Michael Horne

Valent’s, Your Early Morning Bar

A neighborhood bar in search of a neighborhood, the one-time hangout for American Motors workers opens 6 a.m. but closes by dinner time.

By - Aug 28th, 2014 06:36 pm
Valent's Schlitz Sign. Photo by Michael Horne.

Valent’s Schlitz Sign. Photo by Michael Horne.

You can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning, so Valent’s is ready for you early-risers at 6 a.m., five days a week. But you can linger a bit over your Saturday morning breakfast — the tavern doesn’t open until 6:30 a.m. And you’ll have to find something else to do Sundays, when Ann Valent [vuh-LENT] takes a day off. She’ll turn 91 on September 25th, and hasn’t missed a day here since she opened this place with her late husband Gus Valent in 1946.

Back then, the great World War had ended, service personnel were returning and America’s factories such as Nash Motor Company, with its 33-acre 5-story body plant built across the street in 1939, were running around the clock responding to pent-up consumer demand.

Taverns like this one were common in Milwaukee, giving workers a refuge just outside the company gates, and offering such services as a free (or cheap) lunch, a place to cash a paycheck and even somewhere to live. They also ran nearly around the clock, staying open as many hours per day as the law permitted. This was the city of the 6 a.m. tavern, and Valent’s is keeping the tradition alive.

This 2-story building at the northwest corner of N. Richards St. and E. Abert Pl. was constructed as a “restaurant and boarding house” in 1925 for $15,000. There are still 12 rooms above the small tavern. The building also included living quarters for the owner, as it does today.

By 1934 the city inspector came around and decided to classify the “restaurant” as a “tavern and restaurant,” indicating that such had been its use since the time it was constructed during Prohibition.

The American Motors factory that was long the source of so many customers (and tenants) closed in 1989 after years of decline. The building was eventually demolished and redeveloped as a Wal-Mart and other retail shops, yet Valent’s continues on. What are you going to do? Gus died in 2003. Do you expect Ann to haul up stakes and find a new place for her lovely houseplants?

This is an industrial bar in a post-industrial world. Remnants of the former auto plant abound, with nameplates of virtually every American Motors model tacked to the bar. There is even an old Nash emblem.

Since the tavern no longer serves food, the restaurant area now is a place of storage and wonder, as are many of the tables in the room. Toward the east, the place takes on the air of a garden center as pots and saucers mingle with an old cash register and piles and piles of lottery slips.

There is only one beer on tap — Lite, and a bunch of canned beers. This is naturally a place for a Pabst, and you can get a can for $2.

If you’re lucky, like I was on a recent visit, you can get a friend to buy a lottery ticket for you. If you are really, really lucky, like I was on a recent visit, you can win $7. For there are lottery tickets in abundance, and you can even buy the mega money tickets at the little booth where they used to cash paychecks for workers. There was a $24,000 Badger 5 winning ticket sold here in September 2012.

There are also three electronic gaming machines scattered about the bar.

If you have a hankering for Pork Hocks, you’re in luck. Even though the restaurant has closed, you can still load up on Hershey chocolates, chips, Hall’s Mints, Snickers, Twix and Three Musketeers.

If you feel a sneeze coming on you can buy a fresh hanky for $1.25. A nice new comb will set you back a buck. Beef steak anybody? $1.50. Economize with a bag of Pork Rinds for just 60 cents.

The tavern has 2,118 square feet of space and a capacity of 80, which it probably has not reached since the night of the last shift over at AMC. It closes at 7 p.m., so this is not the place for Disco Night.

It has a two-bedroom, 945-square-foot apartment attached, as well as 12 sleeping rooms occupying a mere 2,124 square feet above. The latter is a reminder that many workers in industrial plants lived solitary lives. There was more to the American Dream at its height than the middle-class family model. All the lonely people.

The building is owned by the Valent Living Trust, and is assessed at $7,500 for the 3,240 square foot lot, [$2.31 / s.f.] and $210,500 for the 5,181 square foot building for a total assessment of $218,000. Taxes are $7,875.86 and are paid on the installment plan.

The room is partly paneled in wood, the rest is plastered and filled with the memorabilia a bar can collect over decades. This includes a veritable navy of model ships. All aboard the U.S.S. Pabst, made from relics of that tasty Milwaukee product’s packaging — bottle and can — many years ago, when this was a highly nicotinized area, as you can see from the brownness here and there.

Today the smoking is outside in a lovely landscaped stretch of sidewalk. Cigarette sales account for 10 per cent of the action here, and a pack of Pyramid will set you back $6.25.

The outside of the bar is really classic. An enamel “Valent’s 3853” sign hangs above the door. “Restaurant” is spelled out above the window in a very stylish Deco script. The most prominent feature is a projecting Schlitz beer sign. It was put up in December, 1952 to replace a Gettleman sign installed in 1951. The Schlitz sign is now in its 62nd year of operation, which makes it the oldest one thus far documented in our tavern travels.

In 1982, the sign’s days seemed numbered. A permit had been taken out to “install a PABST sign to replace the existing Schlitz sign that will be removed,” a city inspector wrote.

In February, 1983, the inspector noted that the “Schlitz sign is still up.” By June, 1983, the inspector had had enough. “Not erected VOID permit,” and we are the luckier for it.

[1939 Nash Corporate Video]

The Rundown

  • Location: 3853 N. Richards St.
  • Neighborhood: Williamsburg (!)
  • Phone number: (414) 962-2220
  • Website: What’s that?
  • Facebook: Come agin’?
  • Description: An industrial bar for the post-industrial era; a neighborhood bar in search of a neighborhood. Venerable survivor. The beautiful plants tended by owner Ann C. Valent, 90, provide a counterpart to the utilitarian interior. This is a sanctuary of memories and a tight circle of friends and customers. Closes at 7 p.m. And folks, it’s just a block away (and a world removed) from the Outpost Natural Foods Co-Op. Drop in!
  • Hours: Early Morning special — 6 a.m. weekdays. Closes at 7 p.m.
  • Food: There was a time they served three shifts a day here, back when the plant was working.
  • Signature Drink: Can of Pabst to get you started, $2.
  • Capacity: 80 in 2,118 square feet.
  • Restrooms: One for men, one for women.
  • Year Established: Opened as “restaurant” in 1925 for Josef Fischer. Opened as Valent’s in 1946 by the late Gus Valent and his wife Ann Valent, who survives. In 1952 building was owned by John Kegel, Ann’s father, and owner of classic, extant Kegel’s Inn, 5901 W. National Ave., still in the family.
  • Year Building Constructed: Built between 1922 (west portion, one story) and 1925.
  • Estimated Annual Rent: $10,738 at an estimated $5.07 per square foot annually according to city assessor calculations.
  • Walk Score: 66 out of 100, “Somewhat Walkable”
  • Transit Score 51 out of 100, “Good Transit”
  • Games of Chance: 3
  • Games of Skill: 0.
  • Aldermanic District: 6th: Milele A. Coggs

Hours of Operation

Is Open? Day Open Close Expected Customers Age Restriction
True Mon 6:00AM 7:00PM 30
True Tue 6:00AM 7:00PM 30
True Wed 6:00AM 7:00PM 50
True Thu 6:00AM 7:00PM 50
True Fri 6:00AM 7:00PM 50
True Sat 6:30AM 6:00PM 50

 Photo Gallery

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6 thoughts on “Taverns: Valent’s, Your Early Morning Bar”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been to Valent’s in the past (although I didn’t know that it used to be a boarding house), and it’s a wonderful place! People are very friendly and you can talk to anyone! (I think you can also buy lottery tickets there – or is that no longer true?)

  2. David Austin says:

    used to stop in when I worked at AMC in the early 70s….also stopped At Ed Raatz’s Inn about a block further south right next to M&M Sporting goods………both taverns had good food back then….Raatz’s was a little more family friendly….what the hell happened to this city…

  3. Rachel Raatz says:

    David Austin – my great uncle used to own the Ed Raatz Inn. I was looking at Google maps and I was trying to find where it was. Any idea if it’s called Roth’s Inn?? Or if the building is even there/open anymore? I used to hear stories about the place and how my aunt served a lot of AMC guys lunch there.

  4. David Austin says:

    It was Roths after your Uncle retired…..My father worked at AMC for 35yrs so I remember Ed Raatzs Inn from back in the early 60s when I was only 8/9 years old…..My mother would walk with us kids to AMC to meet Dad when 1rst shift let out, and we would go into Raatzs and have a fish fry dinner on Fridays or chicken dinners on Saturdays or weekdays……..The food was great…..and it was a real family friendly place…….remember the kitchen had stainless steel tables and appliances…always real clean….Ed used to throw Christmas/ Easter / and other parties for customers and the kids of customers…..and in August he would have a big pig roast in the parking lot….big tent , music , a real good time…..It was a fun working middle class kind of place…

  5. Rachel Raatz says:

    David –

    That’s really cool to hear. Do you know if Roth’s is still open? I don’t remember Ed at all. He moved to Florida and died when I was maybe 8 or 9. I remember my Aunt Ione though – she passed a couple of years ago.

  6. David Austin says:

    haven’t been over there in 10/15 years…..so don’t really know if its still open or not….I do remember your great uncle and aunt used to vacation in Florida….and he would deep sea fish…had a Marlin and other fish mounted and hanging on the wall behind the bar…..Dave

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