Sophie Bolich

At Random Will Overhaul Exterior, Maintain Interior Charm

After pandemic-related delay, owner plans to 'revive' historic Bay View tavern.

By - Jan 12th, 2023 01:25 pm
2020 photo of At Random, 2501 S. Delaware Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

2020 photo of At Random, 2501 S. Delaware Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

When it comes to reviving historic Milwaukee taverns, nobody does it like John Dye. The cocktail expert and history enthusiast is the proprietor of several endeared establishments including Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, The Jazz Estate and At Random, 2501 S. Delaware Ave.

After he acquired the latter from retired owners Ron and Shirley Zeller in 2019, Dye meticulously restored the 139-year-old building’s interior while maintaining its authenticity and charm. The process included new carpet and Naugahyde, upgraded systems, fresh paint, repairs and an overall deep clean.

With its vintage luster intact, Dye intended to move on to necessary repairs to the building’s exterior. But as 2020 dawned, we all know what came next. Funds that had been set aside for the exterior instead went towards building an outdoor patio to keep the tavern afloat through the turbulent months ahead.

Three years later, Dye is poised to pick up where he left off, with the exterior renovation set to commence this winter.

Dye, a Montana native who studied architecture before transitioning into the hospitality industry, announced the upcoming changes in a social media post, noting his excitement for what’s to come.

“When we first set out to revive this historic beauty we started where it counts, on the inside. The exterior was always supposed to be next in line, then March 2020 hit us like a brick and all plans changed,” he wrote. “We are so excited to bring back the luster of the outside and give it a vintage shine, just like the inside.”

The tavern’s signature cursive signage and striped awnings will remain, Dye assured patrons; however, the aluminum and asphalt siding that has covered the building for close to 90 years will be removed.

“We are so excited to see what’s underneath!” he wrote.

The post also featured a collection of historic photos of the tavern was featured in, including a 1924 photo of the original structure, in which a now-covered door faces the intersection of S. Delaware and E. Russell avenues. The following snapshot from 1964 showcases the addition of aluminum siding, with asphalt siding visible on the western addition. The last slide shows the current, weathered and stained siding — though the structure is now missing an irreplaceable piece that fell off within the past few years.

At Random did not indicate plans to close during the renovation process. The tavern’s popular Magic Forest winter cocktail experience remains open through the end of January.

Now approaching its 60th birthday, the tavern offers a variety of mid-century ice cream drinks, as well as signature and classic cocktails.

At Random is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m., Friday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.

On the opposite side of the city, one of Dye’s other bars, The Jazz Estate, is experiencing its own miniature revamp this month.

Dye did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.


One thought on “At Random Will Overhaul Exterior, Maintain Interior Charm”

  1. Polaris says:

    I would love to go back and see At Random after the renovation!

    Back in the day (early 1980s), I was among a group of Marquette U. students who “discovered” Bryant’s as a great cocktail destination. This was when the drinking age in WI was 18yo (1972-1984), New Wave and other “post-disco” music genres were in their heyday, and The Preppy Handbook had just come out. Tired of pitchers of beer on campus, Bryant’s was a special getaway–made even more delightful by Bryant’s longtime server, Shirley Lafferty. What a wonderland of specialty cocktails. Before that, it was either an occasional brandy old fashioned, a rare Brandy Alexander at Grenadier’s where a former classmates dad tended bar, or a Grasshopper with family on New Year’s Eve.

    Boy, were we disappointed when Bryant’s and At Random became super-popular. By then, we were in our late 20s and were dismissive of all the “kids” who came to the cocktail lounges. Ha!

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