Sal Monreal, owner of The New Yorker Bar, 645 N. James Lovell St., was born into a family of restauranteurs. His Mexican parents owned the now-defunct El Matador restaurants, which opened in Milwaukee in 1960 and were around until 1992.
There were three El Matador locations in Milwaukee: 6th and Bruce Streets in Walker's Point, East North Avenue on the East Side and 92nd and Bluemound, which was the last location to close.
Monreal, who has owned and operated The New Yorker Bar for 11 years, has run several bar businesses. Prior to The New Yorker, he owned Corky's on 6th and Wisconsin for 24 years, until he accepted a buy-out from the Hilton when the hotel wanted to add the water park that later became Paradise Landing.
After selling the space, Monreal decided to open a New York-themed bar. Years prior, his friend owned a bar on 5th and Michigan called The New Yorker, and Monreal once told him that he, too, would someday own a bar called The New Yorker. Hence, the space is a tribute to the Big Apple, with large murals of the city on the walls.
"It's not that I'm really into New York," says Monreal, who was born in Texas and raised in Milwaukee. "I just didn't know how to spell Massachusetts."
In the '60s, Monreal owned The Bull Ring on Belleview Place and Newhall Street on the East Side. A popular dance club and live music venue, The Bull Ring was forced to close in the '70s when Monreal could not renew the license because of neighbor complaints about lack of parking.
Monreal owned another bar in Las Vegas called Quorum Club, but only for six years. "I'm not a gambler, and I saw too many sad stories," he says.
He went on to start the Jazz Estate, which is still in operation at 2423 N. Murray Ave. At the time, Monreal was a new father (his daughter starts classes at the Milwaukee School of Engineering this week) and his sister told him he had to sell the bar.
"She said, 'You are not raising your daughter above a bar.' And so I sold it," he says.
Monreal says even though he grew up in the bar and restaurant industry, he does not want his daughter to do the same.
"This life is not conducive to marriage," he says. "And no one ever told me you have to come home when you're married."
Monreal did not stay away from the bar business for long. He opened Caroline's, 401 S. 2nd St., which currently he leases out.
Today, Monreal only operates The New Yorker Bar. The bar has five beers on tap – currently this includes Leinenkugel Honey Weiss, Spotted Cow (the top seller), Lakefront IPA, Miller Lite and Samuel Adams. There is also a full bar offering the usual cocktails and martinis.
Bartender Courtney Boehler, who has worked at The New Yorker for three-and-a-half years, specializes in candy-infused vodka shots. Boehler dissolves Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, Lemonheads, candy corn (at Halloween time) and other candies into vodka – the cheapest vodka she can find – and sells them, mostly to college students, for $2 a shot.
"I call it 'liquid candy.' I'm working on a vodka infused with Gummi Bears," she says.
Boehler left The New Yorker Bar for six months, but returned because she missed it.
"I like how there's not a specific type of customer here. We have all different races and ages and people who like all different types of music, from country to hip-hop," she says.
On Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 9 p.m., Monreal hosts a karaoke night. He opens the event by singing a Frank Sinatra song, and then people sign up for a spot and are able to pick a tune from his Internet jukebox of more than 250,000 songs.
"I always start things off, to prime the pump. We get some very good singers here. And, quite honestly, some that just make you want to leave," he says.
On a recent Friday night, the bar had a variety of drinkers, including a woman who, according to Sal, has been his customer since 1963. There was also an African American twosome who showed up for karaoke and a gaggle of college-aged girls who were seeing off a friend moving to Ireland.
Most of The New Yorker's customers are Marquette students or guests at a Downtown hotel, but some drinkers are coming or going on the Greyhound.
"We do well during snowstorms, when buses are delayed," says Monreal. "I have met some very nice clientele from the bus station. And we've had our share of pan handlers from there, too."
Monreal, who does not drink or smoke, says the smoking ban has been tough on his business.
"We're starting to recover," he says.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.