Since its opening nearly ten years ago, The Stilt House, W62 N630 Washington Ave., has become a mainstay in Cedarburg, lauded for its impressive selection of craft brews (including 30 on tap), burgers and inventive small plates.
When Gordon Goggin and business partner Keith Reid flung open the doors to their new bar and restaurant in 2013, they brought something new to the area. With 30 taps, The Stilt House boasted the largest selection of beer in Ozaukee County at the time; and their small plates – inspired by those found at La Merenda in Milwaukee and Chicago’s Hub 51 – were a rarity in the area.
The building itself was also a matter of intrigue, with a history that dates back to 1892 and a unique architectural feature created by an extraordinarily clever man named Nick Schuh.
Schuh, who owned the building where The Stilt House now resides in the early 1900s, decided he’d like to add a second floor to the residential property so that he could transform the first floor into a neighborhood tavern. When his request was denied by the village, he decided to work around it. Rather than building a second floor; he used railroad ties to lift up the first floor “on stilts” so that he could build his ground-floor bar, The Nick Schuh Tavern, beneath it. There’s a photograph of Shuh and his tavern on the wall inside the bar.
What became of Nick Schu and his tavern one can only guess. But the building survived. During prohibition it was a popular spot for clandestine drinking; the underground tunnel between The Stilt House and the residence next door (now Donut Monster) that allowed imbibers to escape during raids still exists to this day. Additional pieces of history hang on The Stilt House’s walls in the form of photographs (one taken of the bar in 1912) and newspapers from the 1960s which were found stuffed between the walls; apparently, they had been used as a form of insulation.
Almost a decade later
Today, the restaurant is owned by Goggin and his wife Tricia Dooley who also operate Toast (with locations in Milwaukee and Cedarburg) and Dooley’s in West Bend.
Goggin says that the restaurant – in large part – has remained the same. An ever-changing tap list keeps beer lovers happy, while the wine list and menu are both changed out quarterly. Only two items that were on the opening menu in 2013 have made it to 2023: the Stilt Burger and the Stilt Sliders.
Meanwhile, the crowds which fill the narrow 24-foot-wide restaurant during the colder months have returned year after year to take in the venue's convivial vibe.
That patio, tho'
Of course, there is at least one thing that has changed considerably over the past decade: the venue’s patio.
The first summer they were open, Goggin recalls, the patio was composed of six tables in a narrow corridor next to the building. Three years went by and they worked out an agreement to rent a portion of the property next door, easily doubling the patio’s width. Now, nearly ten years later, the 2500 square foot patio is easily eight to ten times the size of the original.
The area which once formed the original patio has now become a sun-drenched waiting area that’s also the perfect spot for enjoying summery cocktails with friends later in the evening.
Meanwhile, the main patio conjures parklike vibes with myriad shade trees and a glimpse of Cedar Creek beyond the foliage.
The patio is also a convenient stop for bicyclists since it’s located just off the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, which connects to Sheboygan’s Plank Road Trail to the north and Milwaukee County's Oak Leaf Trail to the south.
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy returning favorite menu items like the Stilt House’s grilled romaine salad or roasted feta pear flatbread. But Chef Anthony Ludwig has also introduced a number of new offerings, including shareable appetizers like Firecracker Shrimp featuring shrimp served in a sweet chili aioli with pineapple salsa, spring mix and avocado ($13.99).
There are also sandwiches and sliders, plus options like cavatappi pasta with lemon curry sauce and plenty of vegetables including bok choy, red peppers and wild mushrooms ($13.99; add chicken, shrimp or salmon for a slight upcharge).
On Fridays, you can also order The Stilt House fish fry featuring a choice of beer-battered perch or walleye with fries (regular or sweet potato), cole slaw and spicy tartar sauce. Be sure to come early if you'd like a serving of the restaurant’s popular lobster bisque; Goggin says it sells out every Friday.
In addition to a collection of regulars who keep the local bar and restaurant in business year round, Goggin says that the restaurant regularly welcomes guests from all over the continent, particularly during the summer when the streets of Cedarburg fill up with shoppers and festival traffic.
Along with the regular stream of tourists which pour into Cedarburg from the Chicagoland area, Goggin says that over the years they’ve had visitors from as far as Washington State, Alaska and Canada. He likes to think that’s a testament to Cedarburg on the whole, but also a restaurant at which he endeavors to provide “an affordable experience with exceptional service.”
“I love the town,” says Goggin. “I love the community. And we really strive to make The Stilt House part of what draws people to the area.”
The Stilt House officially opened its doors on Dec. 31, 2013. Watch the restaurant's social media channels @thestilthouse for information on a 10-year anniversary celebration later this year.
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.