Wolski's Tavern turns 100
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Wolski's Tavern, 1836 N. Pulaski St., celebrates 100 years of business this year, and co-owner Dennis Bondar, who owns the bar with his brothers, Bernard and Michael, says not too much has changed since his great-grandfather started the business in 1908.
"The prices have changed, of course," says Bondar.
The bar's largest adjustment actually took place before it opened. In 1907, Bondar's great-grandfather bought the building, which was on Brady Street at the time, next to the Up & Under Pub. As the father of 13 kids, he didn't think it was safe to live with his family on a main thoroughfare like Brady Street. So, he had the building moved to its present Pulaski Street location.
"It was fairly common at the time (to move a building)," says Bondar.
In 1973, Bernard and Michael took over Wolski's, which is named after the boys' grandmother's side of the family. Later, youngest brother Dennis started bartending and became a partner in the business.
"I started bartending here at 18 and never left," he says.
Since the '70s, the brothers Bondar built a new main bar -- the bar in the back is the original -- and removed the family living quarters which were located where the dart room is now. The brothers don't live in the Wolski's structure anymore, although Bernard lives across the street.
Wolski's is a classic Milwaukee tavern that's known for it's free popcorn, dartboards, bumper stickers and down-to-earth vibe.
"We have a really good clientele here. Some of the best people in the world," says Bondar. "And every walk of life here, too. From politicians to students to bus drivers. The whole gamut. It's a real community."
Wolski's Tavern has, quite possibly, the most recognizable bumper stickers in Milwaukee. Bondar says he blows through 20,000 "I Closed Wolski's" bumper stickers every year.
The sticker tradition started in the late '70s.
"This used to be a big rugby bar, and one night at bar time, one of the rugby players said we should give out stickers, so we did," says Bondar.
Wolski's stickers are spotted, literally, all over the world. One of Bondar's favorites stories involves two well-dressed ladies, about 60 years old, who walked into the bar while he was bartending.
"They said they drove up from Chicago, just to check out Wolski's because they had been on an African safari together, and saw a Wolski's sticker in the middle of nowhere," says Bondar.
A few years ago, Bondar received a letter from a man who got a flat tire on the highway, and another driver stopped to help him because he had a Wolski's sticker on his car.
"At first, the guy planned to drive right by the car (with the flat tire), but then he saw the sticker, drove to the next exit, got back on the interstate and helped the guy," says Bondar. "Wolski's people really help each other out."
Bondar says he and his brothers plan to have a centennial celebration this summer, but haven't settled on the details. "Some kind of big outdoor party," he says. "Maybe in August."
As for the future of Wolski's, Bondar says they plan to keep things pretty much the same, although they're uncertain -- after four generations -- who will take over the bar someday.
"We forgot to have kids," says Bondar.
Maybe you ought to have the party the same week-end as the "105th! No, maybe not. she-she a past devoted patron
We starting going to Wolski's on New Years Day as a meeting place before going Polar Bearing. That was about 26 years ago and it reamins a tradition to this day. Bernie and Co. have always been generous and supportive as our unofficial official Polar Bearing stop. We love those guys. Here's to another 100 years!
Yeah, the last time I was at Wolski's they charge me something like $9.50 for a pitcher of Miller Lite. I haven't been back since. It's not like the bar itself is a nice place to justify those kind of prices!
Wolski's is a great Milwaukee institution. But it's not known for it's affordable prices - it's probably more expensive than half the bars on Brady Street.
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