Blatz Gum 1927

In the middle of Prohibition what was a brewery to do to keep in operation? I would not have guessed making grape flavored gum but you gotta do what you gotta do!

Just a note to stop by the Milwaukee County Historical Society to see their fantastic Brew City Mke exhibit. Going on now through April 30th.


Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad 1914

In the early 20th century advertisers tried to make Pabst seem as glamorous as possible by using beautiful women gently hoisting a stein. It’s a long way from current ad campaigns branding it as the beer for tattooed hipsters. What makes it interesting is that this is about the time when Prohibitionists were out in force working on the demise of all alcohol. The brewery industry needed to portray a gentle, upper-class view of beer to offset the base degradation usually painted by the Prohibitionists.

From the Milwaukee Sentinel, January 1, 1914.


When the Well for the Pabst Brewery Ran Dry

Breweries were always well known for the purity of their product and all the Milwaukee breweries originally used artesian wells to tap into a very clean source of water to brew beer. Of course those wells don’t last forever especially when the well is used heavily. The Pabst brewery well lasted until 1902 when it was forced to use city water drawn from the lake. This article tells about that problem and a little bit of the history of that spring.

Milwaukee Journal – June 12, 1902


Famous Springs Which Had a Reputation in the Days of the Indians Appear to Have Yielded All Their Resources to the Making of Beer and Another Supply is Needed.

The artesian wells which have for many years supplied the water for the famous products of the Pabst Brewery have failed and the company has petitioned the city authorities for water accommodations and will be supplied with a large main, which will be laid from Third and Prairie streets.

The springs at the brewery were famous long before the site was selected for the largest brewery in the world and the water which gushed from the earth there was known among the Indians as the great “Mankaki waters” at a time when the great northwest was a wilderness. The springs were enlarged by Jacob Best, founder of the brewery, and later the artesian wells were sunk as the flow from the springs was not sufficient to supply the greatly increased needs of the brewery. For nearly a score of years this water has been used to make the body of the Pabst beer and its purity and wholesomeness have been a great boon to the company. About one year ago the supply began to fail and it has been a great source of worry to the company, and at present a large quantity of city water is being used. Last month alone more than $5,000 worth of water was purchased from the city mains and as soon as the big 15-inch pipe which the city engineer will ask to be laid is tapped, the company will probably become the largest user of municipal water.


The Free Lunch Controversy of 1912

For a very long time in the late 19th century until Prohibition closed taverns in 1920, Milwaukee saloons were well known for providing large spreads of free food for their drinking patrons. The higher class taverns and hotel bars downtown served free hot lunches of sandwiches, ham, beef, and sausages with their 5 cent beers. These were extremely popular among the gentlemen of the time and places such as the Pfister bar, the Plankinton Hotel bar, the Gargoyle, and the Schlitz Palm Garden were busily packed by downtown clerks and business-men during lunch time. A man needed a drink at lunch to ease the pressure of the work-day and a healthy snack of sausage would make that glass of beer so much better. Extra salty ham or pretzels would require an extra beer or two to help wash it down. (Milwaukee Journal, March 13, 1952)

Today, although it is becoming harder to find, a rare few local bars have free happy hour spreads which bring back memories of the old days. Otherwise, you have to travel to Spain to get the traditional free tapas with your beer. A good spanish tavern will provide you with a small sandwich tapa or “cover” to keep the flies out of your beer!

Back in July of 1912, at Fred Smith’s saloon at 30th & Clarke, Alexander Polatsch stepped in with his last nickel for lunch-time beer and a snack. When he grabbed at the free plate of liverwurst with his dirty hands, proprietor Smith made a strong complaint and the two ended up in a fight. A passing patrol officer stepped in and arrested Alexander. At court the next day Judge Neelen fined the young man $10 and costs for disorderly conduct and pronounced, ” I wouldn’t eat any free lunch if I was starving. If a man is hungry he ought to buy a lunch. These fellows go there, and fill up on beer and eat a few bites of sausage and then delude themselves into the belief that they have had a square meal.” (Milwaukee Journal, July 25, 1912)

By the next day the Milwaukee Journal continued to try and feed the controversy that Judge Neelen brought to light. It interviewed several prominent Milwaukee men such as Pat Donahue of the Chamber of Commerce who stated, “Well, I’ll have to starve, that’s all.” Amos F. Gould, on the other hand said, “I don’t see of what benefit they can be to the saloonkeeper, when a man comes in and buys a 5-cent beer and then eats 35-cents worth of lunch. Those free lunches of limburger cheese and serve-a-lot sausage ought to be put just as far away as possible.” (Milwaukee Journal, July 26, 1912)

In the July 27th edition of the Journal, an article entitled “Alderman Denies Reporting Opposition to Free Lunch”, Alderman W. I. Greene of the 18th ward denied a rumor that he was going to introduce an ordinance into the council to abolish free lunches.

Although it might seem like a ridiculous idea, according to the American Brewer’s Review of September 1, 1909, Cleveland was working on passing an ordinance to abolish the free lunch. The article stated “It is intended to introduce an ordinance in the common council making illegal the supply of free food in any retail drink establishment. In case the Common Council refuses to pass such an ordinance on the ground that it would be unconstitutional, an appeal will be made to the city health office for the abolition of free lunch on the ground that it is unsanitary and a breeder of disease.” The law was eventually enacted for the entire state of Ohio limiting saloon lunches to pretzels, crackers, and cheese. The city of Los Angeles was also at the time working on a similar ordinance to abolish free lunches but in December of 1912 it was, “…defeated by a heavy vote.” (New York Times, December 4, 1912). Chicago enacted their anti free-lunch ordinance in 1917. San Francisco too enacted an ordinance abolishing the free lunch in February 1918. That ordinance stated:

Section 1. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation engaged in the business of selling spiritous, malt or fermented liquors or wines or any admixture thereof in less quantities than one quart or to whom has been issued a Retail Liquor Dealer’s License by the Tax Collector of the City and County of San Francisco, to set up, maintain, conduct or carry any lunch counter, table, sideboard, buffet or other device whereon are kept, served, furnished, distributed or consumed any meals, parts of meals or articles of food for the free use of or gratuitous distribution to patrons of any such business.” (San Francisco Municipal Record, February 28, 1918)

Eventually, the larger battle against alcohol resulted in the Volstead Act, beginning on January 17, 1920 and saloons had the bigger worry of not being able to sell beer at all.


The Milwaukee Fish Fry

Fish Fries have seemingly been around forever. But when did they become a huge Milwaukee tradition? Where did they begin? The answer may surprise you.

July 9, 1933 – Milwaukee Journal

Fish Fry Taste Conquers City in Wake of Return of Beer

“Fish Fry. Fridays. 8 p.m. to 12 p.m.”
“Fish Fry. Free. Fridays. All Day.”
“Fish Fry. Tuesdays and Fridays. 9 p.m. to 12 p.m.”

These and hundreds of similar signs in the windows of taverns, beer gardens and hotels throughout the city and suburbs tell the story of the popular hold the fish fry has taken on Milwaukee. On Friday nights thousands of people, young and old, go out to eat fish and drink beer, listen to music and song, and while away a few sociable hours. The fish fry is the city’s latest fad – a hobby that has developed into immense popularity since 3.2 beer became legal. Never has the town had such an appetite for fish.

But the fish fry is also serving as a center around which some of the better drinking places are reviving the spirit of sociality which in beer days was known as “gemuetlichkeit.” The fish fry is becoming a sort of family affair, a weekly event which father and mother and even the youngsters are attending. Sister brings her boyfriend and brother his best girl. It is an inexpensive past time. A dollar goes a long way.

Credited to Speakeasies

Who started the fish fry craze in Milwaukee? None other than the cunning operators of the “speakeasies.” According to the manager of a downtown hotel, it was one of the best-known speakeasy owners who stumbled on the idea. To offset his outrageous prices for drinks, he served free fish. It promoted good feeling and struck a popular chord with the night rounders. His competitors copied the idea and long before beer came back the fish fry was a popular institution here.

When beer returned and taverns were opened in such numbers that few owners could make money, the costly free lunches of other days were replaced by a weekly fish fry. The beer drinkers fell for the idea, and today a thousand or more taverns are serving fish lunches, but most of them only on Friday nights.

The free Fish Fry is a simple affair. A piece of boned perch or a boned pike, with a slice or two of rye bread is served. A good customer will probably buy several beers before he finishes his fish.

Revive Family Nights

Some of the taverns and beer gardens that cater to family trade fell into the fish fry stunt and ask their customers to bring their families on Friday nights. Now many of these places every Friday night serve almost as many women as men. Fish dealers say that some of the taverns have become their best customers. buying from 5 to 50 pounds for Friday night’s lunches.

“Fish lunches are popular, but just now fish is so expensive that even with increased beer sales on Fridays we do not make much profit,” said a tavern keeper, who has considerable family trade. “Some people eat and buy only a nickel glass of beer. But others are more liberal. Fish and beer is a good combination. I believe it will go just as well in winter as in summer.”

Not all the fish fry lunches are free, however. Some of the places of the beer garden type, serve more elaborate fish lunches, furnish music and entertainers and do everything they can to promote that old spirit of “gemuetlichkeit.” A charge of 10 cents for a fish plate lunch is made. It consists of fried boned perch or boned pike, rye bread and butter, cole slaw or potato chips, and a pickle. To give these fish parties every Tuesday and Friday nights is a more democratic air, at one of the beer gardens near the City Hall, the linen tablecloths are removed and the lunches and beer served on the beer table tops.

Recalling Old Days

An orchestra plays beer music, mostly old and popular pieces that bring back memories of the nineties and the early part of the century. German favorites are not overlooked. As the evening progresses and the crowds get into the right mood, out steps a young woman, making her way among the diners while a large chart of verses is hung on the wall. She is going to sing “Schnitzelbank.” The young woman knows her stuff and in a few minutes everybody is singing with her.

“Singing is always an important part of our program,” said the manager of this place. if we can revive the spirit of the former beer gardens, with the whole family went and was entertained in a wholesome way, we feel well compensated. Milwaukee is responding.”

Not all fish fry parties are public affairs. Not long ago at a resort north of the city a large private fish fry was held that was attended by 80 invited guests. The lunch started with a spiced herring and a carefully prepared sauce. Then came fried boned fish and potato chips, coleslaw, radishes, pickles and onions, and lots of rye bread and butter. The beer steins were kept filled. An orchestra played and following dinner the chairs and tables were removed and the rest of the evening spent in dancing.

Popular in Homes

Fish Fry parties are becoming popular at many Milwaukee homes. Just now, Milwaukee is decidedly fish minded.

Fish prices just now are high, far higher in proportion than meat. Boned perch, mostly from Lake Erie and Green Bay, is selling at 27 and 28 cents a pound. Undressed perch is about 18 cents a pound. Boned pike is worth 32 cents a pound, while the price for undressed pike is about 20 cents a pound. Trout also are high and so are whitefish. The former sells for about 25 to 30 cents a pound. Whitefish costs more.

The city’s fishing fleet consists of about a dozen fishing tugs, but some of them have been laid off for the summer because the catch has been small.

“It costs about $60 to 65 dollars a day to operate a fishing tug,” said a south side fisherman. “Last year perch were quite plentiful, but this year they are so scarce that we are hardly catching any at all. Sometimes a boat brings in less than a hundred pounds of fish for the entire day’s work. Trout are just as hard to catch. The day when we caught whitefish near Milwaukee is gone.

Experts Give Recipe

Fishermen say that many people spoil good fish because they do not fry it correctly. Fish should be carefully dressed and scaled, say these experts, then be dipped in beaten egg and rolled in corn meal, or cracker or bread crumbs. A kettle of hot, deep fat or oil should be ready and the fish submerged in the fat immediately after the crumbs have been applied. The crumbs should not be allowed to get soggy before the fish is dropped in the hot oil or fat. Fried in deep fat the cooking will be uniform all over the fish and a fine crisp, brown fish is assured. Fried in a pan with but a little lard or not enough to submerge the fish results in uneven cooking.

Milwaukee years ago was noted for its fish dinners. At that time the resort at Whitefish Bay was known throughout the country for its whitefish meals. On Jones Island “Gov.” Kanski and later another well-known islander, named Plambeck prepared delicious fish dinners. They also had crab lunches. But Jones Island is no longer what it used to be.

Budweiser in Milwaukee

This photo was taken at the convention of the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages (non-alcoholic of course!) in November of 1930 at the Auditorium. The Budweiser car/boat drew an admiring crowd on its tour through the United States. This was at the height of Prohibition so notice the grim attitudes of everyone in the scene!

Karl Raatzch Saloon Raided – April 24, 1926

On this day back in 1926, Prohibition was in in full swing. People who wanted their favorite beverage had to find some place to slake their thirst. Luckily Milwaukee had plenty of illegal underground bars that catered to their needs. Karl Raatzch, who founded the Milwaukee restaurant which still bears his name, ran an underground beer hall just south of Steinmeyer’s store on the corner of 3rd and Highland.

Milwaukee Journal, April 24, 1926

Karl Raatzsch Saloon Raided

Federal Agents Uncover Large Supply of Beer in Place

Karl A. Raatzsch, proprieter of a bar at 310 Third St., which was known to thousands of Milwaukeeans before prohibition and has retained its fame since, was arrested late Friday following a raid on the place by federal prohibition agents. In view of the fact that no fear was entertained that he would not appear when wanted, Harry L. Kellogg, United States commissioner, allowed him his liberty without bail.

Before prohibition the place was known as “the wein stube” because it was one of the few saloons in Milwaukee that catered to wine drinkers, and it was probably the only one that catered to wine drinkers who could afford only the inexpensive wines. A huge glass of wine was sold for a nickel, and it was a common saying that the cheapest way to be relieved temporarily of worry and care was to go to the wein stube and drink a glass or two of wine.

Revived by Raatzsch

The place dropped into obscurity in the early days of prohibition, but its fame began to revive when Raatzsch took hold of it a few years ago. It has come to be one of the most widely known places in the city, and it reputation rested solely on its meals and its beer. Beer was the only alcoholic beverage that the prohibition agents found.

Agents had made purchases of beer in the place previously, and late Friday another purchase was made. The raid followed.

Beer on Tap

Two half-barrels of beer were on tap, the beer flowing through the spigots as before prohibition. The tapped barrels were in the cellar, as was the rest of the contraband seized.

There were 14 other half-barrels all ready for tapping. Each held 15 1/2 gallons. Twenty 15-gallon crocks and two 25-gallon ones held beer in the process of fermentation. Two 15-gallon copper wash boilers stood on two gas plates, with beer “cooking” in them.

There were also two 50-gallon barrels of malt syrup, six barrels of near-beer and eight gallons of brewers’ yeast. this is the first time that brewers’ yeast, which makes much better beer than ordinary yeast has been found in a raid in Milwaukee.