The coronavirus pandemic has changed our everyday life, but it doesn't need to change who we are. So, in addition to our ongoing coverage of the coronavirus, OnMilwaukee will continue to report on cool, fun, inspiring and strange stories from our city and beyond. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay informed and stay joyful. We're all in this together. #InThisTogetherMKE
Valent’s, which opened at 3853 N. Richards St., in 1946, has been sold, according to Ed Valent, who has been running the bar with his sisters since their mother passed away in 2018.
The tavern has served thousands of employees of the many businesses that long thrived in the industrial neighborhood south of Capitol Drive.
It is being sold to an entity called Red Oaks and the closing is set for Friday, April 24, according to Valent. The bar has been closed since the governor’s Safer at Home order went into effect last month, so, says Valent, "planned last hurrahs were canceled."
The property, built in 1920, was listed for sale at $265,000.
Valent says the buyers have not shared their plans for the place, other than to say they want to keep the iconic Schlitz neon sign above the corner entrance.
"Maybe they'll use the stay-at-home time to remodel and open as one of the trendy Riverwest places like Wonderland or Cafe Corazon," says Valent, "but that's just speculation based on how I think the place could be revived without all the factory workers and retirees who kept it going all these years.
"We saw thousands of workers come and go at Nash/Hudson/American Motors/Chrysler before that all went away (in 1987) to be replaced first by Builders Square, then Walmart. Big and relatively small nearby employers also went away: Johnson Controls, Aqua Chem, Square D, Capitol Stampings, Spic and Span, Shorewood Mills, Coca-Cola and even Ernie von Schledorn all operated within blocks of our bar over the years."
As such, Valent’s was a no-nonsense neighborhood workingman’s tavern that was open more than 20 hours a day and served breakfast, lunch and dinner, and that vibe never went away, remaining as strong as memories of the people who were regulars.
"We'll mostly miss the great characters we've met over the years," says Valent. "As an unpretentious working people's place, we've had our share of quite a mix of great people making our place a part of their routine. Our parents always tried to make it a warm and welcoming place, and it certainly was a family place."
The earliest newspaper reference I found for the building dates to 1923 when in a classified ad, it was offered for sale "cheap if taken at once." The reason for selling was described as "family trouble."
That same year's City Directory lists Joe Dobnik as the operator of a soft drink parlor there.
By the time the 1924 City Directory went to press, Joseph Fischer had arrived.
Fischer had listed the tavern, rooming house and restaurant for sale as early as 1933, but after his death in 1935 – the 54-year-old saloonkeeper suffered a heart attack while playing the banjo to entertain customers in the restaurant – his wife Grace appears to have taken it off the market.
In 1943 Joseph Fischer was drafted and sent off to war and the following year, the place went back up for sale.
Valent’s grandparents John and Anna Kegel, of Kegel’s Inn, bought it in 1946, when, "Capitol Drive was on the edge of Milwaukee's development," says Valent. His parents Gus and Ann (the Kegels’ daughter) first leased and later bought the tavern.
After Gus died in 2002, Ann continued to work at the bar, rarely missing a day’s work since 1946.
In addition to his parents, Valent and his five siblings, his grandmother Valent, and his uncle Frank all worked at the bar. Valent’s own children and grandchildren have also put in hours there, too, meaning that five generations of the family worked at Valent’s over the decades.
"Along with some memorable non-family members as well," he says. "In spite of all the work involved in serving houses that were packed for every lunch hour and shift change, of course, we'll miss it. It's been a big part of the story of our lives. Maybe the virus saved us from getting all choked up by snatching the chance for a big goodbye away.
"Growing up in a family tavern is a singular experience, and many of our big life events have somehow been tied to our tavern. For that matter, many of the big events in the life of our country have been tied to our tavern over the past 74 years."
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 an episode of TV's "Party of Five," 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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.