By Rex Hamann   Published Nov 23, 2008 at 8:16 AM

There's a sliver of a place on Milwaukee's near south side I've been escaping to for nearly 25 years. It's a sanctuary for evening sipping where a person can quietly imbibe and experience a unique local establishment.

When I moved to Milwaukee in 1984, I was already familiar with "Tony's" on S. 2nd Street. It was a place where I felt at home away from home, and today it remains just as inviting and warm, just as it's been for decades.

Tony's Tavern is nestled in a bustling niche of vintage Milwaukee across the river from the Third Ward in a place called Walker's Point. Here is a Cream City gem that still occupies its original section of South 2nd Street, as it has for decades, and it still takes up the same block in my heart.

Like a faithful companion, there's a familiarity here, an unassuming atmosphere that lends warmly to a sense of belonging. It welcomes you without even trying.

In my case it was a love affair from the start, because the place just pulls you in. Many people who have left the friendly confines of Milwaukee feel the same way. It's a slice of the old city people remember after they leave town for broader

For many of us, Tony's is the place they miss most.

After leaving Milwaukee in 1999, I could never resist going back to Tony's Tavern. I've come to appreciate this quaint, cozy bierstube, a true family business, the place where a family was raised. Once you visit this little hangout, you'll feel a
little like family too.

Once famous for its "char-grilled" burgers (as its old neon sign once proclaimed), Tony's remains a neighborhood gathering place. Stroll in and there's Tony Pogorelc behind the bar, amidst the darkened wood and low light of the serving room.

He's been manning the cash drawer and minding his own tap lines for nearly 50 years, ringing (really ringing!) up sales on an ornate antique cash register and treating his customers to the sounds of a bygone time, with its repeated "ching-ching" that sounds, almost as a alarm, when it's time to add up someone's
tab. The grill is now silent, but the warm, inviting atmosphere remains the same.

Tony treats his customers generously. Like family. What? You don't have diet Pepsi? No, only diet Coke, but it's just as good, as Tony might tell you with a grin, knowing full well you know the difference. But he gives you the "try it, you'll like it" pitch. Like any good salesman, he presents a choice to his patrons in a direct, affable, manner.

One visit to Tony's and you'll understand he's a natural people person. No wonder his clientele comes to adore him.

And sure he knows how to run a bar. Belly up and take in the glistening array of gleaming glassware. If you order a beer at Tony's you'll do some heavy hoisting as he often serves his ice-cold brews in Euro-style glass mugs.

Lined up beside him is a plethora of potent pilsners to tempt the tongue. Tony'll tell you about ‘em.

Take the tantalizing tour of his tap rack. Tony offers a dozen well-chilled choices, from imports like Pschorr Brau to local brews like Riverwest Stein, my personal favorite. Beer drinkers, like bread eaters, know fresh-and-local is best for nose and palate appeal.

Come here to discover the art of pouring. Tony uses an old-time German-style technique of drawing a healthy brew. Release the beer into the glass, let the foam settle. Pour it a bit more, let it settle, then top it off. Finally you have what resembles an ice-cream drink with the foam stacked upon the glass like a snowball.

It takes a mite longer but this is classic Milwaukee.
Along the back wall of the bar is a host of cordials and other liquors. From top-shelf sour mash bourbons and single-malt whiskies to table wine and triple sec, Tony stocks it.
An evening out is often more enjoyable when encountering such delectable discoveries.

One of the edible surprises Tony doesn't advertise is one of the more unique features of the place -- fresh popcorn. Remember Jiffy-Pop? For a hot snack, nothing beats the real deal. Just ask -- he'll slide a little foil-topped pan onto a hot-plate with an automatic shaker and then you can practically dance to the noise it makes. It's like a popping corn maraca. Then suddenly, just after you've started boogying to its "shake-a-shake-a," it stops ... and then you know ... it's ready! The place fills with that alluring smell of fresh-popped popcorn, and you delight in an unbeatable treat.

And you can't go to Tony's without a trip to the "Little Nut Hut." You want warm cashews to tickle your tongue? Tony serves them up in a little paper cup just the way you like ‘em.

Tony is steeped in the tradition of bar keeping. After all, he's been doing it for a few generations. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have a life. The man is an artisan. He can miter any corner like an expert, assembling raw materials to create

The serving room is replete with his projects, as well as his choice of artwork. Tony is talented way beyond pouring beers or serving drinks. He's a craftsman, with his cabinetry and stained-glass in evidence. You may find yourself seated at one of his creations.

The quiet side room at Tony's has a feeling of privacy. It has a small coin-op pool table along with tables and chairs. But don't get too caught up in the pool game. Take in the numerous fascinating articles of interest on the walls. One frame mounted there contains an old Milwaukee menu sheet depicting an account of a Brewers baseball game from about 80 years ago. Such items lend a sense of history to your evening out.

Or if you prefer to listen to your history you may enjoy the offbeat offerings on his jukebox. Jazz classics permeate the musical selections. From Sinatra to Count Basie, Tony keeps the music patterned to an earlier era, honed by a love of the older works. They take you back to an earlier time.

Just don't get Tony started on his earlier life. He'll keep you riveted with his stories of daring during his action during World War II. With two purple hearts, Tony has been through many trials.

You may get the impression that he's done nothing but tend bar all his life, but from his days in the open-hearth furnaces of Cleveland's iron factories through his service in the military, he's seen plenty, he's been there. His youthful deportment belies his age, but he's been around the block a time or two ... even dodged death in heavy combat in

Born at Loraine, Ohio, Tony Pogorelc is a tribute to the city of Milwaukee. His establishment is where Ann, his wife, and her parents, ironically named Tony and Anne, was raised; they were the first inhabitants at 412 S. 2nd St.

Tony's Tavern, with its private parking lot on the corner of
Florida and S. 2nd, no longer serves grilled burgers, but that doesn't detract from its elegant charm. It's still a mouthy slice -- err sip -- of old Milwaukee. If your tastes in tavern-hopping includes a quiet place to quaff a beer and linger friends, take a
break and head down there sometime, and all will soon be well ... prost!