Get ready to soak up more bar articles, imbibable stories and cocktailing content, brought to by Miller Lite. For more of our Bar stories click here!
The day after the sale of the former Trocadero & Di Moda Pizza, 1758 N. Water St., I walked through the former space with Marco Valdepeña and his father Alberto, who are opening Tauro Cocina, a Mexican/Italian fusion restaurant there along with the rest of the family.
It was eerie, in a sense, because everything was in its place – furniture, tableware, kitchen utensils – suggesting the pizzeria closed one day, expecting to reopen the following day, but never did.
This is a boon to the first-time restaurateurs.
“We have almost everything we need,” says Alberto – a veteran of the Louise’s Italian restaurants Downtown and in Brookfield – as we stand in the kitchen, seeing a wide range of chef’s knives, warming trays and other tools. “We’re giving everything a good cleaning, but there is so much here.”
All they really plan are a few required repairs – such as to the ceiling in the old triangular tavern space up front – and some cosmetic changes, like paint that isn’t purple.
When I mention the wainscoting, newel post and other woodwork in the stairwell up to what was originally the saloonkeeper’s apartment and served as Redlight during the the Trocadero era, Marco says, “we want to keep all of that stuff that makes it historic.
“We’ll just paint it a different color.”
While, for our generation, the building is most identified with Mike Eitel’s French-themed Trocadero – which is when the sprawling patio, the second-floor bar and the covered, heated space out back were added – the building, which was built by the Schlitz Brewing Co. in 1890 – was associated with one family for more than a half-century.
As was typical, Schlitz – a powerhouse in the tied house, brewery-owned saloon real estate business, especially in Milwaukee and Chicago – tapped its preferred architect Charles Kirchhoff to design the triangular tavern, which sits where Pearson meets North Water Street.
At the time, not only was the site surrounded by a growing East Side neighborhood, but there was industry galore within walking distance, including a number of tanneries, which served up a parade of thirsty workers seeking liquid comfort.
Built in 1890 as a two-story Queen Anne, Wisconsin Historical Society notes that it is an, "excellent example of (a) cream brick corner store with (a) flat in nearly original condition. One of the earliest examples of brewery owned bars. Note cantilevered corner tower and cornice, date plaque and cresting.”
There are lovely arched windows on the first floor, plus nice carved stone sills and other details, and even a couple of the flame-topped candles Kirchhoff so loved and used in other buildings, like this one built a few years earlier.
According to the original April 1890 building permit, Schlitz paid $5,000 for this building, erected by contractor Chas. Winkelmann.
However, Winkelmann built a two-story, “saloon with dwelling over.”
A second permit was pulled less than a year later and Kirchhoff returned to design a $2,000 third-floor addition the following year, which was put up b y Chas. Luetzow Bros.
In the interim, landlord George Fischer hosted a two-day grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25 and 26, to which, Fischer advertised in the Journal, “I take this opportunity to invite my numerous friends for an inspection and partake of a first-class lunch and Schlitz beer.”
Curiously, the ad also notes that the “hall (was) recently renovated.” Did he mean “built”? There is no source I found to explain that wording.
It would’ve made sense in December 1893, however, when a fire started by an oil stove did $150 damage to Fischer’s place.
During the fire S.S.H. Large, who lived upstairs, later reported, about $30 worth of jewelry was stolen. This is notable because it confirms that the added floor served as residential rental space. (Interesting aside: three years earlier, just before the Water Street building was completed, a burglar stole jewelry and Fischer’s saloon license from his home on Prairie Street, now Highland Avenue.)
By 1910, the saloon was called Pleasant House and sometime that year, Frank Druml arrived with his wife Agnes and their young children, Frank Jr., Rosie and Theresa.
Druml, born in 1878 in St. Stephan, Austria, arrived in the U.S. in 1903 and had worked as a shoemaker at a shoe store. In 1909, when he became a U.S. citizen, the Drumls were living at 2008 Vliet St. Agnes (nee Meyer), too, was an Austrian immigrant, born in 1882.
While it may seem odd that Druml went from shoemaker to Schlitz tapper, in researching saloons, it appears it was not uncommon for men working in other trades to try their hand at the tavern game, sometimes for good and sometimes temporarily.
Druml was in it for the long haul. Even if the life of a publican was new to him, managing the rooms upstairs was likely anything but. Back on Vliet Street, just before they took over the saloon, the German-speaking Drumls had six boarders – all Austrians – so they knew the routine.
In 1916, the Drumls now had two sons and two daughters, plus a new kitchen addition to the saloon, courtesy of their landlords. Schlitz pulled a permit for a $300 expansion that August.
That was likely a well-timed upgrade, as in just a few years Prohibition would tighten the margins for business folks like the Drumls, who probably purchased their building from the Uihleins at the dawn of Prohibition as the Schlitz name disappears from city permits around that time.
Fearing a loss of revenues from the now moribund liquor license process, the city instituted a permit for soft drinks parlors and the Drumls surely applied for one. But like many such parlors, the drinks weren’t always soft and as many have noted, Prohibition effectively criminalized plenty of hardworking people, and the Drumls were among them.
In July 1922, a pint of moonshine was found in a raid at the Drumls’ and Frank was fined $100 for violating the Severson Act, a state law passed in 1921 banning screens or partitions that blocked the view into saloons from the street.
In September of the next year, Agnes was arrested on the same charge – the law was meant to make it easier to enforce Prohibition – and dinged for another $100.
So common were charges like these and so done with Prohibition was Milwaukee already by the mid-1920s that despite their record of violations, which were mentioned during the process, the Drumls still got their new soda fountain license in the summer of 1924.
But it seems that Prohibition led the Drumls to diversify in other ways, too.
While a 1931 ad helps us understand what the rooming house was like – one- and two-room places with kitchenettes, furnished, were available – similar ads throughout the 1930s and into the ‘40s advertise other apartments for rent by the Drumls on Albion Street, Milwaukee Street and Farwell Avenue.
In 1940, their son William ran for alderman in the First Ward, where the tavern was located. It is also where his own saloon, 1720 N. Farwell Ave., was located.
Oscar also ran for office, as evidenced by this undated advertisement.
The tavern business was good enough during Prohibition to send young William, and presumably his siblings, to private schools. William attended St. Francis Catholic School, Marquette High School and, for a year, Marquette University. (Daughter Theresa, we know, attended Holy Angels Academy and MU.)
He acquired his own tavern business after working first as a temporary substitute clerk at a post office fof six months in 1935, then as a super in an apartment building in 1936 and ‘37.
William was elected alderman, a position held previously by his father-in-law John Suminski.
In the summer of ‘43, as World War II raged, the tavern was for rent, though without the upstairs living quarters, as Frank and Agnes weren’t leaving and continued to rent the rooms.
Three of their five children served in the war. Frank Jr. was a first lieutenant in the Army and William, in the Marines, were fighting in the Pacific, while son Oscar, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, stationed in Racine. Daughter Theresa had joined the WAVES and was in Washington, D.C.
Only daughter Anne remained at home.
Frank died in 1945 at the age of 68 and while Agnes continued to operate the rooming house, she rented the tavern to Tony Pecoraro, who ran it off and on until around 1957.
In ‘46, Agnes popped up on the radar of the U.S. Office of Price Control, which informed her that she could not rent her rooms at a rate above rent control ceilings set by the federal government, which were especially important in the immediate post-war years as so many returned from overseas.
But it wasn’t all bad news at the Drumls’.
In 1947, son Oscar was married, and the following summer, Theresa came home to visit.
When the war ended, she remained in Europe and distinguished herself first as the director of the U.S. Information Center in Vienna, the capitol of her parents’ mother country.
After her stint in the WAVES – which began in 1943 after having worked as a German teacher at Milwaukee Girls Trade and Technical High School (where the wife of future mayor Frank Zeidler was among her students) – Theresa Druml went to Vienna at war’s end to lead a staff of 70 English-speaking Austrians that ran an American information service and library. Her six-week stay on Water Street landed her in the newspapers but also made a mark on her own family.
When her brother Oscar’s bride, Ethel Ann (nee Brandt), gave birth to a daughter in December, they named her Theresa.
Theresa returned for visits again in 1955 and ‘58. The earlier visit came after she had left Vienna – where she ultimately served as the director of the Amerika Haus for nine years – and was back in the States before returning to Europe to take a similar position in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. She was replaced in Vienna by her assistant, Miss June Helgason, another Milwaukeean, who had been head librarian at Charles Allis Art Museum before going to Vienna about three years previous.
"She always stayed with our family when she came to town," recalls her niece, Oscar's daughter, Meg Druml Boyle. "I was her caregiver for years at the end of her life and spent much time with her throughout my life. We assume she was in something like the CIA because she never could speak about her exact positions in Europe."
Theresa, who died in 2005, lived to the age of 96, and had served overseas for 36 years, earning the Papal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice decoration.
In 1950, the tavern was operating as the East Side Bar, with Joseph Brunetta, at the helm, before William tried his hand at running it, beginning that summer. However, by 1952, Pecoraro had returned.
By that December, when a fire caused by a cigarette tossed carelessly into a trash bin behind the bar just before 1 a.m. sent 14 “elderly persons” out of their rooms and caused $3,300 in damage,
Oscar Druml also launched a contracting business around this time, which was headquartered at the saloon building, or at least using it as a mailing address.
The company did paving and other work for clients that included the Ciy of Milwaukee. It was also involved in the construction of the Hoan Bridge and of the Marquette Interchange. before Druml dissolved the company in 1984.
Although the bar was listed for rent again in the mid-50s, Pecoraro was running it until Biro Laszlo arrived and dubbed it Young Bachelor’s Tavern, who gave way in 1961 to Sam Cefalu, who appears to have called it Mr. B’s Tavern.
In 1962, Jack Costa and Jeffery Guenther operated it briefly as Jack and Jeff’s Tavern. From 1965 until the end of the decade, Richard (Dick) Shannon ran it as a gay bar, calling it Regency East Lounge.
It is around this time that Agnes, apparently, retired (later she would live with her son Williams’s family and later to Villa Clement in West Allis, until her death in 1972), handing the rooming house business over to her daughter Anna Marie.
In 1970, Vincent Maniaci opened Caesar’s Cocktail Louge, which often found itself in the papers for drinking age violations. In one such case in 1972, 33 Great Lakes Naval Academy seaman were arrested for being underage inside Caesar’s.
Though there had been reticence according to newspapers to even grant a license in 1970 because of “pending criminal and civil cases,” the license was issued. But that didn’t stop a judge from shutting the place down after the Great Lakes arrests.
But, in the end, Caesar’s would continue to operate there until 1976, when its name was changed to Under the Bridge. During this era, two huge Gettelman's ads were painted on the sides of the building.
Though the building was listed for sale for $50,000 in 1973 and remained on the market into 1974, the Druml family continued to own it until at least 1976.
By spring that year, John and Joe Eidenshink owned Under the Bridge, which endured until June 1984, at which point it sat vacant (though the rooms above were occupied) for more than a year.
It was during their era that the cream city brick exterior was cleaned.
In May 1985, rock concert promoter Tony Selig applied for a license to move his club, The Underground, there from Broadway and Michigan, but his deal with owner Patricia Davis fell through and he canceled his request.
That October, KB Enterprises opened the Kosmik Klub, but by the following spring Paul and Kevin Knaust, and Kevin Powalisz arrived and opened Sequel’s Tavern.
Paul had been manager of Red Carpet West Allis and the brothers co-owned Splasher’s Saloon, 3577 S. 13th St since July 1984, so they brought experience with them, which paid off, as Sequel’s endured until 2000, by which time it had shifted its focus to food.
In 2001, Nomad World Pub and Hi-Hat owner Mike Eitel bought Sequel’s and converted it into Trocadero, with its alluring French Metro feel, including subway tile, zinc bartop and Parisian newsstand selling Paris Match and Gitanes.
Later, he expanded the patio and built some conservatory-like spaces, too.
He sold the place in January 2014 to the owners of the nearby Red Lion Pub, who operated it as Trocadero for a while. In 2017, after the quartet of owners split into two groups, one of those duos converted it to Di Moda Pizza, with a pizza oven added. But the restaurant didn’t take off and it closed in mid-December 2019.
Since then, those stacks of plates have remained in place, the tables and chairs all holding their positions, the kitchen burners quiet.
But, come spring, that should change as Tauro Cocina opens to breathe life back into the place.
The plan is to start with the restaurant on the first floor, get it up and running and generate some income. In the basement, they show me how ready to go the prep area and cooler are.
Down here I can’t help but notice the concrete – of indeterminate age, but it looks at least fairy old – with a scatter of a dog’s paw prints that are confined to a small space suggesting someone spotted it in the wet cement and scooped it up, albeit a tad too late.
Next, the Valdepeña clan will move up to the second floor and spark the upstairs bar/lounge back to life.
That space, too, appears to be pretty much plug-n-play, with only cosmetic changes needed.
The top floor has, in recent years, served as office space for the Trocadero and Di Moda folks, but unlike the floor below, it maintains its residential layout.
There is a two-room apartment at the top of the stairs with a great view out the cantilevered turret windows.
Toward the back is a long, narrow corridor with a number of small rooms flanking it. Each room door has a transom window above and the original wood frames. The hardwood floor up here appears original, too.
Alberto Valdepeña says he envisions using the second floor for events and renovating the top floor to complement that.
“I hope we can have weddings here,” he says as we stand in the turret gazing out the windows, admiring the view. “I think this would be a great room for the bride to get ready.
“It will just take time.”
“We’ll start at the bottom,” adds Alberto, “and work our way up.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.