"Always drink upstream from the herd." - Will Rogers
Bust out those fancy cowboy boots, y’all. Cuz it’s almost time to break in the saddle at Saloon, the new Wild West-inspired experience at 131 N. Jackson St. In fact, you can get your first taste of the new Historic Third Ward venue starting on Friday, May 20 at 2 p.m.
Saunter into the Saloon and you’ll be treated to an immersive escape that’s guaranteed to whisk you away from the dusty path of urban life to a place where the simple act of cracking open a cold bottle of Coors Banquet is a mood-changing experience.
Escape to the Wild West
From the sound of peanut shells crackling underfoot to the subtle notes of campfire smoke wafting across the bar, the Saloon experience is meant to transport you to another place and time.
It begins with a mural painted by local artist Fred Kames, which greets you when you enter the space and wraps around the wall to the south. It depicts a musician, a cowboy and a nebulous figure (which could well be Saloon owner Paul Hackbarth himself) all gathered around a campfire on a starry night in the mountains.
And it continues with the glow of the lanterns hanging from wagon wheels on the ceiling and the vintage barn board which forms the base for walls hung with antique signs and saddles.
You’ll also find trophy mounted bison, mountain goats and countless other animals native to the Western states, including a uniquely preserved rattlesnake displayed along the back bar.
Like all the Hackbarth Hospitality venues (including Camp Bar, Deer Camp, Birch, Vista and The Atrium), the Saloon concept began with owner Paul Hackbarth, who hatched a vision for a space that offered the same sense of community as Camp Bar, but an entirely different aesthetic.
“When I built Camp Bar, I started with things I’d collected or things I could easily find up north,” he says, noting that this project took a bit of travel, some online curation and a bit of assistance from friends.
Little did he know that when he reached out to the taxidermist he used to source decor for Camp Bar about sourcing Western taxidermy, that he’d end up driving home from the Upper Peninsula with a 26 foot cargo trailer filled with buffalo, elk, rams, wagon wheels, animal hides and saddles.
In talking with his family, he also unearthed an entire collection of Western art that he didn’t even know existed.
“My grandfather [William F. Eisner] had a Franklin Mint collection of Western art that he acquired in the 70s,” says Hackbarth. “When I told my mom about the new concept, she pulled them out of storage and we took a look. They were just perfect for the space, so we got them matted and framed and they became part of the decor.”
Ultimately, Hackbarth says, the creation of Saloon was a gratifying journey, which resulted in a community gathering space of which he can truly be proud.
“We created Camp to bring an authentic Northwoods experience to the city,” says Hackbarth. “But Saloon was a completely new challenge. We know it was something unique that we could pull off on a really advanced level, but I haven’t been excited about something like this in a long time.”
More reasons to go
If you love Camp Bar, you already understand how a well-curated bar experience has the potential to offset even the most stressful of days. But, even if you’ve never set foot inside one of the four local Northwoods havens, you’ll find something to love at Saloon.
This is the type of bar that caters to folks who love the idea of a slightly elevated experience, but one that still delivers on the old fashioned hospitality of a classic Wisconsin corner bar. You'll find tables to gather around with friends. There are televisions to catch the game and comfortable seats to enjoy a glass of whiskey after a long day.
In fact, you'll find drinks of all stripes, from staple Wisconsin-made craft beer to popular Western brews, along with ciders, hard seltzers and simple mixers. But you’ll also find a list of curated cocktails, all of which can be enjoyed as-is or infused with the palate-pleasing depth of wood smoke. Even better, every smoked cocktail is delivered directly to your table inside a glass smoking box, allowing you to enjoy the Instagrammable moment of removing your drink and capturing the wisps of woodsmoke as they bleed into the air.
Hungry? Pair the cocktail experience with a bag of roasted peanuts, a tasty snack which also functions to slow the absorption of alcohol into your system, giving you even more time to relax and enjoy (and yes, you can toss those shells right on the floor; it's part of the vibe).
But that’s not all. You’ll also have the chance to slip on your best dancing boots and conjure your inner Dolly Parton while enjoying live music at Saloon. The bar will offer live performances from both local and national acts Thursday through Saturday, along with select Sundays. Expect a mix of not only twangy country tunes and bluegrass, but also a wide range of acoustic styles and cover bands guaranteed to get your chaps flappin’.
Hankering for a friendly showdown? Meet up with friends at Saloon on Wednesdays for Feud Night featuring FeudMaster, a Family Feud-style timed trivia experience.
Be sure to follow SaloonMKE on social media to stay updated on future events and offerings.
Starting Friday, May 20, Saloon will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to close, Fridays from 2 p.m. to close and Saturday and Sunday from noon to close.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.