Exploring the Archaeology and Architecture of Milwaukee’s Historic South Side Saloons
By Kevin Cullen (Archaeologist: Discovery World, Milwaukee)
Discovery World’s seventh Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Tour took place on Saturday April 20th as we explored the former brewery owned saloons known as “tied houses” on Milwaukee’s south side. Once again a full motor coach of enthusiastic adults rolled out at 10am, eager to learn about Milwaukee’s historic brewing industry that supported the many saloons built throughout the city.
From the beginning of Milwaukee’s history, the business of serving beer, spirits and wine to thirsty immigrants was a lucrative enterprise. As the city’s population increased, so too did the number of saloons. In 1860 the city of Milwaukee’s population was 45,246 and the number of saloons in operation was 205. By 1918, there were 1,980 saloons in Milwaukee, one per 230 residents. Consequently, the Volstead Act of 1919 that brought about Prohibition was detrimental to the cultural character of the city when nearly all of Milwaukee’s saloons were officially closed.
The Tied House Phenomenon
The phenomenon of the “tied house” began as early as the 1850s, when Milwaukee breweries built saloons where their beer could be sold. Breweries offered special prices or discounts on their beer, and in many cases, they would help the tavern owner maintain the property by offering new equipment. Eventually, the breweries discovered that the most practical way to hold a drinking customer and grow sales was to own the saloon outright, thus eliminating competition altogether. By the 1890s most Milwaukee breweries, especially the larger ones, began an aggressive program to purchase existing saloons, purchase prime vacant locations, and build newer saloons. These saloons became known as “tied houses” because they were “tied” to the brewery. The ownership and control of the tied houses ended when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Prior to Prohibition, the Schlitz Brewing Co. had more than 2,000 saloons across the United States, the Pabst Brewing Co. had more than a 1,000. The Blatz Brewing Co., Miller Brewing Co. and other smaller breweries maintained much less numbers of tide houses in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin.
Today, most of these former tide houses are still standing throughout Milwaukee and are generally identifiably brick with corner doors and located on street corners. Many of the buildings still have evidence of what brewery operated the tavern, due to the original painted or inlaid brewery insignias. As an enduring legacy of this tradition, often these former brewery saloons continue to operate as bars or restaurants. Fortunately, customers today have many options to choose from when ordering a drink.
Milwaukee South Side Tied House Tour Highlights
Our first stop on the tour was a former Schlitz Brewing Co. saloon at 2501 S Superior St. in the Bay View neighborhood. Known today as Club Garibaldi, this cream colored brick tavern was designed by architect Charles Lesser and completed in 1907. This former Schlitz “tied house” operated until Prohibition took effect in 1920. Seven years later a Mediterranean style interior dance hall was added by owner Joseph Paolo. Since 1943 the building has served as a public tavern and clubhouse for the Italian-American mutual aid society “Giuseppe Garibaldi”. Today Club Garibaldi is a vibrant part of Milwaukee’s music scene with an award winning pub food menu to boot, and yes you can still order a Schlitz at the bar.
Our second stop was at another Schlitz Brewing Co. tied house located a few blocks north at 2414 S. St. Clair St. This two story Queen Anne style cream brick tavern features a rare original Schlitz belted globe atop an octagonal roof turret. The building was designed by architect Charles Kirchoff and constructed in 1897 by Duke and Turner. Prior to Prohibition, the saloon was run by Galo & Wilhelm. Since 1958, the former saloon was converted into a Serbian restaurant operated by the Radicevic family. When we were there Milunka Radicevic was kind enough to allow our group inside to admire the interior and ask questions about the building.
Stop number three was a short stroll down St. Clair St. to Puddler’s Hall where we met with the new owner Casey Foltz. Casey is installing a one barrel brewery in the building where he will brew small batches for in-house consumption. Puddler’s Hall is considered Milwaukee’s second oldest tavern, built by the Milwaukee Iron Company and opened in 1873 as a union hall for the Puddler’s and Boilers of the nearby foundry. In September of 1892 it was sold by the Puddler’s and Boilers’ Union to the Falk Jung and Borchert Brewing Co. However, that brewing company was forced to sell their assets to the Pabst Brewing Company that same year due to a devastating brewery fire that bankrupted the business. By November of 1892 the hall became a Pabst Brewing Company tied house and would remain so until 1921. It was sold to Frank and Mary Barbieri, which served as Barbieri’s Dance Hall until 1979. Between 1979 and today, the tavern has had a number of names, but its identity as a local meeting place over a beer remains constant 140 years later.
The next stop took us past the site of the Munzinger Weiss Beer Brewery, which was built in 1890 on the eastside of Burrell Street, two blocks south of Lincoln Avenue at 2428-2432 Burrell St. They first produced soda water, ginger ale and Weiss beer. However the brewery was foreclosed in 1901 and sold at a “Sheriff’s Auction” to Bernhard Tess. Within a couple of years the wood-framed brewery buildings were demolished and eventually replaced with the residential homes on the site to this day.
Just down the hill from the Munzinger site is one of the least known and least identifiable former tied houses on Milwaukee’s Southside located at the intersection of E. Ward St. and E. Lincoln Ave. Built in 1906 by the Miller Brewing Co. as a saloon, the wood-framed 1 ½ story building was designed in the German Renaissance Revival style. Over the past century it housed several taverns under different names, namely Ralph’s in the 1990s and is known as Baby Boomers today.
The bus was now heading west on Lincoln Ave. where we passed a couple more former historic saloons and Schlitz tied houses that have been converted into restaurants or other businesses. Eventually we made our way north along Windlake Ave. while passing more former saloons and another Schlitz tied house at 854 Windlake Ave. Soon we were in the Walkers Point Neighborhood where we disembarked and were given an exclusive inside look at a former Miller tied house at 1101 S. 2nd St.
This two-story cream brick tavern was built in 1907 and designed by architects Wolf & Ewens in a commercial vernacular style. Since the 1930s it has housed several bar businesses, including Marble Arcade in the late 1980s and M Martini lounge in the early 2000s. Inside, a great deal of restoration has taken place with the original ornate tin ceiling as a highlight and tables made from old bowling lanes. Currently the building is owned by Braise Local Food LLC, which features an excellent locally sourced menu and they even host culinary classes.
By noon we were all feeling hungry so it was time to have a delicious Lasagna catered lunch at Milwaukee Brewing Company’s production brewery 613 S. 2nd St. Following lunch everyone was treated to a fantastic tour with brewery, while enjoying as many pints of their signature and seasonal beers as desired. This brewery combines modern technology with vintage equipment, while emphasizing green energy by using biodiesel and recently installed solar panels. Their signature beers include: Louie’s Demise, Pull Chain Pale Ale and Polish Moon and a variety of seasonal beers released throughout the year.
Following lunch, we boarded the bus for a short drive to the next former tied house built by the Pabst Brewing Co. in 1916. Located at 338 S. 1st St. in Walkers Point this beige colored two story brick tavern is designed in the typical commercial vernacular style, with its main entrance on the corner of building. It only operated as a Pabst bar for four years, before Prohibition forced its closure. Over the succeeding decades the building housed several taverns, whose names included, End of the Line tavern, Smugglers tavern, Slim’s tavern and currently O’Lydia’s Bar and Grill. At nearly 100 years old, the original tin ceiling remains intact, as well as the original bar with oak columns. Exposed cream brick on the interior lends to its historic charm, as does the sloping hard wood floors. Today, O’Lydia’s serves a variety of tap and bottle beers, as well as a fully stocked bar and excellent pub food menu.
As the bus rolled on, we passed several historic brewery related industrial buildings, including former malt houses and a cooperage on S. Water St. However, the next stop that we disembarked from the bus was at the former Schlitz Tivoli Palm Garden. Located at 504 W National Ave. this Neoclassical-style two story tan brick building was completed in 1901 and served as the Southside’s version of the downtown Schlitz Palm Garden on 3rd and Wisconsin Ave. When it opened the Tivoli Palm Garden featured a thirty foot dome, hand carved woodwork, tiled floors and cathedral glass. In in December of 1978 the building was listed on National Register of Historic Places, however a year later a devastating fire gutted the interior and destroyed the original dome. Fortunately, its historical significance led to a massive restoration project. Today the building’s exterior has been fully restored and is home to the Milwaukee Ballet. The former palm garden is now a large open dance studio with smaller dance studios on second floor.
Moving on, we passed by three locations of the former Graf soda and weiss breweries. The brewery’s first home was on southeast corner of S. 5th & W. National Ave. in 1873. Three years later they relocated the business to S. 10th St. & National Ave and renamed the business as the South Side White Beer Brewery. In 1884 John Graf relocated to the southeast corner of s. 22nd (formerly 17th Ave.) & W. Greenfield Ave. where he built a new brewery. By 1892 the brewery produced 100 cases of bottled wiess beer daily, including ginger ale, champagne, mineral water, seltzer water and other sodas. Today the site of that brewery is now a parking lot and one story commercial building.
The fifteenth highlighted building on this tour was the former Schlitz Brewing Co. Saloon located at 2501 W. Greenfield Ave. This two-story red brick building dates to 1904 and was designed in an Elizabethan Revival style by architect Charles Lesser, to mimic an English country inn. On the east wall of the building is an original Schlitz logo mosaic. The day we arrived the wooden building on the west side of this former tied house was recently torn down, revealing an original Schlitz advertisement known as a “ghost sign”. Inside, the original bar and ornate iron radiators are still extant. Today, the building remains virtually original and is home to the Mexican restaurant El Cañaveral (cane field). En lieu of English muffins, you’re more likely to eat bisteak a la Mexicana, though Schlitz beer is still served.
A few more blocks to the west is the site of the former Falk Jung and Borchert Brewery near S. 29th St. & W. Pierce St. We were treated to an exclusive inside tour of the property by owner Pastor George. The remaining large cream brick stock houses and malt houses are the oldest brewery related buildings in Milwaukee and possibly the state of Wisconsin. In 1870 Franz Falk constructed the New Bavaria Brewery with a production of about 8,000 barrels per year. In 1888 the brewery merged with the Jung & Borchert Brewery and became known as Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Co. Unfortunately, a devastating fire on July 4th 1889 destroyed the brew house and other structures, however the brewery was soon rebuilt and back in business within a year. Tragically, another fire broke out at the brewery on August 30, 1892 and was equally devastating. The brewery was not rebuilt and within two months of the fire, the Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Company was sold to the Pabst Brewing Company. Over the years, the remaining 1870s buildings were used for grain malting and grain storage. Today, despite being in a state of disrepair, the buildings were threatened with demolition, but as of early April 2013 the raze order was lifted due to the intervention of several concerned citizens.
The next stop on the tour took us across the Menomonee River valley to yet another former Schlitz Brewing Co. tied house at 1900 W. St. Paul Ave. This elegant Queen Anne style three story cream brick building was built for the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company as a saloon and boarding house known as the Marine Hotel. The main building was designed by Charles Kirchoff and completed in 1889, with a rear addition being added in 1890 that served as cellar. A notable feature of the building’s exterior is the presence of an inlaid brick Schlitz globe on the parapet of the buildings upper exterior. When we arrived, the place was packed, so owner Dave Sobelman took our group upstairs where everyone was appropriately treated to a bottle of Schlitz. Dave had some great stories about the building and his business, Sobelman’s Bar and Grill, and was kind enough to lead us throughout the building from the attic to the basement.
The final stop on this epic tour took us to a former Pabst Brewing Co. Saloon & Boarding House at 124 N. Water St. in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. This former tied house was designed in a neoclassical style by the architect Charles F. Peters and completed by master mason Edward Steigerwald in 1904. Its notable architectural feature includes an inlaid Pabst plaque on the south façade of the building’s exterior. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 8th 1984. As of 2012 the bar became known as the Irish Pub and it maintains a great deal of original interior and exterior architectural details.
By 5:15pm the bus arrived back at Discovery World where we began the day’s adventure. All expressed their great satisfaction with the tour and are eager to return for the next tour in September 2013 as we explore the former tied houses and breweries in downtown Milwaukee and on the north side of the city. Stay tuned for more information on that tour on Discovery Worlds website and a subsequent post-tour article here on the Distant Mirror blog.