Paul Kjelland makes OnMilwaukee.com featured bartender history with this interview. Kjelland is the first bartender to start his interview during the first minutes of his first shift behind the bar.
Kjelland, an artist and interior designer by day, will occasionally pour at the Riverwest Public House, 815 E. Locust St., which opened a couple of weeks ago. The Public House, the country’s second cooperative tavern, offers memberships for $40 a year or $200 for a lifetime membership. A membership, however, is not mandatory to drink at the bar, but members receive discounts on drinks.
Kjelland, along with other Public House board members, currently works as a volunteer bartender. OnMilwaukee.com enjoyed watching him scramble -- and eventually dominate -- behind the bar during his very first shift.
OnMilwaukee.com: So you’re not even five minutes into your first bartending shift. Is there anything I could order that would terrify you?
Paul Kjelland: A lot of things could terrify me right now. But basically, let me quote Jeremy Prach (Riverhorse bartender) and say "a chocolate choo choo." That’s anything made with more than two ingredients.
OMC: I'll have a Long Island iced tea. Kidding. I'll take a Guinness.
PK: Do we have Guinness?
OMC: Did you work on the interior of the Public House, too?
PK: Yes, I helped renovate it. I did the interior design. I wanted to be involved, but I didn’t want to attend any meetings. I just do not like going to meetings. And I could totally make you a Long Island. I'm sure there's someone here who knows how to make it. I'm surrounded by professionals here.
OMC: Ha. Did you get your bartending license to work at the Public House?
PK: No, I had my license for a while. I’m an artist. It was always my safety net. And so I told some people here, "If you ever need someone in an emergency, give me a call." And then I got a call. And here I am.
OMC: Are you a volunteer bartender?
PK: For now, all of the board members are taking shifts and getting used to the routine back here. Then, after a month, everyone (behind the bar) will be paid staff.
OMC: What is your favorite drink to pour?
PK: Beer. It’s easy, people like it and it allows me more time to have conversations with the neighbors who come in.
OMC: How is this bar different from any other bar?
PK: All of the money from this bar pours back into the Riverwest Co-op Alliance, which gives start-up money to start other co-ops to help create a sustainable, local economy.
OMC: Have you thought about how you’re going to cut off drunk people?
PK: I think I’ll take the stern but friendly approach. You don't want to get too aggressive. I think I’ll be "the concerned buddy that doesn’t budge" if necessary.
OMC: What are you making now?
PK: Rum and Coke. Bourbon and water. So far, so good.
OMC: What is your policy on drinking behind the bar?
PK: I drink before the bar.
OMC: What do you like to drink?
PK: Whiskey anything or local beers.
OMC: Didn’t you just walk to Madison in protest of the proposed Budget Repair Bill?
PK: Yes. It took 39 hours. It was rough. It was physically the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
OMC: What kind of shoes did you wear?
PK: I wore these work boots that I had since I was 16. I'm 28.
OMC: Were they a good choice?
PJ: No, they were a really bad choice. One of my knees still hurts. I got nasty blisters.
OMC: But overall, was the trek a positive experience for you?
PJ: It was absolutely amazing. There was so much time for discussion. It was great to have a conversation about labor and education that lasted more than 20 minutes. And walking through rural communities and meeting people who don’t see the issues in their own back yard but still completely supported us ... it was completely amazing. And the last two miles, when we walked down Willy Street in Madison, the streets were lined with people cheering. It was heart wrenching.
OMC: Where else have you bartended?
PJ: I have filled in a lot of places. I fill in.
OMC: Nice job on the interior here. You do a lot of this kind of work?
PJ: Yes, I just started doing fine art interiors, from murals to 3D for both public and residential buildings. I’m approaching interiors as installations. I’m working on a library right now.
OMC: Are you self taught or did you study somewhere?
PK: I graduated from MIAD.
OMC: I heard you won a snow sculpture contest in The Dells this winter. Which do you prefer: snow sculpting or beer pouring?
PJ: Beer pouring! Snow sculpting is cold as shit. It sucks.
OMC: Any thoughts on staying safe in Riverwest?
PK: We are working with Cream City Rickshaw so people can get cheap, safe rides home. Also, we’re going to install more bike racks. You’re not going to find a shady environment here. People really look out for each other. The people here really care about the neighborhood.
OMC: I see you sell the Sprecher beer potato chips. Do you think they taste like beer?
PJ: I didn’t even know we had them but the salt and pepper kettle chips we had before were delicious.
OMC: Is this place dog friendly?
PK: I don’t think so. But it’s kid friendly.
OMC: So how’s the shift going so far? It got busy in here. You’re really working back there.
PK: I’m in the weeds!
OMC: What does that mean exactly?
PK: I’m not sure. It has to do with the military or golf.
OMC: Are you finding anything particularly challenging back there, in the weeds?
PK: The hardest part is being able to find everything. But I just got my server legs. I’ll be better tomorrow.
OMC: If you were me, what wouldn’t you order from you?
PK: A chocolate choo choo!
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.