Tony's Tavern is not a loud place. There is no music playing inside the old, quaint bar that has sat quietly at 421 S. 2nd St for decades. Showing up early -- just after 5 on a weeknight -- there is really no sound at all coming from inside, save for the soft mumble of an unseen television set in a back room.
Ann Pogorelc comes to greet her customers and when asked, she reveals that the back room from which she just appeared is actually her kitchen. Her parents purchased the building in the 1920s when it was being used as a small hotel and opened it as a bar after prohibition ended. Pogorelc has lived there her whole life, taking over ownership with her husband Tony in the '60s.
From the looks of it, not much has changed at Tony's Tavern since then, and that's a good thing. The long mahogany bar stretches almost the length of the entire south wall, leaving just enough room for a real record jukebox, one that Ann says Tony hand selected himself. Miles Davis, Elvis, Bing Crosby, The Temptations and even Rod Stewart make appearances in the form of 45s.
A bulky brass cash register chimes with each sale and there is no credit card machine, so don't come without cash unless you want to take a walk up to the gas station's ATM a few blocks north.
Tap beers here are priced for the times -- $3 a pop -- but rather than arriving in average pint glasses, each beer is perfectly poured into hearty stein-like vessels sometimes requiring the use of both hands for holding.
There are coasters everywhere to protect the ample natural wood surfaces, but you can see the nicks and impressions from years upon years of patronage. This is a place that people return to religiously, and that has everything to do with Tony and Ann. A bartending team of the ages, the two work every night -- save for Sunday and Monday when Tony's is closed -- and the neighborhood has come to expect that.
"We've asked other people to fill in for us when we needed a night off for some reason, and our customers immediately ask where we are," says Ann with a laugh. "When they find out we're not there, they finish their beer, pay for it and leave."
But the Pogorelc's bar is only one side of the tavern. Another second room -- one that used to be the former hotel's lobby, Tony says -- holds a 50-cent pool table, a few gatherings of chairs and walls full of eclectic prints and photographs. More times than not, if you're playing pool, you've got the room to yourself. It's not that the tavern's guests don't enjoy a few rounds of billiards, it's just that most of them prefer the friendly company Ann and Tony provide from their stations behind the bar.
Tony's is a place where people come to catch up and tell stories, and the Pogorelcs have either told or heard them all. Through that, they've created a welcoming establishment that somehow feels both trapped in time and timeless.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”