"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round – brought to you by Aperol, Pinnacle, Jameson, Fireball, Red Stag and Avion. The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
I've been in Best Place before – with its intimate courtyard and stunning beer hall. I was even in there a few times when it was the visitor's center for the then-still-operating Pabst Brewery.
It's gorgeous, thanks to a well-preserved mid-century renovation that recreated a medieval German beer hall. Recently I learned a bit more about the building's history.
Being an old schools geek, I was happy to learn that Best Place's building on the corner of 9th and Juneau, which was previously a Pabst building, was – even earlier – the District 2 School, also called The Jefferson School.
Since so much of why we love a bar is because of its location, its atmosphere, its history, Best Place – located in the former Pabst Brewery – just might be my new favorite bar.
Built in 1858, the school was closed and replaced with a new building, designed by Edward Townsend Mix, on nearby 10th Street and Highland Avenue in 1889. That same year, MPS sold The Jefferson School to Pabst, which removed the pediments and cornice and replaced them with castle-like crenelations and replaced the belfry with a taller crenelated tower so that the building would match the architectural style of the rest of the brewery's buildings.
Pabst reopened the renovated building as its new offices in 1890. Ironically, The Jefferson School has long since outlived its replacement, which was torn down to create the parking lot for the current MPS Facilities and Maintenance Building.
If you view the Best Place building today, it's quite clearly the same structure, despite some bricked up windows, those other changes and more than a century's work of gunk darkening the bricks.
In the front corners, for instance, you can still see the ornamental stone work, though you have to go into the courtyard to see the northeast corner.
Yesterday, owner Jim Haertel agreed to give me a tour of the interior, though he warned me in advance there didn't appear to be any signs of its former incarnation as a school.
As we walked through, I was pleased to see Haertel went back a bit on that. Though it's often hard to tell what dates back to the school days, there is wainscoting throughout, along with window trim that looks a lot like similar details in old schools.
The pressed tin ceilings and the cast iron pillars don't necessarily shout "schoolhouse," but they look original and, in the case of the ceilings, they were covered up later and have since been revealed.
Some rooms have hardwood floors that are clearly original, while at least one has what appears to be a laminate floor laid over the top. The staircases are wider than one would expect in a small office building and are most definitely original.
Behind drywall, there are interior walls that are wainscoted and lined along the top length of the wall with transom windows that likely helped light the double-loaded corridor that appear to have had, at most, a single window on one end.
Haertel says that up in the attic, there is a roof below the current roof and comparing photos we can see that the current roofline is higher than the original one, which explains it.
After Pabst bought the building, it opened the back (west) wall to connect the former school to an adjacent Pabst structure erected in 1880. But, even inside, it's pretty obvious where one building ends and the next one begins.
Down in the basement that's even easier to see. Descending the steps, we realize that we're at the back of the original part of the school, which had an addition put on at some point. On the wall next to the staircase we can see some former basement windows and a change in the foundation construction.
The addition is also obvious at the roof line. The original section has a peak running east-west, while the apparent addition's peak runs perpendicular.
While the main floor at Best Place is in terrific condition, the floors above require a lot of work. Haertel has plans, but he knows that it will take a lot of energy and money to make them happen. I hope they do happen and I hope he's able to work the old school details into the new design, to help preserve a real piece of Milwaukee's brewing and education history.
In the meantime, yes, you may now go to a school (albeit a closed one) and have a drink.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Bobby Tanzilo
Published Dec. 7, 2013
The world's most famous ice skating rink shimmers beneath what must be the most impressive urban tree, perhaps in the world, and the shop windows in the Center and along Fifth Avenue must be seen to be believed. Crowds queue to see the holiday spectacular at Radio City Music Hall and Times Square is decked out in green and red. And all America comes to check it out.
Published Dec. 6, 2013
It's not every day a business pulls up stakes in Chicago and replants them in Milwaukee, but that's just what's happening this week as Distinctive Guitar Boutique Guitar Gallery opens in Bay View this weekend at 2505 S. Howell Ave.
Published Dec. 6, 2013
Last month, 88Nine announced the finalists of its annual Radio Milwaukee Music Awards and last night the winners were named at an awards event held at the station's new Walker's Point digs.
Published Dec. 4, 2013
A new Colectivo cafe and a new grand cafe concept from the owners of Cafe Benelux restaurant - the first by each of the locally owned dining groups in Waukesha County - will open in The Marcus Corporation's open-air mall called The Corners of Brookfield, located east of Barker Road near the intersection of I-94 and Bluemound Road.
Published Dec. 2, 2013
Tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 3, Milwaukee's Stone Creek Coffee celebrates its 20th birthday. And to honor the occasion, the local roaster will serve up its new Anniversary Alchemy blend all day. And if you get to one of the cafes before noon, you can join the celebration by getting a 12-ounce cup of it free!
Published Dec. 2, 2013
Don't feel bad if you've never seen the plaque affixed to 100 East Wisconsin, explaining the historical relevance of the northwest corner of Water and Wisconsin. It's on the lower level of the building, facing the RiverWalk. I've passed it countless times and never noticed. But one day it caught my eye. I took some photographs and spent some time digging to fill in a bit more of the story of this corner that is the birthplace of Milwaukee.
Published Nov. 29, 2013
Miles Davis once compared the jazz violin playing of Milwaukee native Sonya Robinson to the work of Stuff Smith. If you follow jazz, you know what kind of praise that is, especially for a young musician. Nearly 30 years later, after a recent return home to perform at Blu, atop The Pfister hotel, we took the opportunity to chat with Robinson about her career, about her Milwaukee ties and about her new record.
Published Nov. 27, 2013
Thanks to the early frigid temps, ice skating begins Friday, Nov. 29 at Red Arrow Park's Slice of Ice rink, 920 N. Water St. You may recall that unusually warm weather delayed the opening of the rink last year.
Published Nov. 26, 2013
Thanks to fond memories of going to gawk at holiday lights and window displays with my mom and brother as a kid, I'm still a fan of this stuff, especially now that I can bring kids of my own to see them. One of the most enduring in Milwaukee is the Holiday Busytown, which sets up each year in the lobby of the bank at 770 N. Water St. This year's display kicks off on Monday, Dec. 2 and is free and open to the public. And your visit will benefit Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.
Published Nov. 26, 2013
In the low, dimly lit space beneath St James Episcopal Church, 833 W. Wisconsin Ave., there's a hissing sound and a horizontal geyser of steam shooting out of a pipe. It immediately grabs your attention. Until you see the tall thin grave stone leaning up against a brick column. St. James is built atop the former Spring Street Burying Ground. They think all the human remains were removed when the church bought the property in 1850, but a few scattered headstones mark a lingering doubt.