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It has been said that you can learn a lot about a city and its residents by visiting its taverns.
Testing that theory in Cudahy, a town of about 18,000 where the unofficial motto is "A bar on every corner and two in between," would constitute a lengthy research project.
Packard Avenue would be the logical place to start.
The street, which serves as a north-south artery just west of Lake Drive, has long been known as a hotbed for hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop taverns.
The Yellow Pages lists 30 bars in Cudahy's nearly five square miles. More than half of those bars are located on Packard between Layton and College Avenues, a stretch dotted by old-time beer signs and names like Gerry's Inn, Dusty's, Goose and Jan's, John Henry's, Sparky's Stingrays, Vnuk's, Rollie's and the Coaches Corner.
Walk into a Packard Avenue tavern on any given night you'll likely find a mix of regular customers, penny-pinching college students, softball players and the occasional pub crawls or bachelor / bachelorette party -- all partying amid a backdrop of draft beer, shots, classic rock and a lot of cigarette smoke.
"It's the Miracle Mile -- the Avenue of Broken Dreams," said Mike Wojciechowski, the vice president of business operations for the Admirals and a veteran of Cudahy taverns.
"It's just such a neat area and there is so much history there with the taverns and the factories. They are such a big part of the culture of that town.
"Part of the charm comes from the fact that it's an industrial area. Years ago, you had big companies like Ladish and Patrick Cudahy and they had huge workforces. The guys from the factories and the offices would get off work and all head to these little taverns and they just packed all the time. You could go there at eight in the morning and the third-shift guys would be there and you couldn't find a seat."
A number of factors -- the loss of numerous factory jobs, the increase in the drinking age from 18 to 21 and tougher enforcement of drunk driving laws -- have curtailed the activity on Packard somewhat in recent years.
"In some ways, Packard is a shadow of its former self," Wojciechowski said. "I don't get over there as often as I did 20 or 30 years ago, but back then it was such a vibrant area. You could go up and down that strip and it was phenomenal.
"It was the kind of place where you could go out with $20 in your pocket and you'd go home at the end of the night with $4.50 left and you could barely stand up."
While that's not exactly the kind of thing that the Chamber of Commerce would put in a marketing brochure, Cudahy mayor Ryan McCue said that the embraces its culture.
"The city of Cudahy has a lot of proud people and a lot of hard-working people," McCue said. "We have a great night life with a lot of variety. You can go to Vnuk's Lounge (5036 S. Packard) and see world-class entertainment and enjoy a great beer selection. They're definitely the shining star.
"But, there are a lot of other bars, too. There are nice places to go with good food and reasonable prices."
"Over there, the pubs are where people go to sit and talk with their neighbors," he said. "That's kind of what we have here. It's part of Cudahy's fabric.
"The old-school pubs are kind of like 'Cheers.' You go in for the first time and by the time you leave you'll know everybody's name."
As the residents and business owners in other tavern-heavy neighborhoods can attest, having a number of bars in close proximity can lead to problems like noise issues, vandalism, property crimes, fights, underage drinking, drug use and drunk driving.
Blogger Randy Hollenbeck recently wrote: "Cudahy doesn't need any more bars. Here is what I propose. For every two bars we close, we give out one liquor license to open an upscale bar like the new City Lounge or K-Ranch. We help clean up our image and get a nice place to go out to. I become very discouraged and feel very sad to see so many people bashing my city all the time, but I know only better times are ahead for it."
Asked about the problems presented by taverns, McCue pointed to the charitable work and team sponsorships of many bars and chuckled and said the city has "a very fine police department" to take care of any problems.
"The taverns that are undesirable are fading away," McCue said. "That's fine. We're not going to allow problems to continue. We're raising the city's expectations."
McCue said that the addition of the City Lounge, an upscale establishment at 3455 E. Layton Ave., and extensive remodeling at the K-Ranch, 4840 S. Whitnall Ave., and other bars have helped raise the bar for the rest of the city.
"The City Lounge is an example of how successful a bar in Cudahy can be," he said. "It's added a totally different dimension. You wouldn't think of a place like that being in Cudahy.
"It's starting to evolve and bring it up a notch. Some of the bars in Cudahy could be your grandpa's bar, but we have a lot of different places to go."
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.