Video poker and $1 Blatz: Dropping in on the house bars of St. Francis
More Summer Survey
St. Francis is a quaint city on the southeast border of Milwaukee. With fewer than 10,000 residents to its name, the polished lakeside community lacks much of the nightlife of its big brother to the north, as well as the 6 a.m. post-factory shift scene that thrives beneath the billowing clouds of meat smoke in southerly neighbor Cudahy (not to mention all the fun nearby South Milwaukee holds).
Still, even if St. Francis’ bar scene reflects its 2.5-square-mile size, it’s still in Wisconsin, after all. Aside from a few main-drag watering holes like St. Francis Brewery and King Pins Tavern, a handful of bars are nestled in a pocket just west of Kinnickinnic Avenue. Some are in repurposed, off-the-beaten-path buildings. Others are in homes that have been renovated to become neighborhood taverns.
Looking to take a bite from the alcoholic apple in Milwaukee area’s Eden, The A.V. Club weaved through St. Francis’ residential neighborhoods one Saturday evening in search of spirits in some secluded and uncommon watering holes.
The first place we happened upon was Kaz’s Pub (3701 S. Iowa Ave., 414-481-4150), in the lower level of a two-level peach home. Sadly, we found no hours of operation on the sports bar’s non-existent website and Facebook page. Alas, the bar was closed. We were especially disappointed that Kaz’s wasn’t open after we read such glowing online reviews as “25 cent pool all the time” and “Great place good pizza” later.
Just down the block we spotted another house bar that seemed a tad more bustling and entirely more open than Kaz’s Pub. Sitting at the intersection of S. Iowa and E. Cora Avenues, Gordie’s (2000 E. Cora Ave., 414-481-7742) is a corner tavern in both terms of spirit and in the literal sense. Apparently, it’s been around since 1983. Though it was early in the evening, the diminutive bar was already packed. Of course, that’s not difficult at a place with 14 barstools in it.
We stepped into the lower level of the stone home (only half of which held patrons), and saw a varied cast of characters of all ages shaking for shots, watching golf, and plugging bucks into video-poker machines. We ordered a round of High Life and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The pair of tappers set us back a mere $2. Even factoring in the 50 percent tip, that’s not bad.
We quickly noticed 20-something locals hobnobbing with elderly and middle-aged regulars. Gordie’s easygoing attitude extended our way too, as a patron offered us some of the bar’s (hopefully ever-present) cheese, meat, and cracker buffet. As we nibbled on cheddar, turkey, and Townhouse crackers, we looked around the room—lit with Christmas lights—and bought a pull-tab (a loser). We would’ve stayed longer for more snacks and bargain-basement domestic brews, but we had more work to do.
As we neared our exit route via aptly named St. Francis Ave., we saw another cluster of bars. Not adhering to the apparent angry-looking biker dress code of the hilariously named Liquor Box, we breezed on by in favor of the more welcoming confines of neighboring Redbar (2245 E. St. Francis Ave., 414-212-8470)—the first and only non-house bar on our St. Francis sojourn.
Fittingly, the exterior of the building was painted red. Inside was a nice year-old bar complete with Brewers drink specials, a game room, and—for some reason—a motorcycle mounted on the ceiling. We took in a few innings while enjoying a dollar Blatz (an all-day, every-day Red Bar specialty) that evidently came with a complimentary jab for ordering a Blatz, which we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Unfortunately, we had to cut our trip short, as we had one more stop to make. But we’d definitely stop by again for some non-Blatz beverages and a couple rounds of erotic Photohunt.
Kitty-corner from Redbar was Rails Inn Depot (2222 E. St. Francis Ave., 414-744-2466), our final stop of the day. Rails Inn was going off the rails on a crazy train theme. Inside, a toy train ran on a track along the ceiling. A group of leather-clad, should-be Liquor Box customers played pool along the back wall. Near the front of the place, an elderly man shoved bills into a video-poker machine before gurgling, “That’s a jackpot, all right! Another big hit.” Ordering our drinks, we hit the jackpot too. A pint of High Life set us back $1.75, and, again, Blatz was just $1 (all day, every day). We must’ve missed the story about a Blatz truck breaking down on East Saint Francis Ave.
Though some places are off the beaten path, St. Francis isn’t for want when it comes to drinking establishments. Sure, some are just old houses, but that’s half the fun. God knows what other places you’ll happen upon in the suburb’s lily-white underbelly.