By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jul 03, 2003 at 5:31 AM

{image1}Restaurateur John Vassallo ("Johnny V" to nearly everyone) is ready to make Plankinton Avenue Irish, and in doing so, he'll basically make one downtown strip his own. has learned that Johnny V is opening a new Irish Pub on the corner of Wisconsin and Plankinton Avenues, at 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. in Westown.

"I've been thinking about (opening) an Irish pub for a while," Vassallo said. "We are excited to open another place with a positive environment. A good place for people to enjoy Irish food, cocktails, beer and good times."

Owner of one of downtown's most popular spots, Mo's: A Place for Steaks, 720 N. Plankinton Ave., and the equally embraced destination, Mo's: A Place for Wine, 717 N. Plankinton Ave., Vassallo has leased space for Mo's Irish Pub in the former St.Francis Bank location. St. Francis Bank moved into The Shops of Grand Avenue several months ago.

Using knowledge from a May trip to Ireland, promotion savvy from Guinness, an economic development loan from WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority), private investors and his own unique sense of entrepreneurial spirit, Vassallo said he hopes to have Mo's Irish Pub open by the end of August.

"The bar, woodwork and façade are on the boat as we speak," he said. Some of the pub's interior components are being crafted in Ireland, where Vassallo, his mother and staff members spent five days working with Guinness. They learned the ins and outs of Irish Pubs, how to pour pints, serve food and carry the Irish spirit to Milwaukee. "We had six months of R&D in five days," Vassallo said.

A decade ago, Guinness began cashing in on the American interest in all things Irish that led to the success of the hit musical "Riverdance," by offering start-up help for those wanting to open an Irish pub. Bar owners from all across the world come to The Guinness Storehouse's specially designed, pub-like classrooms to learn and hopefully perfect the perfect pint. According to Irish Web sites, Guinness has helped create more than 2,000 pubs in over 50 countries. Mo's Irish Pub will have a supply deal with Guinness and the ability to do promotions and have Guinness signage.

Irish pubs are nothing new to Milwaukee, but the addition of another major catalytic project like Mo's Irish Pub to Wisconsin Avenue is another positive sign for downtown, said Vassallo.

"It's a great coup for downtown to land another restaurant the caliber of Johnny's establishments. Within easy walking distance to downtown's countless attractions, the new place will quickly become one of downtown's hottest stops," said downtown resident and outgoing Westown Association executive director Stephanie Sherman (whose husband Jeff Sherman is a co-owner of

With Rock Bottom Brewery, Miller Time Pub, Applebee's and several other restaurants and bars in the area, the new Mo's Irish Pub should help continue to make Westown a destination, she said.

"We will have pub food, Irish beer, some moderate steaks and Irish music and dancing too. Lunch, dinner, banquets ... it will be multi-use. We are ready to serve Irish food and beverages to the downtown neighborhood and visitors," said Vassallo of the new 5,000-sq. ft. space that will feature an old Venetian Irish style on the lower floors and cottage-styling on the upper floor.

Vassallo is also completing his new Mo's -- A Place for Steaks in Indianapolis. It will be open by August 4, 2003. He has plans for a similar restaurant in Houston and is always eyeing new opportunities in downtown Milwaukee including building purchases and maybe an Italian restaurant. His Mo's -- A Place for Wine just finished its exterior with the addition of a new awning on July 1.