20: The Great Saloon Era
Saloons and taverns have forever been a place of nostalgia and socialization. As such, Milwaukee’s unique building stock is due in part to the breweries that have earned us the moniker, Brew City. Between the 1880s and 1907, Milwaukee’s breweries built company saloons through out the City leased and operated by proprietor’s who sold the breweries’ products exclusively. The company owned saloon was an advertising and sales practice common of late nineteenth century breweries. A large number of Milwaukee’s brewery built saloons were erected near factories and manufacturing plants.
Though Pabst was Milwaukee’s leading beer producer, Schlitz lead the market of tavern construction with Blatz and Miller in tow. The collection of brewery built saloons stand as a testament to Milwaukee’s brewing history and have procured a unique architectural fabric. Pabst remained the number one beer producer from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century. As of 1895 Pabst was the number one producer, second was Anheuser Busch, and third, the “beer that made Milwaukee famous”, Schlitz. In the early twentieth century, Pabst fell from first to third nationally.
Under the Baker Law Milwaukee was allowed the number of saloons in existence as of June 30, 1907, that total being 2,224 plus an additional seventeen due to territory annexation. The Baker Law also mandated that the number of licensed saloons should not increase until the number of saloons be 1 for every 250 inhabitants. Thus saloon construction came to a screeching halt as of 1907 and would remain as such through the onset of Prohibition in 1919. With the enactment of Prohibition, breweries were required to divest control and ownership of their saloons as the act and other government legislations required breweries to sell any properties that were directly involved with beer production.
After the saloons were transferred to private ownership, many weathered Prohibition as soft drink parlors. To date, many of the former brewery saloons continue as taverns or restaurants; a number have been razed, several sit unloved and vacant, and many have found new uses and continue to thrive.