For decades in Milwaukee, the corner tap - often owned and operated by the same family - was the neighborhood gathering place. It helped earn the city a reputation as a hard-drinking town. The city's website notes that "places that serve alcohol are a part of the fabric of Milwaukee. From corner bars to crowded beer halls and nightclubs, this is, after all, a town that's been called 'Brew City.' "The article suggests changing demographics and preferences.
But the family-owned tavern is beginning to give way to bigger and splashier bars. The new places are larger and often focus on sports, with dozens of big-screen TVs, or games, or music. Or anything in between.
"People who come in now for a license want something that is cool and extremely successful," said Ald. Terry Witkowski, whose district includes the Plainfield Pub. "That means a large place. A big business. That's the kind of people who are coming in now."
In some areas near the south side there used to be a bar on every corner, added Ald. Jim Bohl, who served on the Common Council's licenses committee for 12 years. But now aldermen are sensitive to arguments that there are too many bars in neighborhoods.
Consumer tastes have changed, as well. Bohl, the alderman, observed that older people who may have been more inclined to frequent the corner tap have moved out of the city. In contrast, more and more young people are moving to the city. They, in general, prefer the sights and sounds of N. Milwaukee, Water and Brady streets.Preferences might evolve, but so, too, the social institutions. In the era of the corner bar, the Catholic Youth Organization was for identifying potential sweethearts, and high school followed by a factory job was for sealing the deal. Say the vows on one corner, hold the post-reception party on another. A six-stool bar with the bowling trophies by the door and a color TV tuned to the Braves or Packers (no Cubs on WGN in those pre-cable days) would serve. But with date-and-mate prolonged or postponed into career-establishing time, a thicker meet market makes more sense, thus the larger bars clustered in the neighborhoods where the cliff-dwellers dwell.
That leaves family taverns with a declining and aging customer base. Seibel said her customers range in age from 40 to 90.
"It's getting harder and harder to make it," [Plainfield Pub owner Deb] Seibel said. "The cost of licenses keeps going up. You need permits for everything. The breweries increase their prices every February. A couple of years I made a profit, but it wasn't much."