Loyalty, longevity and a touch of the blues fuel Mamie's 30-year run
Despite never being lost, Mamie's still feels like a hidden treasure with its glowing neon martini glasses sign begging to be discovered.
With tacos the size of your head every Wednesday for just $1.50, status as one of the city's last great blues joints and a warm and welcoming atmosphere every day of the week Mamie's is the kind of place that's kept a steady flow of regulars since its owner Deb Mickey bought it almost 30 years ago.
Mamie's, 3300 W. National Ave., has been operating as a tavern and restaurant since the end of prohibition. Mickey bought the place after working at her parent's bars and restaurants growing up.
"There's just a nice camaraderie here and I think the prices are fair," Mickey said, during a break from serving up heaping tacos to a full bar on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
Fair would be a slight understatement. With delicious $3 Bloody Mary's every Sunday, two for $3 rail drinks Tuesday and Thursday, and $2.75 margaritas every Wednesday, you'd be hard-pressed to find a cheaper place to drink.
With dark wood-a-plenty and antiques suspended from the ceiling, stepping into Mamie's can feel like being transported to the North Woods.
"That's what everybody says: that it should be up north," Mickey said.
Tunes pour constantly out of a jukebox filled with music handpicked by Mickey, who turns the bar over to live music twice a week for Tuesday's open mic and famous live blues Fridays featuring some of the area's best blues bands like Carpet Baggers, Reverend Raven, Stokes & the Old Blues Boys and Pee Wee Hayes.
"I'm one of a few left," Mickey said of her status as one of the city's last blues bars.
Mickey said it's hard to say what draws her eclectic and dedicated crowd of regulars.
"We get the doctor who comes in from River Hills and the little old man that lives two doors down. All walks of life," Mickey said.
Perhaps nothing speaks more of her customers connection to the bar than the fact that they've contributed most of the decorations hanging from the ceiling.
"Most of the things were given to me by customers who new I'd like it. So they bring it into me and I hang it," Mickey said.
And while industry has faded substantially in the area over the last three decades, Mamie's continues to serve the area's third shift workers, with a 6 a.m. bar opening and a simple bar food menu featuring burgers, soups and chili that bears the slogan "Our menu is small but our taste is big!"
"Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of third shifters that come in here any more. When I first opened, wow," Mickey recalled.
A large attached lot provides plentiful parking and also hosts a handful of outdoor concerts and events throughout the summer. Mickey said she plans to order in a few extra hogs for this year's anniversary pig roast to commemorate her 30th year at the South Side location.
So if you've managed to go 30 years without being lured in by the bar's bright neon sign, you should be singing the blues if you let it go until 31.
Began going to Mamie's over the winter, and it's now one of my favorite hidden delights. Never any hassles. There's enough grit, spit, and blues to make me feel right at home.
I brought a pub crawl here in early 2010, then again two weeks ago on our way to another stop. This recent short visit was the first time I brought the crew to the same spot for a return visit (b/c everyone I know truly loves Mamie's and its proprietor). Great report on a great old school Milwaukee saloon. Good luck for another 30 years, Deb!
Simply put: I love this bar. We stopped in after a whisky tasting at Great Lakes Distillery this past weekend for a couple of brews and it was a great experience as always. No matter who is behind the wood, you are guaranteed friendly, attentive, excellent service. I'm not sure if Deb simply doesn't tolerate anything less or if it's just a function of her magnetic personality and charm trickling down to her staff, but it's working! Great specials and great daily prices..... This place has it all.
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