I can count on one hand the times I’ve waited on pins and needles for a new bar to open. Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub: Downtown (1203 N. 10th St.) accounts for one of my five fingers.
Since reading an article about the pending opening of the Brewhouse Inn and Suites this winter, I anxiously awaited the day in May that would mark the second location of Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub.
If one bar could be used to illustrate the heritage of brewing in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, it should be Jackson’s Blue Ribbon. Off-the-beaten path of downtown Milwaukee, the former Pabst Brewery site takes you back in time and offers a setting that you won’t find elsewhere easily.
It may sound cliché, but as I walked up Juneau Avenue and got closer to the Pabst sign connecting two of the buildings on campus, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. I had the expectation that I’d soon experience something epic, and as I look back on my four visits, while it may not have been all rainbows and butterflies, it was, overall, a great experience.
I don’t remember what caught my attention first during my inaugural visit – the dark blue walls that lead the eyes up to the metal ceiling, the far wall that has remnants of exposed brick or the enormous dark-stained bar – but I was intrigued.
As spring was “on” during my first visit, my friend Mandi and I decided to sit outside.
The patio is a combination of a courtyard with grass and comfy seating and metal dining furniture, including bar top tables. I was amazed at how quiet and serene it was on the patio. Although it is close to the interstate, there is no major car travel and foot traffic on the adjacent street, making it a very relaxing experience.
Our server greeted us warmly and explained they had just opened a few days earlier, so there may be a few drink items not available. Understandable. Mandi ordered a Summer Shandy as I mulled over the specialty cocktail list. Made of Rehorst Citrus and Honey Vodka, St. Germaine, sparkling wine and fresh lemon, the Whitefish Bay had me at “hello.” That is until I was informed they had not yet received their sparkling wine.
Also made with Rehorst Citrus and Honey Vodka, the Bay View (at right) pairs Rishi hibiscus cherry tea and fresh lemon with the vodka for a taste that I can only describe as yummy. It reminded me of a punch I drank as a kid so much so that I found it hard to believe there was alcohol in it (an hour later, my senses assured me the vodka was present).
The specialty cocktails have a fixed price of $8 and are mainly created with local products. I was able to try a few of them during my subsequent visits, including the Whitefish Bay that had previously eluded my taste buds. It’s a refreshing cocktail that I was able to drink with ease at both 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. It would also be a solid option for brunch instead of a traditional mimosa.
During my next visits I decided to belly up to the bar and sit head on with the beer tappers. Taking pride in the state’s brewing heritage, Jackson’s only offers Wisconsin brews on draught. A huge wooden tapper in the middle is for the flagship beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon – with varieties from Miller, Lakefront, Point Brewing, Leinenkugel, Sconnie, Sprecher and New Glarus rounding out the other 12 brews offered. There are nearly four dozen bottled beers to choose from including the beer that made the city famous – Schlitz – and Old Milwaukee.
Beer isn’t served in a traditional pint glass, but in a heavy glass chalice (at right) that makes it easy for you to feel like royalty with each sip. I blame my dainty wrists for occasionally having to employ a two hand approach to ensure I didn’t spill.
Service during my visits was a bit hit-or-miss. On a visit during Downtown Dining Week, my friend and I received exceptional service from a spunky bartender - with PBR logos painted on her fingernails, to boot - but the next time we had a server who spent more time talking with co-workers than checking on us. Most recently, I brought an out-of-town friend for a late-night drink and food on a Wednesday evening. The place was pretty dead, so the bartender, who I believe is the manager, was very attentive and engaging.
If you’re interested in watching the game, you may want to choose the bar booths instead of a seat at the bar. My friend and I ended up moving within 10 minutes of watching the NBA Finals on the two big screens that flank the bar due to neck pain. According to the manager, they’re looking into options to make watching the TVs from the bar less painful.
If you’re a Foursquare user, make sure to check in during your visits. For every third check in, Jackson’s provides you with a free PBR draft. While it may only be a $3.00 incentive, it’s nice to receive something extra for your continued patronage; there are too few establishments that use Foursquare for this in my opinion.
Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m. and all day Sunday. The deals include $2.00 Pabst and Miller taps and $3.00 for all other taps, house wines and mixers.
Without a doubt, Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Downtown does Milwaukee justice. The historic setting, pride in the state’s brewing prowess and unique features make Jackson’s a place I’ll continue to visit.
Visit Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Downtown on Facebook for additional information.
In-text images by Kaitlin Corner. Homepage image courtesy of Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub: Downtown.