In Bars & Clubs

Von Trier is moving forward and bringing its history with it.

Von Trier owner shares plans for future and reasons for change

When owner John Sidoff made the announcement last week that Von Trier was undergoing a remodel and would become a mid-century cocktail lounge in early 2018, he was faced with a lot of adversity – some heartfelt, some not.

"It's been quite a week. I've seen the petition out there and looked at the comments, and there are a lot of people who truly feel badly about this," says Sidoff. "And I do too."

Sidoff says when he purchased the iconic German-themed bar eight years ago, he didn't buy it with the intention of changing it into something else.

"I wanted to keep it the same way, but businesses are based on loyal clientele, and if people don't visit and support the space, it just can't continue," he says. "I get what's happening. We try to run a first class operation, we pay our staff well and provide a nice existence, but people have so many options – so many new options that they sometimes forget about their old options. And when they forget, then these 'old places' tend to go by the wayside."

But Sidoff isn't angry or disappointed. Instead, he is inspired about the future of the East Side and wants to appeal to both his current clientele and attract new.

"I still believe the East Side is one of the premiere neighborhoods in Milwaukee," he says. "In the past 40 years, I've seen the East Side go up and down, but I'm feeling positive about the changes happening right now."

In retrospect, Sidoff says last week's press release didn't completely convey his plans, which include opening a mid-century cocktail lounge that reflects the pre-Von Trier history of the building.

"Before Von Trier, this was a '40s/'50s/'60s style lounge called Reider's," he says. "I used to stop in at Reider's after working at Frenchy's (where Beans & Barley now stands) and I always really liked the place. I feel really good about bringing it back to a Reider's type of place. It's a neighborhood-type place thats rooted in history."

Recently, Sidoff pulled away one of the six panels that make up the German mural and found a mid-century abstract painting behind it. Currently, he is working with the Milwaukee Art Museum to find out who painted the massive mural, which is believed to be 9 feet tall by 30 feet wide.

"This could be the focal point of our remodeling," says Sidoff.

The transition at Von Trier isn't the first one Sidoff endured as a business owner. In 1978, he took over Hooligan's and changed it from a one-story "superbar" to the two-story tavern and restaurant it is today. He also owned Century Hall and transitioned it from a music venue to a brew pub in the '80s.

Sidoff says Von Trier has been busier since the announcement was made last week – and he appreciates that.

"I am moved by the number of people who have come in to show their support since we made our announcement. I just wish there were more of them, because that's what it came down to," says Sidoff. "But most importantly, I want people to know whatever we do, we are doing it with care. We care very much about this neighborhood and this space, and when we're done someday, we will leave it in even better condition than it is now."


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