Graham Kilmer

Former Public House Tavern Available For Lease

Building no longer for sale. But the bar is once again available to lease.

By - Mar 31st, 2022 05:45 pm

Riverwest Public House. Photo taken April 25th, 2015 by Michael Horne.

The building that once housed the Riverwest Public House is no longer for sale.

The first-floor commercial space portion of the mixed-use building at 815 E. Locust St. became vacant in 2021 after the cooperatively run Public House shut down. In late 2021, the building went on the market for sale.

Jeffrey Koenig, whose firm Vandelay Group LLC owns the building, told Urban Milwaukee, “The building is not worth what the realtors who pitched selling it for me thought it was.”

It was originally listed for $549,000. The most recent assessment by the city valued the building at $261,000. “It’s not worth the crazy high price,” Koenig said. “It’s probably worth what the city thinks it’s worth, which is not terribly much, because it’s a difficult space to rent.”

The space has a long, old bar, which is likely the original. But it has no kitchen and no patio space, which are challenges for prospective tavern proprietors these days.

The building was constructed in 1921, three years into prohibition, and the first floor has been a tavern since it opened. Michael Horne reported in a 2015 column for Urban Milwaukee that the bar originally operated as a “soft drink parlor,” which was a common licensing disguise for taverns. Once alcohol was legal again, Horne wrote, “owners Josephine and Julius Brzoskowski fessed up that the space had always been a tavern.”

Koenig said his firm isn’t usually in the business of selling properties, as Vandelay Group is a property management firm. But he was pitched a significant sale price, he said, and “the smart business decision would have been to take it if someone comes forward.”

“The bottom line was it wasn’t renting,” he said.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has had major effects on the hospitality industry, and Koenig said he thinks that properties set up for that type of business, especially the former Public House building, are not easy to sell right now.

The building, with its commercial space on the first floor, and apartments on the second and third floors, would attract buyers looking for an investment property. But the vacant commercial space adds to the risk of the investment. A buyer would likely need to plan for six months to a year of vacancy, Koenig said. “Unless you find an owner-occupant, it doesn’t make sense.”

“For an owner-occupant at that price, their rent would’ve essentially been a few hundred dollars,” he said, “But for someone to come up with that kind of cash, for someone who wants to open a bar, in addition to having to spend the money on inventory and build out for a bar, that’s a big ask for a lot of people.”

While it was for sale, Koenig and his team were generally unimpressed with the nibbles they had on the property. Prospective buyers weren’t coming forward with the right mix of hospitality experience, capital and understanding of the neighborhood, he said, noting that he would prefer an operator with ties to Riverwest.

“We’ve had a lot of people who just see it and it’s on a busy road so they decide to call,” he said. “That’s sort of not enough for me, I want people to be successful in that space.”

Koenig and Vandelay are no longer marketing it for sale, and are instead focused on marketing it as a lease. “We would love for someone with some hospitality experience and some money to call us,” he said.

2015 Photo Gallery

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