By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Mar 14, 2002 at 5:50 AM

Milwaukee has seen its share of theme bars, and sometimes, they're just a passing fad.

The theme of monkeys, however, predates humans. They're cute, funny and you can teach them how to smoke. And that's all the more reason to name a tavern after them. Enter Walker's Point newest nightlife addition, The Monkey Bar.

The Monkey Bar (1517 S. 2nd St.) is the brainchild of Brian Miller and Diane Dowland, who have managed to build themselves a theme bar that's actually not the least bit cheesy -- that is, if you can appreciate the sublime comedic value of monkey lamps, monkey beer taps and monkey salt-and-pepper shakers. Throw in a poster of a chimp sitting on the toilet in the men's room and you get the picture.

"If we're going to do monkeys, we want good, classic monkeys," said Dowland, who needed to be talked into the concept a little by Miller. "It needed to be classically done for a South Side bar."

In reality, the new bar is as inviting as the giant stuffed gorilla sitting on top of the Donkey Kong machine. Cigarette is one hand, Hamm's in another (yes, they still serve Hamm's at just $1 a can), this big primate beckons you into this most unique neighborhood tavern. And though Miller and Dowland are new to the bar business, they have relied on some of Milwaukee's old pros to make sure they did it right.

Miller, a guitar player in the band Mudflap and long-time sound guy at The Globe, stocked his jukebox with a fantastic collection of diverse CDs. There's some Zappa, a little Pixies, some Femmes, Tenacious D, the Foo Fighters, and of course, The Monkees. "We've gotten many compliments," said Miller, who seemed to be a little surprised that his selection would go over with such a bang.

Dowland, who taught herself how to mix drinks for the job, hired her friends, long-time bartenders from stalwarts like The Rave, Mayfield's and Mad Planet.

Together, they've developed the bar's signature monkey drinks, fruity concoctions like "The Angry Monkey" and The Space Monkey." These colorful cocktails are served in goblets, complete with felt-tipped monkey swizzle sticks. Have no doubt, the bar carries their apish theme all the way through.

The bar's daily drink specials are another reason for patrons to swing in often. Their lengthy happy hours run Mon.-Sat., from 3-9 p.m. Other specials include $3 pitchers of Miller on Thursdays and $5 "build your own Bloody Mary's" on Sundays.

Despite their monkey motif, the bar isn't trying to mimic other downtown clubs. In fact, it strives to be a neighborhood hang out (pardon the pun) in the up and coming Walker's Point. Take out all the monkey memorabilia, and you've got dart boards, a pool table and a spot that can even be used for live music -- the Love Monkeys (who else?) performed to a packed house on Valentine's Day.

"We wanted a place where the South Side and the East Side meet -- a little bit of class and a little bit of cheese," said Miller. "We have your classic trappings of a neighborhood bar, but we wanted to be a little different, also."

Even the ladies' room was done up in a way that has people talking, complete with makeup, perfumes and other assorted beauty products.


"We didn't want the bathroom to be your typical dive bar bathroom," said Dowland. "We have a candelabra and everything you need to keep yourself well-maintained for a night out without having to go home and fix yourself up. Girls are important here."

Miller said some people even come out just to play Donkey Kong. "It's a nice place to hang out and have a drink," he said.

Monkeys are no doubt funny, and the theme has gone over well so far. But make no mistake, this bar has legs of its own, and with the support of its neighborhood and growing clientele, the Monkey Bar's popularity should continue to climb.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.