By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Nov 16, 2011 at 9:03 AM

Tom Sorensen has manned the bar at Jim's Time Out, 746 N. James Lovell St., for almost six years, but he has decades of history in Milwaukee taverns and restaurants.

In 1961, Sorensen, who was 10 at the time, started working as a busboy at the now-defunct Clock Steak House that was owned by his uncle, Oscar Plotkin. Plotkin owned the iconic steak joint until a decade ago when he passed away.

In 1967, Sorensen's father, Elvin Sorensen, bought the Gas Light East, located at the time at 775 N. Jackson St. Tom started working there in 1971.

His father later bought the Gas Light West, which is still open, but sold the Gas Light East, which later became Nacho Mama's, the controversial Mexican eatery that featured Steve Vento, a dwarf who wore a sombrero filled with nachos that he shared with customers.

Sorensen and his dad had a falling out for a few years – the two have a fine relationship today (Elvin is 85) – but he spent years working in businesses not owned by his family, including Halliday's, Spurs on Water and Boomers.

In the late '80s, Sorensen owned the seafood restaurant and bar Maiden Voyage, 707 E. Brady St., which is now Hybrid. His business partner wanted to move the business to Menomonee Falls, which ultimately ended the venture.

"I told him, 'I am not gonna go there,'" says Sorensen.

In 1991, Sorensen started working at Downtown's Brew City BBQ, now Bar Louie, where he spent the next 10 years of his life. "I was there on the day they opened," he says.

In 2001, Sorensen took a job at Angelo's, 1686 N. Van Buren St., replacing the freshly Marquette-graduated Dave Mikolajek – aka contributor "College Dave."

He also spent time behind the bars at Treats (now Mark Anthony's), Libby's and Smoky's, a private club on Dousman Street in Riverwest that felt more like someone's living room than a public establishment.

"You had to get buzzed in," he says.

Finally, owner Jim Pappas hired Tom to pour at Jim's Time Out. Pappas was a long-time bartender at Chappy's, which is now Flannery's, 425 E. Wells St.

"The owner here is a nice guy. He treats me well. He lets me do my bartending thing," says Sorensen.

Sorensen is part of a pool of people that's getting smaller and smaller who made tending bar their livelihood. He's a natural, with a strong sense of humor and seemingly able to make just about anyone comfortable. In the process, he fosters an environment that is truly diverse.

"You can be top shelf or come here on a bus pass. It doesn't matter to Tom," says Mike Morgan, aka "The Mayor," who has been one of Sorensen's customers for 40 years. recently stopped in at Jim's Time Out – twice in the same week, in fact – to chat with Sorensen, eat hot cashews from the Nut Hut and learn more about the history of Milwaukee's nightlife. How would you describe Jim's to someone who has never been here before?

Tom Sorensen: Well, according to we're a "Downtown towny bar." (Tom grabs a tattered print-out of's list of 100 Things To Do In Milwaukee which suggests a visit to Jim's.)

This list has brought a lot of people in here. Including a couple from Australia. But, to answer your question, I'd call it a workingman's bar. It's the workingman's prize. We have an all-friendly clientele here.

OMC: What else do you like about working here?

TS: I like meeting different people. I like socializing. Having the occasional cocktail.

OMC: What do you like to serve the most?

TS: Anything that doesn't have to be blended.

OMC: What is your favorite beverage to drink.

TS: VO. As in "Very Often."

OMC: Ever been married? Kids?

TS: I was married once. I have three kids: Robin, Megan and Michael.

OMC: How do you cut people off who've clearly had enough to drink?

TS: I ask 'em to leave and if they don't, I punch 'em. (Laughs.) Not really. I will say, if they walk in drunk, 'We're having a big private party tonight.' Once I used that line and there were only two people in the entire bar.

OMC: Ever have any trouble here?

TS: Eh, anyone whoever walks in here is my guest. Nothing is gonna happen to anyone here.

OMC: What are some bad pick-up lines you've hear over the years?

TS: Oh, how about, "Know what would look great on you? A guy like me!"

OMC: Ever cleaned up puke?

TS: In my career? Oh yeah, a dozen times. Usually mine. (Laughs again).

OMC: How do you stay slim with so many people offering to buy you drinks?

TS: I'm on my feet all the time. And a little Bally's.

OMC: You a big sports fan?

TS: Yeah, football, basketball, baseball. I played basketball and baseball at Riverside and I was on cross country.

OMC: How has the bar scene changed in the past 35 years?

TS: Well, the two-martini lunch is gone. The drunk driving laws changed everything.

And you could make more 20 years ago tending bar than you can today.

Kids who tend bar today have no idea, but that's because this is not going to be their career. Nobody's gonna stand behind a bar for 40 years anymore. Although I believe everyone should tend bar in their life.

OMC: Why is that? What's to learn?

TS: Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, today's a gift, that's why we call it the present.

OMC: Anything you still hope to achieve behind the bar?

TS: Yeah, I would give my right arm to be ambidextrous.

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.