Hooligan’s Old School Style

Its 19th century structure was built atop a tree trunk, where the beer has flowed since 1936.

By - Jan 21st, 2013 07:52 am
Hooligan's. Photo by Audrey Jean Poston.

Hooligan’s. Photo by Audrey Jean Poston.

Hooligan’s Super Bar’s roots run deep on Milwaukee’s East Side. Literally. When the building was constructed more than 100 years ago, a tree stood at its location at 2017 E North Ave. But instead of removing the tree, it was incorporated into the building’s structure by the builders, who used it as a support beam while the building took shape around it.

Established in 1936, Hooligan’s was originally just a tavern located in the building’s main level. However, when owners John and Cindy Sidoff bought the tavern 35 years ago, both the building and business underwent major changes. Six months after their purchase, the Sidoffs decided to install a small deli. That was so successful, that just one year later, the couple decided to put in a grill. Ten years later, their dining operation once again expanded, as the building’s upstairs apartment was replaced with a prep kitchen, a bar and an additional dining area.

Back then, Hooligan’s was considered a super bar, which allowed the bar to legally sell carry-out liquor and food until bar time. As one of the few such bars, says manager Jeff Jackson,  Hooligan’s was the place to go to get a late-night food fix. Though it still uses the super bar name today, it no longer is legally designated as one, and only serves carryouts until 10 p.m.

Hooligan's. Photo by Audrey Jean Poston.

Hooligan’s. Photo by Audrey Jean Poston.

With the upstairs addition, the layout came to resemble Hooligan’s current set-up. Upon entering the building, patrons are greeted by the downstairs bar area. Seated against the left wall, people watch sports on one of the establishment’s many televisions, typically while consuming the burgers, sandwiches and wraps that have made Hooligan’s one of the top choices for Milwaukee bar food.

Customers can also sample any of the more than 30 micro and import brews that Hooligan’s  offers. The wall behind them boasts a display of dozens of tap handles, which Jackson says pays homage both to Hooligan’s history and its ever-revolving beer choices.

You’ll find regulars like Coco Burnett and Chris Moseley huddled up to the bar, catching up with one another and reminiscing about some of the characters that used to frequent Hooligan’s. Like the bar’s older tap beers, these people may be gone, but are definitely not forgotten.

Those looking to escape the noiser, more congested main level can head upstairs for a quieter dining experience. The upstairs is brighter, as windows let in natural light and allow patrons to look out on the bustling streets below. Children can search through a cabinet filled with board games for something to occupy the time until their food arrives.

Upstairs at Hooligan's. Photo by Audrey Jean Poston.

Upstairs at Hooligan’s. Photo by Audrey Jean Poston.

This choice between two separate environments is what makes the establishment so unique, says Kelly Schaefer, who’s worked at Hooligan’s for two years: “It has such a homey feel. It’s louder downstairs if that’s what you want or you can go upstairs for a quieter environment.”

Years ago, the downstairs bar area was even nosier. Jackson says Hooligan’s used to set up a stage at the east end of the bar and bring in bands to play. He says the BoDeans and the Violent Femmes often performed outside the nearby Oriental Theater until, one day, owner John Sidoff offered them a gig at the bar — and their first live shows.

“The BoDeans actually mentioned in Rolling Stone magazine that Hooligan’s was their first venue ever played,” Jackson says. “From what I hear, it was crazy times.”

Today, televisions provide much of the bar’s entertainment, with TVs on both levels accommodating sports fans of all kinds. Pat and Mary Reavey have lived in Milwaukee for 14 years and come to Hooligan’s every Saturday to play trivia. Originally from England, Pat said he likes that Hooligan’s is always willing to put on a soccer game for him.

In 2011, Hooligan’s even installed TV’s in their enclosed outdoor patio so smokers would not have to miss any sports action.

Regular patrons also cherish the bar’s history and continuity. Although she only stops by three or four times each year, Daria Kempka says Hooligan’s food keeps bringing her back. As a kid, she would often come to the bar for lunch with her dad and his friends. “I like the history,” Kempka says. “It’s old-school.”

Games at Hooligan's. Photo By Audrey Jean Poston.

Games at Hooligan’s. Photo By Audrey Jean Poston.

Moseley says he first started sneaking into Hooligan’s in the 1970s at the age of 16, back when “your feet used to stick to the floor,” he jokes. For more than 30 years, the broad spectrum of customers is what keeps bringing him back, he says: “You get everyone from store clerks to attorneys.”

However, not everyone has been so complimentary of Hooligan’s. In spring 2012, there were complaints from two neighborhood associations that objected to Hooligan’s sponsorship of a St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl, charging it caused drunk participants to disrupt traffic and create extra noise in East Side neighborhoods. Despite this, the liquor license for Hooligan’s, along with nearby Vitucci’s and R.C.’s, was unanimously approved for renewal by the City Licenses Committee.

Jackson says Hooligan’s seeks feedback from the East Side Business Improvement District when preparing for events such as the Shamrock Shuffle. He notes that extra doormen are hired in order to prevent someone who is too intoxicated from entering the bar. Ultimately, though, the final call is made by bartenders and managers. Hooligan’s also offers highly-intoxicated individuals water so that they do not have to break up the party, Jackson says.

Hooligan’s is currently in the process of revamping its service in order to keep up with what Jackson calls “the ever-changing North Ave.” While Hooligan’s 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour, along with its happy hour drink prices, will remain the same, Jackson says people can expect to see changes to the food menu, as well as the nightly drink specials.

Yet, despite the changes to the building, the business and the beer over the years, this establishment still remains rooted to the neighborhood, its mighty tree trunk still standing proud in the basement, holding together the history of Hooligan’s.

Categories: Taverns

6 thoughts on “Taverns: Hooligan’s Old School Style”

  1. Mike says:

    Good article. I’m a member of one of those two neighborhood associations that objected to Hooligan’s sponsorship of the St. Patrick’s Day pub crawls that go by the name of Stumble or Shuffle. I’m glad that Hooligan’s, despite it’s name, wants to be seen as a responsible bar. If Hooligan’s wants to keep drunks out their bar, imagine how the neighbors feel! Although North Ave. has a long tradition of bars in the neighborhood, inviting thousands to the neighborhood to engage in public drunkenness is an egregious offense to the community.

    It should be noted that the City of Milwaukee issued a warning letter to Hooligan’s because of their participation and sponsorship in “pub crawl” events. All 6 East Side neighborhood groups north of North Ave. have signed a letter opposing marketing the East Side as a destination for destructive drinking. Sponsoring a drinking festival that has no festival grounds, no security and no responsible party is just asking for trouble. And trouble is what we’ve got.

  2. A fine article on one of our beloved East Side institutions but on behalf of the East Side Business Improvement District, I must point out one inaccuracy: the East Side Business Improvement did not organize the Shamrock Shuffle nor any pub crawl similar in nature where the emphasis is on getting so drunk you shuffle or stumble around. We encourage area bars to take steps as Hooligan’s has done to prevent over-serving individuals. We want people to have fun and stay safe while enjoying the East Side!

  3. Juli Kaufmann says:

    I can’t allow a story about Hooligan’s to pass without sending a shout out. Hooligan’s will forever live in my heart. We held our wedding party there, thanks to the generosity of John Sidoff, shutting down the joint on a Saturday for my party. Imagine all your wedding guests choosing their meal off the Hoolie’s bar food menu! Perfection. And, we had perhaps one of the last bar top band performances. Our wedding band was Westside Andy and the Mel Ford band, with special guest my brother Joe LeSage on guitar. And, another long gone memory – Hooligan’s used to have a marquee below the corner entrance that says Hooligan’s Super Bar where they would announce specials. On our special day it read: Juli and Mike Kaufmann – Freshly Brewed. A Milwaukee classic. Thanks for all the great memories and those yet to come Hooligan’s.

  4. Alba says:

    Hooligan’s is definitely an Easy Side institution and a classic bar. Hooligan’s and Von Trier do great things for the North Ave neighborhood. Hooligan’s – please keep your upper level open all the time, especially when it’s packed downstairs. I know your surly waitresses don’t want to walk up and down the stairs every few minutes, but people aren’t going to buy food if they can’t sit somewhere.

  5. Melissa says:

    I also wish the upstairs was open more often! We would love to come for happy hour, but now that we have a child, we really need somewhere to sit with him. We came by a few months ago around 5pm, thinking upstairs would be open. It was not and we tried sitting in the bar, which did not work. We ended up leaving right after the waitress came over with menus. We asked if the upstairs was open and all we got was “no”. We explained that we would probably leave then, and all she did was walk away. The bartender just looked at us and rolled his eyes as we packed up to leave. I was very surprised to say the least! I guess I was expecting a little more…info on when the upstairs would open, what would be a good time to come in…something more than being ignored. We have not been back since and will likely wait until summer when we know we can be seated outside.

  6. Jim Bouman says:

    In 69 or ’70,there was a massive strike against all the breweries in Milwaukee. No Schlitz, No Pabst. No Miller. No Blatz.
    Hooligans, like all the rest, had to get the brew from somewhere. They began serving, in the traditional “schooner,” which
    had cost 15 cents, a sudsy substitute imported from somewhere north of North and Prospect.
    Oshkosh supplied the foamy amber stuff, under the label “Big chief Oshkosh”. most of the Hooligans crowd referred to it as “weasel piss,” mostly upset by paying an extra dime for their drinks. then the brewery moguls settled with the union and The good stuff began to flow. But hooligans’ schooner price stayed at a quarter.
    that was the end of to stand-up drinking man’s joint. Five years later it was a fern bar.

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