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When my OnMilwaukee.comrade Lori Fredrich wrote about the opening of Vendetta, an Italian-style coffee bar, at 7613 W. State St., my interest was piqued because I’ve always been interested in that three-story cream city brick building.
And then when I saw her photos of the bar and back bar inside, I had to know more.
Doing a little digging at the Tosa Library and then stopping in for a little peek, I learned a bit about the place.
Erected in 1895 – it's commonly believed by the Miller Brewing Company, reportedly as a tied house – the structure has had numerous tenants over the years, though most of us will remember it as part of the sprawling complex that house The Chancery for many years and now is home to Jose’s Blue Sombrero.
The same company that owns those businesses – DeRosa Corporation – ran what it called the Del Monte Bar in the space where Vendetta has opened.
The Wisconsin Historical Society notes, “The Luetzow Building was constructed as a tied house for the Miller Brewing Company, affiliated with the products of the brewery and prominently displaying the affiliation in its architecture.
“The Pabst Brewery affiliated saloon (that now houses Ristorante Bartolotta) was in direct competition with the neighboring Miller Brewery tied house located at the Luetzow Building.”
Other taverns were also located in the immediate vicinity, including Hausch’s.
WHS adds that the Miller saloon closed in 1920 when Prohibition arrived, though my 1917 Milwaukee-area Miller-owned tied houses spreadsheet – obtained from Molson Coors – doesn’t list it.
The Miller archives are slim on details, though what little records there are for the venue, referred to as “Wauwatosa place,” suggest it’s possible the brewer did not actually build it.
“Miller appears to have picked up the lease for the property in July 1900 and dropped it in October 1918,” says Molson Coors Archivist Daniel Scholzen, “though the final entries are for building repairs in 1920.
“The ledger says nothing about ownership of the property.”
The building had other businesses other than saloons, that much is clear.
Perhaps the most notable was the one that gives the building its informal name of The Luetzow Building.
Charles Luetzow, born in Farchmin in Pomerania in 1856, had by the 1890s arrived in Wauwatosa, where he operated his butcher shop in the two-story Kerin Block, until the July 1895 fire that devastated the center of the village, reducing 13 buildings – including most of the main commercial structures – to rubble and ash.
He then moved into the Smith & Lefevre Building – where the Noodles & Co. is now located at Harwood and State – until that burned in 1899.
By 1916, he had moved into the Miller-owned structure, that was much larger than a typical corner tap tied house. But that wasn’t unusual as many breweries also dabbled in real estate, building commercial buildings for other uses, too, like this Miller one, this Pabst one and this Schlitz one.
In fact, in Miller’s case, an impressive real estate portfolio meant a much-needed income when Prohibition walloped beer sales.
After Luetzow’s death in 1923, his two sons Herbert and Albert took over the business, renaming it Luetzow Brothers.
Around the same time, Elon Richardson was running the Garfield Arms Restaurant upstairs, “cater(ing) to private suppers and card parties,” and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 188 had its meeting hall up there, too.
Luetzow’s either closed or moved by the end of the 1920s and the building had become better known as Pythian Hall, with the retail space hosting Saevke-Laass Radio Co. Inc.
In what is either a really big coincidence (or a clue to some connection or indication or a clerical error), by 1932 the former butcher shop had become a bakery run by Reinhold Farchmin, whose surname was the same as the name of Luetzow’s Pomeranian birthplace.
Other retail space at that time was utilized by a Christian Science Reading Room and the Firefly Gift Shop.
From the mid-1930s through the early 1950s, the retail space was occupied by the Twin Beauty Shop and a series of barbers, including Herman Wandel and Lobby Barber Shop, while the upper levels shifted from the Pythian Hall to, first, office space for the likes of Hall Insurance Agency, Davey Tree Expert Co., Modelmaker Corp. Printers, Whyt-Rox Chemical Co. Standard Electric Time Co., Mark Pfaller & Associates Architects, Lofgren-Heckendorf Insurance and TJ Hein Co.
In the early 1940s, the basement housed the Marvel Pattern Works.
Notable is the fact that Modelmaker, an early Kalmbach incarnation, was the publisher of the bi-weekly magazine of the same name and of the monthly Model Railroader, which is still published today.
The Chancery opened in the building in 1979, shortly after the building underwent a remodeling.
Luckily, there are some vintage details in the space, including a pressed tin ceiling, exposed cream city brick walls, an ornate wood-adorned doorway connected to the space to the west and THAT bar.
Brunswick’s stained mahogany, oak and curly birch Del Monte back bar – which came in a couple varieties – was the company’s top-of-the-line offering and examples were installed in saloons around the country, including in places as far-flung as Louisville, Spokane and San Antonio.
According to a plaque mounted to the one in Tosa:
"This original Brunswick Delmonte back bar was manufactured in Chicago in 1906. It was the main drinking bar in Melvin's Blue Note Saloon located in the infamous Chicago Stockyards area which was frequented by cattlemen and politicians for many years. During Prohibition, Melvin ‘Little Legs,’ the proprietor, went ‘underground’ and the saloon became a speakeasy. After the ‘ban was lifted,’ the saloon closed. The bar was placed in storage in a barn in Indiana where it stayed until it was salvaged by Yesterday's Party Ltd. and restored exclusively for the Chancery of Wauwatosa."
Now, instead of frosty mugs of foamy Miller lager beer, the bar top is occupied by cappucini and cups of espresso, as well as macchini – half espresso, half soft whipped cream in a chocolate hazelnut-lined cup and topped with dark chocolate shavings.
The vintage look of the place, with its high ceilings, elaborate tin ceiling and handsome wood trim reminds me of the classic coffee bars of Turin, so I’m excited to stand at the bar and order a cappuccino in the morning and dip my cornetto into it.
There is also al fresco seating out front.
Vendetta is the dream of Italian-American Tommy Orlando and his son, Tommy Jr., and Bill Haley.
“The idea of opening an Italian coffee bar has been on (the elder Orlando’s) heart and mind since his first experience (in Italy),” according to the website.
When I stopped by before Vendetta opened, Orlando told me that they’d looked at other locations, especially in Bay View, where the owners live.
“But when we saw this place, we thought, ‘we have to do it’,” he said.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Vendetta is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
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.