By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Mar 02, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Pourman's, the first bar in Milwaukee where patrons can tap their own beers, recently opened on Water Street in the former Fitzgibbons' Pub, 1127 N. Water St.

Owner Ben Hebl says he was first introduced to table beer tappers while living in the Czech Republic where he played basketball for two years in a European league.

At Pourman's, there are four tappers on each of three tables. Customers give the bartender an ID in exchange for a glass – one customer per group must provide a credit card – and can tap up to 32 ounces of beer per person right from their table.

If he or she wants to drink more after the 32 ounces, they check in with the bartender who assesses the patron's sobriety and, if they're not drunk, will program the tappers to dispense more beer.

"It's not only a cool technology, but also a learning experience. Customers are interacting with their beer, from using the iPads to read about specific breweries, to physically pouring their own pint. It's a very intimate experience," says Hebl, who is behind his bar seven days a week.

The benefits of table tappers, according to Hebl, are that customers only pay for what they drink. They do not even have to tap full beers or they can tap a beer for another person. The downside of the system, however, is that the customer gets charged for spilled beer or when they accidentally over fill their glass.

Although there is always a bartender working at Pourman's, as well as a cocktail waitress who comes to the tap tables to offer cocktails or a beer other than the four that are available through the self tappers, most of the duties of the bartender are eliminated through this system.

The name "Pourman's" is a play on words associated with tapping, or pouring, your own beer.

"Ben considers himself the original 'pour man'," says Mollie Campbell, Hebl's fiancé and business partner.

Hebl, 29, was born and raised in Milwaukee and has a long history of bartending in both the United States and the Virgin Islands.

In 2008, Hebl was signed by the ABA Texas Fuel, a semi-pro basketball team in San Antonio, Texas. He spent the off season that year tending bar at Mo's Irish Pub in Downtown Milwaukee.

In the fall of 2009, Ben signed a two-year contract with the European league and moved to Prague, Czech Republic. During his off-seasons, he lived in Milwaukee and tended bar at Steny's Tavern and the now-closed Dubliner Gastropub.

Hebl decided to give up basketball and moved to New York City with Campbell where he tended bar and helped open Long Island City's Alobar. He also tended bar at the Meat Packing District's prestigious Standard Hotel Bier Garten.

"While I was living in New York, I would buy my $12 Miller Lite and take as many notes as I could of all the things I liked in that particular bar," he says.

Shortly after their April 2012 engagement, Hebl and Campbell moved back to Wisconsin. Table-tap beer bars were cropping up all over the country and they were surprised Milwaukee didn't have one yet.

"We immediately started getting to work on writing a business plan," says Hebl.

Meanwhile, Hebl worked at Von Trier, the Iron Horse Hotel's Smyth and Brookfield's Cafe 124.

"We knew that Milwaukee, beer capital of the world, needed the tap-table technology, so we partnered with Atlanta-based DraftServ Technologies to bring it here," says Hebl.

In December of 2012, Hebl and Campbell leased the 125-year-old building and immediately got to work renovating every inch. The bar opened quietly in mid-February and the results are simple yet stunning, with lots of original woodwork, chandeliers, a large vintage photo of the building and antique mirrors.

Hebl built the tables and decorated the tops with hundreds of wheat pennies collected by his father. He also covered the back bar top in pennies.

"If I ever can't pay my electricity bill, I'll just hand over these tables," jokes Hebl.

Aside from the four beers on tap – which are currently Spotted Cow, Sprecher Amber, Pilsner Urquell and Miller Lite – Pourman's offers 20 more in bottles and cans, a menu featuring 10 classic cocktails (including Hebl's signature Old Fashioned), about 10 select wines and complimentary pretzels. Sometimes they serve complimentary cheese curds, too.

"Rather than trying to do too much with our offerings, we believe in doing things really, really well on a small scale. We don't overextend ourselves, and it shows in the quality of our cocktails and freshness of our beer. We also believe in being 'seasonally responsible,' so our menus will change with the seasons, bringing new and exciting options for our patrons," says Hebl.

Live music is in the works for the near future and this spring / summer, Pourman's will have a beer garden, possibly with cigar options.

Although the owners are trying to target the 25 and older crowd, they've seen a diverse mix of clientele since they opened.

"Being across the street from Bar Louie and Rumpus Room, and down the street from the theater, played into our business model for drawing in a 25 and older crowd. And while Water Street has gotten a negative stigma attached to it from recent events, we are hoping that maybe all it needed was a fresh face on the block," says Hebl.

Specials include Wednesday wine discounts of half-off any glass of wine and complimentary cheese plate pairings from 4 to 7 p.m. Hebl says he plans to have a daily happy hour in the near future during which half of all proceeds will go to a local non-profit.

"We are excited to be a part of such a vibrant, small-city nightlife community. Everyone has been very welcoming and we are looking forward to giving back to the neighborhood in a positive way," says Campbell.

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.