“Everyone is a Charlie Here”
Club Charlies aims to be the friendliest bar in town.
“If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and sex, you don’t live longer, it just seems longer.”
This anonymous quote, along with a few other punchy proverbs, is painted on the wall, adding to the atmosphere at Club Charlies, located on East Menomonee in the Third Ward.
“It’s a mood setter, ” says Dawn Bloomfield, one of the owners of Club Charlies. “It relaxes you, makes you think.”
Dawn and husband Craig Bloomfield opened Club Charlies in April 2009, and quickly attracted a loyal following. From Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb just outside Detroit, the Bloomfields moved to Milwaukee and fell in love with it.
“It’s the honesty of the people. It’s one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen,” says Dawn. “There’s never a dull moment.”
Still, the Bloomfields felt they could add to the city’s atmosphere by creating a special kind of bar. A bar where everybody knows your name (to steal a line from Cheers). A bar where you walk in and the bartender has your drink waiting for you. It was something they’d experienced in their Michigan hometown and they wanted to bring to Milwaukee.
Craig had worked in corporate America for Kohls, and Dawn has her own photography business based in Michigan, but Craig decided to retire early and the duo opened Club Charlies.
With a staff of only 18, including Dawn and Craig, the entire business is community oriented. Nearly all the bartenders have been here since the bar opened three years ago, and the serving staff has stayed consistent throughout. New staff is put through an approval process, not by just the Bloomfields, but by the customers themselves. Dawn says she finds out a lot about her staff from her regulars.
“It’s a little family. A Charlies family,” says Eric Ledesma, an art major at the UW-Milwaukee. Ledesma has been on staff at Club Charlies for about a year and a half. He decided he wanted to work here after being a regular customer himself.
The staff is so integral to the bar that they’re even included in the menu. Under the burgers portion, you have the option between five different “custom designed burgers from our staff.” You could try “The Grumpy,” a burger created by the bartender Gunar, with blue cheese, fried onions and horsy sauce. Or maybe even “The Hof,” created by bartender Mike, with BB-Q, onion and cheddar jack.
Besides the burgers, there are vegetarian options, homemade soups and even half-pound filets. The main focus of the menu, Dawn says, is to give people homemade, made-from-scratch food in creative combinations.
Then there is Charlies’ famous Pajama Party Brunch on Sundays. Come in your PJs and receive 10 percent off. The Bloomfields got the idea from a restaurant in Michigan and decided to put it in their own restaurant when staff working late on Saturday night would have to come in early Sunday. The mentality is, “get out of bed and come right over.”
Still, Dawn says they are more of a bar than restaurant. With dark red walls and black furnishings, the décor here is “eclectic” but relaxed. The signature of the restaurant is a large, colorful painting of a party. It was done by one of Dawn’s best friends, Monika Essen, a set designer for the Detroit Opera House. Each person in the painting represents a friend back in Michigan. “They’re partying with us every night,” says Bloomfield.
Then there are those quotes on the walls. With two Oscar Wilde quips, including the famous “Work is the curse of the drinking class,” and quotes from W.C. Fields, Mae West and Dorthy Parker, respectively, it definitely gives customers something to talk about.
“We’ve had people sit down at the bar, start discussing the quote and a year and a half later, they’re engaged,” Dawn says.
Club Charlies has faced occasional challenges, but has stuck to its formula: “just be really nice to people,” as Dawn puts it. “If you’re nice to people, people will be nice to you.”
Jeff Sebastian, a regular, says he comes here because “it’s a little like the TV show Cheers. Everybody knows everybody.” Not to mention having the largest Point Brewery selection. Jim Wickman, the owner of Point Brewery and a regular himself, has even made a specialty 16 ounce “Big Charlie” for the restaurant. “It was a real honor for us,” says Dawn.
It’s that kind of place, where the customers help create the friendly atmosphere. “If someone sits down at the bar and isn’t talking, our regulars will engage,” Dawn says.
Now, if you are up on your grammar, you may notice that Club Charlies is missing the apostrophe. Bloomfield explains that the name came from her grandfather. He would call anyone close to him a “Charlie”; it was a term of endearment.
“Everyone is a Charlie here,” she says.