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Milwaukee Ale House, Brown Bottle closures are gut punches

The Milwaukee Melt wasn’t on the bar long enough for me to grab a housemade potato chip out of the basket before The Shins’ “New Slang” started playing.

My immediate thought: This place knows me as well as I know it.

The city and its lovers of bars/restaurants — of which there are many — took a 1-2 punch recently. First, the Brown Bottle announced its permanent shuttering as of Aug. 13, although it took a little bit fo r news to trickle out. We’ve seen a series of openings and closings at the location within the last couple years, but the restaurant has been part of Milwaukee since 1938.

Then, Monday night, Milwaukee Ale House followed with a Facebook post announcing Sept. 11 as the last day at its current downtown location and hinting at a possible future somewhere else:

These developments are unfortunately standard to the food-and-beverage industry. We cover them on occasion at Radio Milwaukee, particularly on the Tarik Moody-led “This Bites” podcast. And no doubt he and co-host Ann Christenson of Milwaukee Magazine will have something to say on this Friday’s episode.

But regardless of how many times news like this crosses our feed, certain ones just hit different. Harder. Hearing about Milwaukee Ale House certainly did for me (and Bobby Tanzilo over at OnMilwaukee), and I found it difficult to shake off as Tuesday rolled along. I wanted to figure out why. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to ditch the sad little Tupperware thing waiting for me at lunchtime. 

So I headed a few blocks north and walked through doors that, admittedly, I hadn’t in some time. You change jobs, you move around, you start doing more “grown up” stuff — things change. The Ale House hasn’t. The space seemed to be in fine shape during my nostalgia tour/existential crisis.

There were little differences. The dart boards were gone from the corner where my eventual wife and I took a photo on one of our first nights out.

But the table (or at least a table) where we sat with our less-than-one-month-old kid the first time we brought him to a restaurant was still there. Right after that lunch, we took him to Spoon’s Studio Milwaukee Session. And while listening to my favorite band during an unscheduled diaper situation, I thought about how cool it would be to work there (never give up on your dreams, kids!).

Hopside Down is of course still there, as is the bottle (or at least a bottle) of Kinnickinnic Whiskey we shot — my wife and I, not my son and I — with a bunch of friends on a random weekend afternoon. I recall the whiskey needed a bit more maturing. It’s also possible I did.

The stage seemed unchanged from the night I got a text from my mom asking if I wanted to see her cousin’s band, Big Mouth and the Power Tool Horns, in the process waking me up to the fact that moms enjoy random nights out, too.

We all saw the same things at the Brown Bottle or Milwaukee Ale House or Soup Brothers or the next member of this unfortunately growing club. But we also didn’t.

It’s not a tucked-away corner; it’s a photo with your future wife. It’s not a table; it’s your family’s first restaurant visit. It’s not a stage; it’s the realization that parents are people, too.

Places are personal.

So when “New Slang” started playing and Chris the bartender noticed a level of emotion you don't typically get from even the best patty melt, I said, “It’s too bad about the news.” He kindly replied, “Yeah, it’ll probably get pretty crazy in here the next few weeks.”

I hope so. Because the only thing crazier would be not saying goodbye to something so personal.