Today, the Red Lion Pub, 1850 N. Water St., is a go-to place for Premier League soccer fans – it’s a Tottenham Hotspur bar. But it’s also a great place for brunch or pub food, it boasts an excellent patio and I’m pretty sure it’s the only area tap with a giant portrait of Paul Weller on the wall (which made me an immediate devotee).
But try as I might, I have a hard time not calling it the 5 & 10 Tap (that's pronounced "five and dime").
And as you read on, you’ll see why.
The Red Lion was opened here in 2014 by the owners of Shorewood’s Three Lions Pub – which is similarly British pub-influenced – after the closing of Brocach, an Irish pub that also had a Madison location.
Like many area businesses, Covid hit hard here, according to co-owner Chris Tinker, but the Red Lion has been roaring back.
“2020 was pretty rough and we consolidated to just doing takeout from the Three Lions Pub and actually shut the Red Lion down for three months,” he says. “We had great support in 2021 with regular customers/friends – having the patio was very useful, providing an outdoor space – so summer was great.”
Having the Spurs connection hasn’t hurt, either.
“The Milwaukee Spurs chose Red Lion as their home base for Spurs games, so we usually get a great turnout for those games and have made some great friends / rivals because of this. (Laughs),” Tink says. “We all get on great, but it's fun to talk about rivalries, teams and of course some banter.”
Though the interior has mostly been redone in recent years, Red Lion maintains the historic feel of the late 19th cream city brick building, which was built right up to a steep bluff.
“We have only known the building since Brocach,” Tinker says, “but have heard great stories about the 5 & 10. It's impressive how long this building has been serving the public. We would love to add to this story.”
Interestingly, the story of the bar doesn’t begin with the construction of a saloon.
A clue to the building’s earliest years can be found in a single sentence on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.
“Rare example of brick row house apartments in nearly original condition,” reads the building’s listing on the WHS’ Architectural Inventory.
Indeed, though the building appears to date from 1890 – again, according to WHS; the building permit is not among the city’s microfiched permit records – I found no liquor licenses for the first decade.
In fact, the first reference to a saloon there that I could conjure was a 1903 city permit to underpin the building with a brick and stone foundation by its then-owner Gettelman Brewing in 1903.
The 1894 Sanborn map describes the building as a dwelling and five years later, in a rather bizarre and heart-breaking incident, two children – Tekla, 14, and Fritz, 9 – who lived there were hauled off to the County Jail two days before Christmas.
“Because Mrs. Annie Kretlow ... refused to obey the court’s citation to appear and show why her children should not be taken from her, two of her children were taken into custody of the sheriff this morning and will spend their Christmas in the county jail,” wrote the Journal in December 1899.
“When the little ones were brought to the court in charge of a big deputy sheriff this morning Judges Pereles took pity on the children and asked that they be well taken care of over Christmas.”
Other information about the residential era of the building has proved difficult to glean, but there are some clues to its earliest publicans, who likely occupied the second-floor apartment, at least in some cases.
In 1907, Greek immigrant Nick Pilafas, who had just two years earlier been living on nearby Franklin Street and working as a tanner, perhaps in the Gallun Tannery across from the saloon, applied for a liquor license there.
Later the same year Peter and Gust Karakas – likely brothers whose names were alternately (mis)spelled as Karakisz and Kiriakakis – applied for a license there.
In 1911, Gettelman spent $3,500 on a two-story addition designed by R. Messmer & Bro., and if you look closely today, you can still see the junction of the two sections on the building’s facade.
By 1912, 43-year-old saloonkeeper Frank Jelinek operated the tavern and two years later he was shot there in another odd story.
Jelinek was shot by his brother-in-law Charles Uhlis and the victim went to court to ask for mercy for his assailant, who faced charges of assault with intent to kill and murder and was found guilty but without intent.
“Jelinek was shot in left shoulder on Aug. 23 when Uhlis, procuring the saloonkeeper’s revolver in the rear of the bar, discharged it,” reported the Sentinel. “The testimony showed the defendant was temporarily crazed by liquor.
“Jelinek testified he was willing to have Uhlis given probation and said he would take the man back in his own home as a boarder. He said the shooting has occasioned no hard feeling. Patrolman Lepak who made the arrest testified to the good character of Uhlis.”
It should be noted that Uhlis shot his brother-in-law for refusing him free drinks.
Soon after, the Austrian-born Jelinek and his wife Helen moved to a new tavern on nearby Humboldt Avenue, and a Michael Zimmermann got a license for the Water Street tapin 1915.
Four years later, as Prohibition loomed, Nic Ferencivic was licensed to operate it.
After the passing of the 19th Amendment banning booze, it seems a Mrs. J. Payne operated a grocery store for a period in the early 1920s, but by later in the decade it was back to being a saloon, albeit one that as was common, claimed to be a soft drink parlor. In 1927, John Maszk was behind the bar.
After Repeal, the bar was operated by Mike and Mildred Makalo, who lived upstairs in the six-bedroom, one-family apartment. According to a fire inspector, nine people lived there, and it seems likely at least some of them were boarders.
The tavern had live music and dancing and in 1934, Makalo drew a fine (and threats of loss of license) for allowing that music – performed by “a woman with a mouth organ,” noted the Journal – to continue past the 12:30 a.m. deadline. Makalo argued that the performer was a customer and, anyway, his saloon was surrounded by factories.
Soon, however, the Makalos had moved on and the era of The 5 & 10 began.
By 1938, and likely even a tad earlier, Edward Ludyen and his brother Steve arrived. Ludyen, his wife Irene and later his daughter, would run the place until 1998.
Family lore suggests a slightly different timeline and it’s unclear if part of the oral history refers to an earlier location, because the official documents clearly show other operators at the Water Street bar.
“In 1933 my grandpa's mom and stepdad set him up in business at 21 years old,” says Edward’s granddaughter Cindy Vogl Weber. “Once a week he would serve a free meal to build up clientele for when Prohibition ended.”
Steve Ludyen didn’t stay on long, after falling out with Edward, Steve – sometime in mid-1940 or later – left to operate the Broadway Cafe at 1347 N. Broadway, which he was still doing into at least the early 1960s.
“We aren't sure when he bought the building and named it the 5 & 10 Tap but we know he named it that because he charged 5 cents for a tap of beer and 10 cents for a shot,” says Vogl Weber of her grandfather.
Gettelman was still listed in city permits as the owner in 1952, but these are not always completely accurate. A 1961 permit named Ludyen as the owner.
“He was known for his butter burger sliders and his perch fish fry. He started a baseball league known as the ‘Big 10’ with other businesses, they traveled to other states and won many trophies.”
Interestingly, Ludyen’s was not the only 5 and 10 Tap in the city. In the 1930s and ‘40s, Hulda Peters operated the Five and Dime Tavern at 2460 W. Vliet St., and in the following decade, Marvin Saltzburg had a Five and Dime Tavern in Walker’s Point at 539 S. 5th St.
But it was Ludyen’s that would endure.
Ludyen, whose family lived off-site nearby on Pearson Street, operated the upstairs as a rooming house.
In 1948, he pulled a permit to install a pair of duckpin bowling lanes that Vogl Weber recalls were in the dining room, but were gone by the time Ludyen’s daughter took the reins.
“In 1980 my mom Patricia Vogl took it over with my dad (Bill, a well-known MPD lieutenant),” says Cindy. “They continued the fish frys and burgers and added homemade soups and chili. My dad brought the homemade soups in and the cops hung out there.”
A fire caused by a defective pipe on a basement trash burner led to quite a bit of damage in early December 1971. The fire, which began in the basement, spread all the way to the second floor.
According to newspaper reports, Ludyen and several customers escaped, as did 50-year-old Lloyd Robinson, the only resident occupying the six second-floor apartments.
Brought under control in about half an hour, the fire caused damage to rafters, roof board, second-floor studs, first-floor joists and interior wall finishes. Repair work was completed by mid-January 1972.
Vogl Weber grew up at the 5 & 10, she says.
“When I was little my grandparents would bring me there on Sundays when they were closed. My Papa (grandfather) would give me quarters to play the jukebox and let me snitch the fish he would prep for the week.
“I actually met my husband there when I was 5 years old. His uncle worked there and he would bring my husband Mark with him on Sundays to help out. My parents started taking over in 1979 when I was 14 years old so I started working there grilling hamburgers, waitressing and bartending part-time. My older brother and sister, Jim and Debbie, helped out too.”
Vogl Weber later became manager.
“I remember it more as a bar (than restaurant),” she says. “There were so many wonderful regulars that I grew to care about. I remember growing up, seeing my Papa pull up in our driveway with a big bag of burgers and he'd call me over and shake my hand with a $20 bill in it. That was a lot of money for a little girl! The bar was truly his life, he loved the people and he loved to cook. Baseball was in his blood, it was his passion.”
Edward Ludyen, born in 1912, died in 1989.
Though it still had life left, the Five and Ten era was beginning to draw near.
“In 1998 they sold it to the owner of Jimmy D's restaurant on Bluemound,” Vogl Webel recalls. “He didn't do well and it stayed vacant until 2007.
“It was so hard to say goodbye to the bar after working there for so many years but my parents were ready to retire or so they said. They ended up moving to Erin and buying the Tally Ho a year later. They ran the Tally Ho for 7 years.”
The Ludyens lived much of their lives in those walls for more than a half a century. That’s an impressive run.
In 2007, Brocach opened and seven years later it gave way to the Red Lion. Another addition went up, to the east/north, during this era.
Like the 5 & 10 before it, the Red Lion balances bar with restaurant, though according to Tinker, the percentages are a little different than Vogl Weber’s recollection of her family’s business.
“It is really 50:50,” he says. “We have great comfort food that bridges the gap between British and American cuisine. But also feels like your local pub where people of all ages can have a couple of beers and hang out for afternoon or evening ... or both.”
While Tinker is proud of the long history of the Red Lion’s building, the pub’s decor celebrates a different (but similar) longstanding tradition: that of the British pub, which like Ludyen’s tap, is rooted in its community.
“We love to have nostalgic memorabilia around the pub,” Tink says. “Some Americans are really in tune with British culture, music, etc., and I think they get a kick out of it. And the ones who aren’t, seem to ask about that (Weller) picture a lot. It is a great conversation starter, leading to a cultural/educational chat."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.