Every day since moving back to Milwaukee last March I’ve passed the brick building on Jefferson in the Third Ward that displayed signs for establishments of yore, Fanatics and Hilo Martini Lounge. I had to do a double take one day last month when I noticed a sign appeared declaring, “Anthony’s.”
I hadn’t heard anything about a new bar at 185 N. Jefferson Street, but after employing my internet stalking skills normally reserved for men, I learned Anthony’s on Jefferson opened in February and aims to be a “warm and relaxing” music lounge experience for Milwaukeeans.
My friend Cat and I planned a happy hour rendezvous one Wednesday evening. I entered the building and was met with silence. With the exception of the bartender, who I later learned was co-owner Rich D’Acquisto, the place was empty. Unsure if I barged in before it opened, I sheepishly walked to the bar, and exchanged greetings with Rich.
Rich passed me a menu as he filled me in on the happy hour specials. From 4 – 8 p.m. domestic beer is $2.50, rail drinks are $3.00 and select martinis such as the Cosmo and The Marilyn (made with Three Olives’ Marilyn Strawberry Vodka) are $5.00. A self-proclaimed happy hour connoisseur, I can say Anthony’s post-work specials are on par – if not better – than my usual downtown haunts.
I ordered a glass of the house Sauvignon Blanc, which, along with all house wines, is available for only $3.00. Yes, a glass of wine for only $3.00. For those who are a bit skeptical of the quality of $3.00 wine, Anthony’s offers a handful of premium wines for $7.00.
Cat appeared as Rich passed me my glass of wine, which I immediately noticed was from a bottle that was open too long. I hate being a bother, and almost felt bad asking for a new bottle just for myself, so I decided to soldier on. If I made my way through college drinking Natty Ice, I could make my way through stale wine.
Within seconds of opening the menu, Cat’s face filled with joy when she saw the words “Van Gogh Coconut Vodka” listed. According to her, only a few Milwaukee-area bars carry this flavor, so ordering it is a must. Rich moved around the bar searching for the bottle, only to inform Cat they must be out. Defeated, she decided to try the $3.00 house Merlot, which was much fresher than the Sauvignon Blanc.
After disappearing for a few minutes, Rich came back with a bottle of Van Gogh Coconut in his hand, proudly announcing he found it. Cat beamed with excitement as he mixed the vodka with club soda. I settled for an ice cold Coors Light for the remainder of the night.
The next week, my friend Jackie and I popped into Anthony’s shortly after 7 p.m. to continue our post-work drinking session. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked in and heard a keyboardist (Jeff Stoll) playing jazz music on stage with close to a dozen patrons sitting around the expansive bar.
Maybe it was the mood, the lighting or not being so conscious of being the only person in the bar, but as I sat down I finally noticed the décor. What caught my eye the most was the cream illuminated bar top, which made the whole room pop. The colors on the walls, rich tables and plush booths and chairs made the claim of being a “warm and relaxing” music lounge 100 percent true.
Rich greeted us with a warm smile and told us about the “$2 Tuesday” special. We were both a little shocked to learn that every Tuesday domestic beer and rail drinks are only $2.00. I can’t think of another upscale bar that offers live music (no cover during the week) and drinks for such a good price.
As we waited for our vodka presses, I looked around at the other patrons. There were a few musicians who were there to enjoy the musical stylings of Jeff Stoll, and a 20-something couple in conversation. Once we were handed the rocks glasses filled to the brim, Jackie mentioned her friend was at Anthony’s grand opening celebration a few weeks prior. As if on cue, Gabi, the aforementioned friends, walked in the door with a co-worker.
It was obvious she knew Rich as he gave her a hug and kiss on the cheek. During our hour-long conversation with Gabi, she explained how she knew Rich and his fiancée Gina, who co-owns the bar, and a bit of history behind Anthony’s on Jefferson.
Here is the summarized version: Rich has spent much of his life in the bar and music business in Milwaukee and Nashville. The building is owned by Rich’s “Uncle Tony,” Milwaukee businessman Anthony D’Acquisto (Tropic Banana Co.). Named as homage to his Uncle Tony,”Rich sees Anthony’s as a place where local musicians can practice their craft and offer Milwaukeeans a place to experience live music and entertainment - all for a reasonable price.
Based on our $8.00 bill for four vodka presses, and the wonderful (and free) entertainment, I believe Rich’s vision is well on its way. While it may be off the beaten path of the Third Ward’s bar and restaurant district, I’d encourage everyone to give Anthony’s on Jefferson a try. Your ears, taste buds and wallet will thank you.
Visit Anthony’s on Jefferson on Facebook for more information on their specials and music lineup.