist Rudy Moroder, Russ Zarling on clarinet and bassist Erv Ullenberg. The record came in a picture sleeve.
The Binter family’s Golden Zither – which was as well-known for its singing waitresses and numerous virtuosi zither players, some of whom were featured on weekly radio broadcasts – released at least three full-length LPs featuring German music.
Volume one of “Golden Memories of the Golden Zither” featured zitherist Al Mueller and restaurant co-owner and singer Fanni Binter, and a photo of the two of them was featured on the front cover of Volume Two, even though that record had other performers, as well.
Some of those performers included The Jolly Alpine Boys, The Biersacks – including yodeler Otto Biersack – singer Bob Frisch and, surely to the delight of most patrons, the singing waitress June Steinke.
A third volume also seems to exist though its cover is so similar to that of Volume One that it may just be a different pressing of that one.
The records were recorded and manufactured by Lannon-based Century Custome Recording Service.
I wrote an in-depth story about the history of Mader’s, which needs little introduction to Milwaukeeans anyway, here. But only recently did I learn that the German restaurant also issued a 45.
Apparently released in the 1950s on the Spin label (with headquarters in the North Avenue building that is now home to Hacienda Beer Co.), one side of this disc featured “Mader’s Medley of German Songs,” by the Gesangsektion der Milwaukee Turner, with Joe Shott and His Hot Shots, featuring Joe Potzner, doing “Mader’s Schnitzelbank” on the flipside.
The record must’ve been available by mail order, too, as a number of mailing envelopes have turned up on Ebay with copies of the record over the years.
Red Mill Inn
This Brookfield institution had live jazz for many years and an album recorded there was released in 1980, though the leisure suits on the front cover shout 1975. It featured the Frank Veasis Trio, "and friends," and I got to see a copy when I visited to write this history.
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.