"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Hornitos, OR-G, Party Armor, Red Stag, Absolut, Fireball and Malibu – 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 and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Steve Gilbertson has a very specific vision for The Standard, 1754 N. Franklin Pl., the corner bar that he co-owns with Jay Stamates.
"I want it to be like walking into a bar in the '50s that hasn't been redone, just added to, since the '20s," says Gilbertson.
The building was built in 1888 and has always housed a bar, making The Standard one of the city's oldest. Gilbertson has an invoice from 1906 for two half-barrels of Pabst delivered to the bar in 1906 for $6.50.
More than 100 years later, the space definitely maintains a classic look and feel, from the dark wood bar to the stained glass windows to the sink outside the restroom. Plus, black-and-white photos on the walls, Monopoly money decoratively scattered under glass atop one of the tables, a steady stream of big band swing music and murals of Bettie Page, James Dean, Louise Brooks and a young Marlo Brando in the restrooms add to the vintage theme.
However, The Standard is not gimmicky. It's comfortable and cozy, illuminated at night by amber and candle light. Large Pabst and Standard Oil murals, painted by local artist Holly Messer, are a stand out feature.
"It's a really accessible, blue collar corner bar," says Gilbertson. "All are welcome."
Gilbertson has been bartending for 13 years, at places like Pizza Man, Kenadee's, 725 N. Milwaukee St., Halliday's Irish Pub, 1729 N. Farwell Ave., and The Up and Under, 1216 E. Brady St. Stamates was the general manger of Cans, 1815 E. Kenilworth St., and is a partial owner of Sabbatic, 700 S. 2nd St., and Riverhorse West in West Bend.
"Between the two of us, we have big resumes," says Gilbertson.
The bar opened in 2011, and so far, business has exceeded expectations. Gilbertson says they entered the venture with conservative numbers that were "blown out of the water."
The Standard has 100 different beers and, currently, all are available in cans and bottles. Soon, however, it will have six to eight taps. Gilbertson, a former home brewer, says he's always been a "geek about beer." He believes beer drinkers need a large selection to choose from because drinking beer should be about what you're in the mood for, not an opportunity to drink the same beer night after night.
The Standard will soon offer pizza, chicken fingers and other classic bar fare.
Keeping prices low is important to Gilbertson. The Standard offers $2.50 shots of Powers and has nightly specials along with a daily happy hour with half-off domestics and rails.
Sundays are Service Industry Night, with half-off drinks and free food that's usually from a Brady Street-area business. Gilberston has a broad definition of who's in the service industry.
"Anyone who serves for a living is welcome, not just bar and restaurant people. Hair dressers, chefs, those in the military," he says.
Monday Nights are going to be called Honky Tonk or Hillbilly Mondays. The name hasn't been settled on, but regardless, customers get $1 off all whiskey drinks. Tuesday will soon be Ladies Night and Thursdays are Funk and Blues Night with $1 off craft and import beers.
On Wednesday and Saturday nights, The Standard hosts guest bartenders, including current and former bartenders, artists, musicians and others who have a behind-the-bar personality.
"This has been a key factor to our success. The guest bartenders bring in a lot of people who might not otherwise come in," he says. "Their job is to throw a party from behind the bar and I'll be the workhorse."
Gilbertson also credits the bar's success to the fact either he or longtime bartender Matty Gonzales are the main closers. Together, they have 28 years of collective bartending experience (Gilbertson has 13 years; Gonzales has 15 years under his belt) and have made a lot of friends and connections.
"We're also offering an alternative to Brady Street," says Gilbertson. "There's a mellow vibe in here even when it's full."
Music selection is not taken lightly at The Standard. Big Band Swing is a favorite, but the bartenders play a variety of other genres, too, from indie rock to old blues to alt country to funk.
Gilbertson, who grew up in Beloit, spent his summers working on his grandparents' farm in "Nowhere Southwestern Wisconsin." He has great memories of the time spent with his grandparents and it greatly affected his tastes and interests as an adult.
"My grandfather was a greaser, my grandma taught me the Lindy Hop," he says. "I've always liked older Americana: the style, the music, the swagger."
Gilbertson still appreciates the great outdoors today and owns a cabin with his father, who once rode the rodeo and taught him to appreciate old country music and hunting. (That explains the five-inch blade strapped to Gilbertson's belt).
"If I hit the lottery, a horse ranch in Montana sounds good, but I don't even play the lottery," he says. "So it's not gonna happen."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.