In Dining

Club Milwaukee, gone for nearly 60 years now.

Where your grandparents ate & drank: 10 long-gone hangouts

It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, who's winners we will dish out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!

Restaurants and bars come and go. While some are long-lived, some burn brightly and briefly, others fizzle quickly. The result is, over the years, the scene has changed here quite a bit.

Thanks to the enduring life of old postcards, we can show you some places of the past. Maybe you can picture your parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents at some of these former Brew City hot spots.

China Cupboard, Cudahy Tower at Wells Street was presumably named for tableware, not the country or its cuisine. A 1951 ad touted lunch for 85 cents, dinner, cocktails and "a warm weather treat, our outdoor terrace." Among the dinner specialties was "exceptional" roast beef for $2.50. Organ music entertained the guests. Virginia Wallman took the place over from her mother Mrs. Wallace Caswell in the early 1940s. Nowaways, the space is home to Bacchus.

The Circle Room was in the "deluxe, luxury" Hotel LaSalle, 729 N. 11th St. – now Marquette's Cobeen Hall. In September 1946, Nat King Cole performed there and the shows were recorded, resulting in the 1999 CD, "Live at the Circle Room." Marquette bought the building in 1964.

Club Milwaukeean, 1123 W. Vliet St., lost its license in 1957 after a police inspector noted more than 80 arrests there in just a couple years' time. It wasn't the first controversy, either. In 1948 Billboard magazine carried a notice about the arrest, for indecent performance, of dancer Vivian Talmadge (aka Gale Parker).

Dreamland the Beautiful, There was a Dreamland at 3rd and Vine that still stands and was converted to condos. But the much larger Dreamland the Beautiful was on Wells between 6th and 7th Streets. Opened in 1906 as The Hippodrome – movies were shown in those days – it was already re-named Dreamland by the 1910s.

Eagles Million Dollar Club House, 2401 W. Wisconsin Ave. The ballroom became Devine's Million Dollar Ballroom after George J. Devine leased it in 1939. My grandparents danced there and I bet yours did, too. A couple decades ago it was briefly Tony Selig's Omnibus, but now it's The Rave.

The Empire Cafe, West Water Street (now Plankinton Avenue) and Wisconsin Avenue, was located in the old Empire Building, a crenellated gothic fort of a building erected just before the turn of the 20th century. The building was razed in 1927 and replaced with the new Empire Building, of which the Riverside Theater is a major part.

Lakota's Theatre Restaurant was a popular club at 602-604 W. Wisconsin Ave., in the 1940s. Performances included jazz, R&B (Louis Jordan played there) and comedy

Sure, there's a Starbucks in the Downtown Hilton now, but that's got nothing on the sprawling Patio Coffee Shop that served hotel guests and neighborhood folks breakfast, lunch and dinner when the property at 5th Street and Wisconsin Avenue was still called the Hotel Schroeder.

Schlitz's Palm Garden, opened adjacent to the Schlitz Hotel in 1896 at 3rd and Wisconsin and was wildly popular but closed, thanks to Prohibition, in 1921. The space reopened and ran as a movie theater until the 1960s and was razed in 1964. In its heyday there was live music, by the likes of Sousa's band, andPresidents McKinley and Wilson visited. Upon its closing in 1921, the Journal referred to it as "Mecca of tourists and visitors to Milwaukee for more than twenty-five years."

Shorty's Pine and Desert Rooms, 3411 W. Villard Ave., opened as a nickel burger joint in 1930 by Isaac (Shorty) Sader. After stints in two other locations, Shorty built his own place at 3411 W. Villard in 1948 and later expanded it. By 1960, Shorty's could seat 280 and had a staff of 38. Served everything from southern fried chicken to sauerbraten. By 1965 it was called Shorty's Family Restaurant and even served Thanksgiving dinner and a lunch buffet.


rm2now | Aug. 9, 2013 at 12:28 p.m. (report)

What a fun article. Thanks for compiling these bits of history!

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