Brew City's treasures just waiting to be tapped

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel                                  August 22, 2008

The distance from Milwaukee to Dallas is shorter than the distance from Dallas to Milwaukee. When I invite my sister in Dallas to visit, she hems and haws and tries to get us to visit her instead. It’s that way with all of our out-of-town friends and family.

They are trying to tell us something. It’s Milwaukee; it’s bland.

If you get the relatives here, and you can load them in the van, put Jim Kupferschmidt in the driver’s seat. He is curator of the Milwaukee Beer Museum in Walker’s Point. He’ll tell you the story behind every building connected to the old breweries, the new breweries, the brewmasters and the beers. For him, the streets of Milwaukee are the scaffolding of a living beer museum.

At Brewers’ Corners in Forest Home Cemetery, the family plots of Blatz, Schlitz and Pabst meet. Not far away is the grave of brewer August Krug. “August Krug, a brewery owner, was actually Joseph Schlitz’s boss,” Kupferschmidt says. “Krug died. Schlitz married the boss’ widow and assumed the brewery.” And so became the beer that made Milwaukee famous.

Kupferschmidt will show you the exteriors of the Pabst and Schlitz brewery complexes and visit the old tasting room at Schlitz, which is Libiamo Restaurant today. He’ll add the closed Pabst tasting room and brewhouse if permission could be worked out. There’s already a public tour of Miller’s operation, its cellar and museum. One of the beer baron’s homes, Pabst Mansion, is open to the public.

Kupferschmidt can show you faded Schlitz, Pabst and Jung ads that adorn brick exteriors and take you into former tied houses (taverns that sold the beer of a single brewery) that still are pouring ale. The last Schlitz Palm Garden building stands across the street from the future site of the museum.

The canvas of the city is colored with more than just the copper-kettle industry, but a brown-bottle culture. The Holler House tavern on Lincoln Ave. is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and is operated by 82-year-old Marcy Skowronski, who still tends bar.

“She’s 4-foot-10 and talks like a sailor on leave,” says Kupferschmidt. “There are guys 6-2 who are afraid of her when she gets mad. They’ll start trouble and she’ll go right up to them and they will back down.”

The first thing you notice inside the bar are the bras swinging from the ceiling. “The first time the girls come in they take off their bras, sign them and hang them up,” says Skowronski. “Some of them keep yelling, ‘Oh, I paid so much money for this bra.’ A couple drinks, and they got them hanging up there.”

Why are we whispering about our sudsy past? We sit on a rich tourist magnet, and it’s an economic opportunity. All we need do is tie together these shrines with a guided bus tour and promote it nationally.

We need a joint effort between the property owners, operating breweries, brewpubs, museum, historians and the city to make it a reality.

If Cleveland could reinvent itself as the Rock ’n’ Roll City, imagine how far the authentic Brew City could go.

If we don’t open up our rich heritage, then our drabness is our own making. Does anyone else have this burning desire to see Milwaukee on a national list of 100 places to visit before you die?








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