By Tea Krulos

Pabst Saloon and Boarding House built 1904

By the late 1800s Milwaukee had established itself as the Beer Capital of the World. In 1885, there were ten major breweries in town– Best, Blatz, Cream City, Falk, Gettelman, Jung & Borchert, Miller, Obermann, and Schlitz. Captain Frederic Pabst, a son-in-law of Philip Best of the Phillip Best Brewing Company, inherited the brewery business and began to buy up competing breweries, renaming the enterprise as the Pabst Brewing Company in 1898. Pabst’s closest competitors were Schlitz, Blatz, Miller, Flak, and Gettelman brewing companies.

Captain Pabst

Captain Pabst is one of Milwaukee’s most frequently encountered ghosts, by the way. People have come face to face with his spirit at the Pabst Mansion, the beautiful home of the Pabst family (now restored as a museum), the Pabst Theater, which was commissioned by Captain Pabst, as well as at Best Place, an event venue located in the former Pabst Brewery Complex.

During the era of the Beer Barons, competition to get their brand of beer on tap was intense, and one strategy to get their brew flowing was that the breweries would construct their own bars, and then hire a bartender to manage the saloon. These bars with a tie back to a brewery were called “tied houses.” They were solid brick buildings and you can still spot some former tied houses around town. One way to identify them is to look for a brewery logo built somewhere into the facade. A great example of one of these saloons is the appropriately named Tied House (124 N. Water Street) that was originally the Pabst Saloon & Boarding House, built in 1904. You can still see an orange colored circle near the upper corner of the building, a Pabst logo still there from the days it was a tied house.

The author of this article enjoying a beer at the Tied House in 2018

After it’s days as a tied house, the Pabst Saloon building led many lives over  a long, colorful history. There’s an excellent examination on the building’s history by journalist Michael Horne for the Urban Milwaukee site: Bar Exam: The Irish Pub’s Roots Go Back 120 Years » Urban Milwaukee

Horne notes that when Prohibition, which banned the sale of alcohol, was enacted in 1920, the saloon rebranded as a “soft drink parlor,” but in reality was a speakeasy. An inspector who went in to investigate drove an icepick into a suspicious looking device, which sprayed him in the face with moonshine. The “soft drink parlor” proprietor was arrested.

It’s also during this period that at least some of the 9 boarding rooms on the second floor were used as a brothel, which were common in the Third Ward and nearby Walker’s Point. 

After Prohibition, the property changed hands several times, but it’s one of it’s most famous incarnations was the M and M Club, an early openly gay bar that opened in 1976. The bar was a hotspot for the gay community all the way until 2006, when the doors closed but were quickly opened as an Irish bar called, simply enough, The Irish Pub.

The staff of the Irish Pub reported that they were haunted by a shadowy figure of a woman who appeared to be wearing clothing from the late 18th-early 19th century that they eventually nicknamed “The Lady of the Pub.” The Lady also allegedly appeared behind a patron washing his hands in the Men’s Room. He spotted her in the mirror and he ran frightened into the bar to tell the staff, who investigated but found no one. The staff also reported strange occurrences and feelings of dread in the building’s basement– who knows what went on down there during Prohibition?  You can hear more stories on the American Ghost Walks Milwaukee Third Ward tour, which stops at the Tied House.

Now, 118 years later, the building still houses people enjoying a drink, though the clientele is probably more into craft cocktails than pints of Pabst. When the weather is good, their patio space behind the building is a great spot to enjoy a drink. Find more info on the pub at Tiedhousemke.com or hear the ghost stories in person on our Bloody Third Ward Ghost Walk in Milwaukee.