Brian Ward is firmly established as a Downtown beef baron. His Ward's House of Prime restaurant has received national attention as a midwestern Mecca of red meat.
Bobby Bell spent 40 years building John Hawks Pub into a Downtown institution, first a few steps below the sidewalk at 607 N. Broadway and since 1990 in the office tower on the northwest corner of Water and Wisconsin. When Bell decided to sell Hawks last year, Ward grabbed the opportunity to buy.
"It's a Milwaukee icon," he explains. "It got a little beat up – in food and service – but what Bobby built deserves to be respected and continued."
The deal closed last fall, with Bell maintaining ties to the business as a consultant. Ward went to work overhauling Hawks' menu and making a few interior changes to the bar and restaurant, which overlooks the Milwaukee River.
The freshened ambiance includes more booths and fewer tables, giving customers greater privacy. That facilitates business lunches, a niche the new owner is aggressively pursuing.
Interior wood has been stained a darker color, providing more of an English pub look, and high tables are now clustered near the bar. Arcade games have been added to a room at the north end of the space.
John Hawks Pub seats 200 indoors and 130 on its popular river-view patio.
The big changes are seen in the food and bar menu. A distinct English accent now emanates from the kitchen.
Appetizers include seasoned potato wedges tossed in an English-style curry sauce and served with a side of curried ketchup for $5.49, and Scotch eggs – two hard-boiled eggs wrapped in seasoned pork sausage, accompanied by stone-ground mustard, priced at $7.49.
Entrees now include English-style pot roast ($13.99), a ground beef shepard's pie ($12.49) and English curry with veggies ($9.99) or chicken ($12.99) served over rice or English chips. Fish and chips are available in two portion sizes for $9.99 and $12.99.
Your taste buds don't have to salute the queen to eat at Hawks. Variety rules. "We have a lot more comfort food on the menu now," Ward says.
For example, the pub offers loaded potato skins ($8.99), jumbo wings ($8.49), chicken and dumpling soup ($2.99 and $4.99), a pot roast sandwich with mashed potatoes smothered in gravy ($8.49), a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato ($6.99) and chicken pot pie ($10.49).
Ward is especially proud of the corned beef he serves at Hawks. It can be sampled in reuben rolls ($7.49) a reuben sandwich ($9.99), and on a specialty burger that combines a third-pound Angus beef patty and fried egg with corned beef ($12.99).
Prime rib from Ward's House of Prime makes an appearance on the menu in a sandwich ($10.49). It is thinly sliced and piled on a toasted hoagie roll with mushrooms, onions and provolone cheese, accompanied by au jus.
All burgers and sandwiches come with a single choice of sides that includes kettle chips, seasoned fries, cole slaw, potato salad, cottage cheese and rice pilaf.
Several entree salads, soups and chili are also available. A full rack of baby back ribs, priced at $19.99, is the most expensive menu item.
Ward intends Hawks to be among Downtown's premier destinations for craft beer. Nine taps feature Milwaukee Brewing Co. products, and a selection of 80 bottle beers is offered.
With its proximity to the Riverside Theatre, Pabst Theater, Marcus Center and the Milwaukee Rep, the pub is targeting show-goers for pre-curtain dinner and post-curtain drink specials. Customers who arrive after 5 p.m. can park for free for the evening in the garage in the John Hawks building. The restaurant will validate the parking stub.
"We promise consistent quality and speed," Ward says. "We will get you in and out, on time for your show."
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.