"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Stoli Vodka, Altos Tequila, Fireball, OR-G, Jim Beam, Plymouth Gin and 2 Gingers – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
There was a time in Milwaukee when I spent a lot of time going to bars, most often with Don Nelson, who was then the coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
He and I played tennis almost every day and then we was off and running. I’m amazed I’m still married after this period of my life.
Daytime, nighttime, daytime and nighttime, the time hardly made a difference. But there was something unique about our pub prowling and that is that we hardly ever mentioned the name of a bar. Most of the places were Downtown or on the East Side.
In those days, it was always the name of the owner/slash bartender who we went to see. If we called someone to go with us, we never said "meet us at (fill in the name of a bar)." It was always, "come and meet us at (fill in the name of the owner/bartender)."
It was a colorful group of guys (no women) who all established an identity that flew higher than just any bar. Some of them changed locations, but we followed them wherever they went.
The first guy we normally went to see was Morry. It was Morry Katz, the guy who trained a generation of bartenders (Saz, Pep, Bingo, Sheppie and RC). His place was on Prospect and Kenilworth and was a favorite spot of Bob Lanier, other sports guys and the hottest men and women in the city.
All of the guys who worked for Morry went on the start their own places.
Saz, of course, is Steve Sazama, who opened a place on "State Street, nestled gently under the Hawley Street Bridge." Saz went on to create a catering empire while still operating his successful bar and restaurant. Saz’s was a great place to drink because it also had great food.
Pep, whose name I still don’t know, opened a place out of Bluemound, but once he left Morry’s he kind of dropped off our regular route. Going to see "the Jones boys" meant we were going to Victor’s to visit the family that owned the place.
Bingo, Jon Berta, bounced around from Morry’s to the Gym to Major Goolsby’s to his own place on Vliet and back to Goolsby’s. His trademark was to stick a dollar bill on his forehead while he made your drink. If the bill stayed there, he got to keep it for the tip jar.
Sheppie was perhaps the biggest draw. Tom Shepard owned a couple of real hot spots in Milwaukee. His first bar was Shepherd’s in the MGIC building. Then he opened JJD’s (Judge Jason Downer's) on Downer Avenue near the theater. He took a giant step when he opened and ran DKC's, where the Downtown Athletic Club is now. It was absolutely the hottest club at the time and maybe even the hottest club this city had ever seen. Doormen and everybody dressed to the nines in the latest fashions. It was the first place both Nelson and I ever saw anyone doing cocaine at the bar.
He followed that with the Brown Bottle, in Schlitz Park and then his very best, Brew City on Water Street and in Mequon. It’s hard to explain how crowded these places were and not just on weekends. Lines outside to get in. At happy hour the crowd was four deep at the big circular bar.
It didn’t matter where he was working, when we said "let’s go see Sheppie" we knew, and all our friends knew, where to go.
Mark Sherman was another one who had two hot spots. One was on Brady Street and the other was Downtown on the lower level of a building on the corner of Wells and Milwaukee Streets. For some reason, Sherman’s was jammed with a crowd that seemed slightly outside the law. The most regular customer was a DEA agent who apparently used it as a place to sell some of the drugs he had confiscated. Sherman had a back room for VIPs. Neither I nor Nelson ever made it back there.
And finally there was Tommy Enlund. He was a sportswriter for The Milwaukee Journal and took his vacation each year to work an outside beer tent at Saz’s State Fair restaurant. "Going to see Enlund," was a regular cry for Nelson, George Karl and almost anyone else in this band of ne’er-do-wells.
I wonder if going to see bartenders is still the identifier today that it used to be. It was a glorious time to be a serious cocktailer in Milwaukee.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.