From the turn of the century through Prohibition, the bar business in Milwaukee was a completely different type of economy, driven by the big breweries.
In fact, it was nearly impossible for independent bar owners to get into the business without the help of one of the “big 4” — Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller.
That’s because, at the time, it was legal for beer producers to operate taverns that exclusively offered their products. Those bars were known as “tied houses,” as in tied to the brewery, and there were thousands of them in Milwaukee and around the country.
Many of those tied houses still exist today. Some remain as bars, and others have been converted to other uses. But most still maintain their recognizable look from the curb, sporting details from whichever brewery ran the place.
This week on Urban Spelunking, OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo and I are exploring the Miller tied houses around Milwaukee. At the time, the brewery was the smallest of the “big 4,” but it had a surprising number of connected taverns around the country — nearly 1,000 bore the iconic Miller emblem.