How Steny’s Helped Revive Walker’s Point
It’s still thriving -- and changing -- after 28 years.
There really wasn’t much of a bar scene in the Walker’s Point area — or elsewhere — when Jerry Steny (born Jerome Stenstrup) and his wife Cheryl opened Steny’s Tavern & Grill on 800 S. 2nd Street. “There was Brady Street and that was about it,” Jerry notes.
He vividly remembers the birth of his bar. “I bought it on a Sunday and opened on a Tuesday,” Steny quips.
Built in 1886, the structure began as a residential building until it transformed into a storefront in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that it became a bar and has since held that occupation.
After just two days of painting, Steny felt it was good enough to open up. He remembers being able to take roughly 20 steps from the front door to the end of the bar and the original bathrooms not having personal sinks. There was one sink outside that both sexes would share.
Steny and Cheryl were married, living above the bar and expecting a child all within the first year of business. “I just worked all of the time,” he recalls.
Back then Steny’s had no food. Cheryl would work the cocktail hour, which started around 3 p.m. and then Steny would relieve her at nights. “We would meet on the steps, high-five each other and switch since the baby was upstairs sleeping.”
Since then, Steny’s has grown from an 8-stool bar to its current capacity of over 100 patrons inside and 70 outside.
A key addition came in 1990. There was a small empty building next store, once a barber shop, that Steny bought in 1985 and used as a place to sleep for the first few months. Five years later he had knocked down the wall in between the two buildings to expand his business. By then he had already turned the bar’s backyard, once housing a swing set and garage, into one of Milwaukee’s first and biggest beer gardens at the time.
Steny’s also became one of the first bars to host block parties during the late 80’s. Steny was able to watch the neighborhood go from bad to better and from busy to slow (when Water Street was born in the early 90’s). Now, “the neighborhood is starting to come back again,” he says. “It’s becoming restaurant oriented.”
That is good news for those just starting out as new owners. For Steny, it has been quite a ride. From 1990 to 2000, his venue was known as a biker bar – a reputation that began because patrons were able to come in on Wednesdays and sign up to win the Harley that hung up in the bar. “I’ve never considered it a biker bar,” he says. “Biker-friendly yes.”
Today, the tavern caters to quite a diverse group of patrons and offers expanded hours and a full menu. “It’s an old time corner tavern without neighbors,” says Steny. “And home of the famous Bloody Mary (voted 2013’s Best Bloody Mary by the Great Lakes Hemophilia Foundation), untouched and unchanged for 20 years,” he boasts.
Yet the tavern continues to progress. According to his son and employee, Ryan Steny, the bar has become known for beer too. “When I came aboard about three years ago, we were not a beer bar, we were a sports bar that went thru domestics, not craft/micros and imports.” “Now, I consider us one of the top beer bars in Milwaukee with 28 beers on tap (only 3 domestics) and over 50 craft/micros beers in a bottle.”
Steny’s will be hosting a party on New Year’s Eve called New Beers Eve. They will be tapping very “rare, unique and super hard to get beers from 8 p.m. until midnight,” says Ryan.
Ryan has become a huge reason for the younger night crowd and is great with promotions, according to Steny. Steny and his wife are finally what he calls “empty-nesters.” “I’m starting to retire, and I don’t want to work any harder,” he admits. But while the nest is empty, the bar is not. It still houses three generations of Stenstrups.
“Ever since I started working for my father our relationship has gone from good to amazing, like best friends. And it’s really nice to be able to work with my grandpa too,” says Ryan.
In the near future, patrons can expect to see the Stenstrups, whether it is father, son, grandpa or all three, and of course, more renovations. The menu will be revised, the kitchen remodeled and the beer garden will become an enclosed three seasons porch to name a few. He may be one of the longest standing bar owners in the area, but Jerry Steny intends to keep changing to meet the times.