Taverns

Will Fritz’s Pub Close? Probably.

South side bar and restaurant has looked to close since 2016. But easier said than done.

By - Sep 12th, 2018 01:01 pm
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Fritz's Pub. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Fritz’s Pub. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

You might say that Fritz’s Pub (3086 S. 20th St.) has been closing for two years.

The closure was originally announced back in 2016 through a post on Fritz’s Facebook page, saying that it was “time to move on.” The post specifically named September 28th, 2018, as Fritz’s last day, marking exactly 40 years after Dragosalv “Fritz” Djuric, opened the pub in 1978.

But a Facebook post this month, on September 1 announced that the “timeline…turned out to be unrealistic,” and that their original plans surrounding the closure might change. Co-owner Steve Djuric, the son of Dragoslav, is unsure exactly when the business will shut its doors for good. Djuric, who owns and operates Fritz’s alongside his older sister Maria, and younger brother Joe, says the three siblings are still looking for a buyer.

Over the years, Steve Djuric says that many people approached him about buying the place. About 10 years ago, Djuric almost sold Fritz’s for $100,000 more than its current selling price, but the deal eventually fell through. The pub was put on the market for a second time about a year ago. Djuric says he spoke with a couple of buyers in the last few months, but nothing has panned out.

“Things just didn’t fall into place,” he says.

Without a buyer, the bar and restaurant might stick around for a little longer than originally planned. Right now, Fritz’s operates from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Following the Friday Fish Fry on the 28th, Fritz’s will “most likely” forego Saturday hours and stay closed on the 29th. Djuric says they may remain open once a week on Fridays for the time-being.

“I’m kind of between a rock and a hard place,” he says. “If you shut the place up, it’ll deteriorate.”

Steve and his siblings would prefer the family sell the business themselves rather than through a realtor, which would give the Djurics less control.

“The place has been great for us,” he says. “We want to look for someone that might have some kind of dream.”

Djuric does not mind staying open for a little while longer, but says he would sell “tomorrow” if they found the right buyer. He adds that his sister Maria is more anxious about the situation, and would like to sell sooner rather than later. Maria Djuric (listed as Maria Despears on the business’ license application) could not be immediately reached for comment.

Djuric admits that the siblings have mixed feelings about closing. “I’m going to miss a lot of these people,” he says. “I remember customers coming in as kids with their parents, and now they’re coming with their own kids.”

Fritz’s has great meaning for Djuric and his family. The pub grew to represent his parents’ legacy and new life in America. The events leading up to the establishment’s beginnings can be traced back to World War II.

Djuric’s mother, Katharina, fled the Communist occupation of her native Yugoslavia with her younger sister and grandmother towards the end of the war. During their journey, they met a Serbian man who served as a driver for the American forces. That man was Dragoslav Djuric, and romance was soon in the air. Once Katharina and her family found safety in West Germany, she married Dragoslav. Following the births of Maria, Steve and Joe, the Djurics pursued immigration to the United States.

Before leaving Germany, the family needed a sponsor stateside. This proved difficult at first, but eventually they were sponsored by a woman who owned a tavern on Milwaukee’s South Side. With their parents, the siblings arrived in the country in 1955. Maria Djuric was eight years old, Steve was five, and Joe was only three.

“We basically had a trunk of clothes and that was it,” Steve says.

After arriving in the country, Fritz Djuric was hired by Wehr Steel Company, where he worked as a welder for 16 years. He had friends in the bar business, which led him to eventually open his own concertina bar. That first establishment was located at 1332 W. Lincoln Ave., and now houses the Mexican restaurant Tres Hermanos. During Fritz’s ownership, the bar played polka music downstairs and Serbian music upstairs.

Fritz also owned another establishment near 17th street and W. Oklahoma Ave., which he sold in 1978. On September 28th of the same year, he took over a biker and trucker bar and turned it into his namesake.

“It was a drink-till-you-drop kind of place until we started serving food a few years later,” Steve Djuric says.

The siblings chose to close Fritz’s on September 28th, as it not only marked exactly 40 years in business, but was the same day their father was first hired by Wehr Steel Company. As the 28th nears, keeping the bar open remains a possibility. However, Djuric acknowledges that there “has to be an end game.”

“We don’t want it to get to a point where product gets bad,” he says.

Djuric says he is thankful not only for Fritz’s, but also for life in the United States. “God Bless America,” he says. “Even with everything going on right now, it’s still the best place in the world to be.”

And the success of Fritz’s was a big part of those blessings.

“My dad’s ghost is still there,” Djuric says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the one trying to keep me here.”

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