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Neighborhood bar celebrates 130 years

The year was 1884 and Grover Cleveland was just elected the 25th President of the 38 United States of America. Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were best selling authors. P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus featured 3’4” Tom Thumb and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody sold out venue’s with his popular  “Wild West Show” featuring Annie Oakley. A new music genre called “Ragtime” was all the rage, and Milwaukee was the 17th largest city in the country with nearly 140,000 residents. On the corner of Humboldt Boulevard and Center Street, the Barnet Kozlowski Saloon (named after the owner) opened. It was a hit in the neighborhood and got the attention of the folks at the Schlitz Brewing Company. In 1891, the Schlitz Brewing Company contracted with Kozlowski to operate his pub as a “Tied House”, selling only Schlitz, “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous”.


Last month this bar, now known as The Uptowner, celebrated 13 decades years of service. Only two bars in Milwaukee have been around longer (Puddler’s Hall in Bay View and The Landmark 1850 Inn on South Howell Avenue). But this spot in Riverwest is the longest, most continuous operating bar in Milwaukee. It even prospered during Prohibition, when new owners took over and turned it into the Gordon Park Pharmacy where some say, if you knew the secret password, you would be given special “medicinal beverages”. In 1952, the bar was purchased by New York transplant Chic Giacalone and given it’s current namesake, The Uptowner. And not much has changed since then.


Current owner Steve Johnson bought the place in 1985. Under his management, the bar still has that neighborhood feel, and Johnson says, “all are welcome”. Under Johnson’s management, live music has become a weekly feature in the bar. From Blues to Country, Rock to Hip Hop...the Uptowner loves supporting local musicians. They walls are filled with art from local residents too.

Click the player above to hear more from The Uptowner’s 130’s Anniversary’s block party. And when you visit, tell them your pal Dori Zori sent ya!

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee