Last week, I witnessed East Side history. On Wednesday evening, people were out in hordes to congratulate Hooligan's Super Bar owner John Sidoff on passing the torch to his long-time general manager Mark Buesing. Sure, bars change hands all the time, but this occasion was special for two particular reasons:
1. Buesing began washing dishes 15 years ago at Hooligan's and now he owns it. If that isn’t an American success story, I don’t know what is.
2. The restaurant/bar business is incredibly fickle, and on North Avenue it's ever-changing. To successfully run a bar for 30 years and revamp a historic spot is nothing to scoff at.
Hooligan's has been an institution on the raucous intersection of North and Farwell Avenues since 1936, and John and Cindy Sidoff have owned it since 1980. They were the third and longest-running owners of the bar. What began as a “nickel beer and quarter shot” bar expanded under the Sidoff’s ownership to include live music, trivia nights, an extensive food menu and a comprehensive beer list.
The distinction “Super Bar” came from the bar/super market model. People could have a drink and take their liquor and package goods to go right up until to bar time. “Super Bars were known for opening around 6 a.m. and usually closing by midnight. What set them aside from most other cheap bars was that they sold beer, liquor and wine to go,” explained Sidoff. “Once they changed the law we had to stop selling package goods at 9 p.m. and we moved into the food business.” Although those days are long gone, Hooligan's retains Super Bar in its title.
Last Wednesday night, there was live music, guest bartenders, special friends from the past, plenty of drink specials and a strong showing from other local bar owners. I spotted Jim McCabe of the Milwaukee Ale House, Russ Klisch of Lakefront Brewery, Mike Eitel of The Lowlands Group and Kristyn St. Dennis of MOJOFUCO - all out to support this local institution and celebrate the Sidoffs.
The festivities were concurrently raging across the street my favorite little German chalet, Von Trier, which the Sidoffs also own. “We love Hooligan's and put a lot of hard work into it over the years. But it’s time to let a fresh set of eyes take over before I turn into the grumpy old man at the end of the bar,” said Sidoff. “And besides, I can’t stay up much past 9 p.m. these days.”
Sidoff and his wife Cindy will retain ownership of Von Trier. They joked that in their semi-retirement, they plan to drink red wine at Hooligan's. Buesing plans to add a new weekend brunch menu and change up the décor to honor Hooligan’s history on the East Side.
See in the photos below that no matter how much things change, some always stay the same.
Left: 1980 image of the bar by Cathy Gubin. Right: Hooligan's Super Bar in 2013 by Matthew Bushey.
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