Michael Horne
Bar Exam

Clementines Evokes the New Bay View

Even as it honors the history. Bartenders and owners love it. You may, too.

By - Sep 19th, 2022 10:37 am
Clementines, 3143 S. Clement Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Clementines, 3143 S. Clement Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The community of Bay View, once an independent village and now Milwaukee’s largest neighborhood, was forged with the establishment of the Milwaukee Iron Company in 1867. The company town was annexed by the city in 1887. Well into the 20th century it had a pronounced Eastern European character, where every neighborhood tavern had polka tunes on the jukebox and a jar of pickled eggs on the counter, and most residents’ surnames still “ended with a sneeze.”

The pace of change was slow. In the 53207 ZIP code only about 650 housing units were built in the three decades spanning 1980 to 2009. Many more than that were built in the last decade alone with new projects continuing to be announced on a regular basis. The times, they are a-changin’.

The industrial workforce, which long predominated, has shrunken to just about 21% of the populace. The majority of the 37,103 residents have some college background, and an average age of 36. Although there are 3,552 households with children, the vast majority (12,919 households) have no children present; forty-one percent of adults living in Bay View have never been married. Factor in the separated, widowed and divorced and married folks here are in the minority.

These are fertile demographics, indeed, if you want to open a bar, which is most readily done in these parts by purchasing an existing one. Thus, we come to Clementines, formerly Swigs Pub & Grill, to witness how the transformation of a neighborhood is reflected in the gentle gentrification of a middle-of-the-block, third-shift bar now under new and savvy ownership.

‘You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning’

When Robin Koutecky and then-partner Amanda Delsart bought the building and business at 3143 S. Clement Ave. in June 2021, they were determined to honor its working-class heritage, while appealing to the new demographic, which includes the enormous number of bartenders, chefs, waiters, and fellow tavern owners, who, like Koutecky herself, live in the immediate vicinity, all of whom seem to know and/or work for her. So, in a nod to tradition, you’re going to find Hamm’s beer (on tap!), you bet’cha. Better yet — you, the day-drinker, may still order one beginning at 6 a.m., just as the third shift ends at whichever factories remain open these days. You will still sit at the same oblong bar that runs east-to-west in the north half of the wainscoted single-room saloon, unless you are on the south half, where you will be playing pool (the table came with the business), or sitting at a table in the corner, or paying a visit to the vintage walk-in urinal that has survived many remodelings of the men’s room over the decades since the structure was built, ostensibly as a single-family residence, in 1929.

But you’re not going to see (or miss) the “Budweiser” and “Bud Light” sign reading “Welcome to Swig’s” on the facade, or the mostly blue neon in the picture window where the “i” in Swigs was rendered as a yellow beer glass overflowing with white foam. These have been replaced with a red neon Clementines sign, done up in script, and a handsome medallion featuring the “CLEMENTINES BAY VIEW, MKE” logo, all bathed in a rosy glow from a strip of neon above.  Banished from the walls are scores of tacky beer and liquor signs, since replaced with a rotating show of local artwork, all nicely framed, and available for sale. There is a full allotment of video games of chance, and other amusements. If you ask nicely, the bartender might take down the circular cribbage board bearing the Clementines logo and grab a deck of cards for you and your partner.  Since it opened, around Halloween last year, the place has been scrubbed and painted, with new murals in both men’s and women’s rooms, each spotless. Even the elaborately and randomly framed blackboards that feature the bar’s offerings are crisp and clean. If you want to catch your buddy a drink, you can buy a plastic “Clem’s Fun Token.” The chip is yet another nod to Milwaukee’s heritage, a custom dating back to when a beer cost you a nickel, like when this joint sold its first schooner, illicitly, during Prohibition, to a thirsty, hot and sooty neighborhood clientele.

The Tavern in History

On June 29th, 1929, Arnold Olson applied for a permit to construct a $4,500, 75-foot by 26-foot frame bungalow with a concrete block basement on a 124-foot by 30-foot lot at what was then 661-Clement Ave.

“Building to be used for Res[idence] only,” the application read. At the same time, Olson also applied to build a $200 10-foot by 20-foot garage in the rear.

Within five years much had changed. The building had the new address of 3143 S. Clement Ave., and The Noble Experiment had come to an end.

On June 21st, 1934, August Kobiske, its tenant, went to the Bureau of Building and Elevator Inspection and filled out an application to legally occupy the first floor of the premise as a tavern.

“What has been the former occupancy of the area or portion of the building for which this application is made?” the form asked. “Tavern,” confessed Kobiske. The occupancy and tavern license were granted.

In March 1945, as World War II neared its end, Clemens Van Beck, then the owner, took out a $4,500 permit to “underpin bldg & erect partitions on first floor, rear portion, for one 4 room & bath apt.,” this to have 8″ x 24″ concrete footings beneath 12″ cement blocks.

There things stood until March, 1963, when Ludwig S. Babich, who paid $20,200 for the place three years earlier, hired Phil Herriges Inc. as contractor for a $3,000 remodeling project to “relocate front door, replace window & Constr. new 6′ addn. to tavern front.” He also added a couple of dormers to expand the headspace and light in the apartment above. He named the tavern “Lud & Angie’s.” It was the height of the Mom & Pop tavern era.

The “new 6′ addn.” had an outdoor facade of limestone, finished on the interior with split granite boulders. Its use was as a buffer from the cold, and to provide indoor stair access to the tavern level, which is about five feet above grade, thus providing the floor configuration that remains to this day. By the early 1990’s it became “Lud & Jerry’s” after being purchased by Gerald Prausa, who married into the Babich clan. When the building sold on September 14th, 1994, the inspector noted a “Bsmt. party room … about 625 square feet with a small bar,” which may have been the original tavern space during the prohibition days, when this was supposedly only a residence, and drinking was done out of sight.

In late 2002, the bar, by then named Swig’s, was offered for sale at $169,900. The real estate listing extolled its virtues:

Well established tavern in beautiful Bay View, WI. Oval bar w/room for 30 stools. Great for conversations. Hall in basement for parties. Newly remodeled kitchen. Pool table incl. plus many other inclusions. There is a home attached to this one. 3 large brs., 2 full baths, DR & den. You could rent this out & make the mort. payment. Great ‘Mom & Pop’ be your own boss.”

After a land contract with a potential buyer went bust, Prausa then regained the property and sold it in 2013 to Christopher Brown, who operated the bar until it was sold to the current owners for $260,000 on July 9th, 2021.

The Tavern Today

Clementines bills itself as “A Beautiful Bar for Beautiful People,” and all it took for this observer was a single (yet lingering) glance into a glistening mirror to confirm the validity of the claim. As for its pedigree as a true Milwaukee tavern, one finds evidence on both sides of the wood. The bartenders include neighbor Brian Blochowiak, who worked for decades with Koutecky at the Mad Planet, as did her former partner Desart, who can now be found doing shifts once again at the Y-NOT II, where Bay View resident Alison McCreadie, former owner of the Harp and Shamrock, opens the Coffeetails at 6 a.m. a couple of days a week, and performs the same office at Clementines three days a week.

According to Blochowiak, Guy Rehorst, the owner of Great Lakes Distillery, lives in the neighborhood and pays a call from time to time, along with his stops at the Swingin’ Door Exchange, whose owners K. C. Swan and Shelley Sincere, likewise neighbors, also frequent Clementines. They used to run O’Lydia’s on S. 1st St. in Walkers Point. Customers include many bartenders who live in the area or like to visit their counterparts here on their days off. They have left their mark, as seen by a glance at the doors of the bar’s six coolers, plastered with stickers from other Cream City bars and institutions representing their employers and affiliations. The Y-NOT II, The Art Bar, Wonderland, The Standard Tavern, “I Closed Wolski’s,” Lakefront Brewery and WMSE 91.7 FM are all represented.

None are located in Bay View: this is a testament to a remarkable Milwaukee tavern phenomenon that I call “The Circuit.” It’s a route running not too far from the shores of Lake Michigan and extending from Riverwest to Bay View including all of the bars noted above and others beyond. Like a lotus blossom, it slowly reveals itself. Like a Prohibition saloon’s location, it is not to be mapped. Along The Circuit are those joints where you might even encounter tavern owners taking a break from the job, with spare goodwill and cash, buying drinks for customers whom they would never treat for free in their own establishments. That’s when you know you’re on the right path. Clementines is a shining new link on The Circuit’s chain.

Photo Gallery

The Verdict

  • Trade Name: Clementines
  • Location: 3143 S. Clement Ave., City of Milwaukee. Originally 661-Clement Ave.
  • Neighborhood: Bay View
  • Subdivision: Oklahoma Park
  • Phone Number: 414-210-4347
  • Website: https://clementinestavernmke.com/
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100069225206057
  • Twitter: Not Found
  • Description: A Prohibition-era residence that likely fronted for an illegal saloon has reinvented itself from its industrial past while maintaining the Milwaukee tradition of the “Third Shift Bar,” by opening at 6 a.m. Woman-owned and operated, it appeals to a demographic and audience extending beyond the neighborhood’s boundaries
  • Featured Drink: PBR Tall Boy and a shot of VO. Or, in honor of Bay View’s ethnic heritage, try “The Polack:”  Tyskie Polish beer paired with a shot of Blackberry Brandy
  • Capacity: 50
  • Restrooms: One for men, one for women. Each is attractively and fancifully decorated. The men’s room has a vintage walk-in urinal that is among the most notable of such porcelain utilities in the city.
  • Year Established: Built as a residence in 1929, very likely with a hidden taproom in the basement. By 1934 was a licensed tavern attached to a residence. Has been in continuous use as a tavern since then.
  • Estimated Annual Rent: Operator owns building. Property is assessed at $12,100 for the 4,051 square foot lot [$2.98/s.f.] and $340,500 for the 3,047-square-foot building for a total assessed valuation of $352,600.
  • Property Taxes are $9,194.40. Paid in full
  • Property Owner: Amanda Delsart, Robin Koutecky. Purchased property on o7/09/2021 for $260,000 from Christopher T. Brown, the former owner/operator who paid $120,000 for it in 2012. Property had been foreclosed by lender; taxes had been delinquent.
  • Business Owner: Clementines Tavern LLC, Robin L. Koutecky Agent, 100% owner (previously 60%). D.O.B. 09/29/1971
  • Business: Tavern 90% sales Alcohol, 10% Food
  • Walk Score: 62 out of 100 “Somewhat Walkable” Some errands can be accomplished on foot. Seems a bit low. City Average: 62
  • Transit Score: 44 out of 100, “Some Transit” A few nearby public transportation options. City Average: 49. MCTS Route #15 is nearby; many connecting routes in area
  • Aldermanic District: 14 Marina Dimitrijevic
  • Police District: 6

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us