Image by Kaitlin Corner.
One day this spring I looked out my window and noticed an incredible amount of activity taking place across the river at the intersection of East Pittsburgh Avenue and South Water Street. I was intrigued, as the space next to Riverview Antique Market had been vacant since I moved to the Third Ward last year. Fast forward a few months, and the former MOCT space was transformed into Prodigal Gastropub (240 E. Pittsburgh Ave.).
If you were to drive by the area's newest bar and restaurant - which opened during Summerfest - in the early afternoon, you might think it’s a nondescript building. But once the clock hits 4 p.m., it really comes to life.
I was able to visit Prodigal twice in the short time it has been open, both with my girlfriends after working our nine-to-fives.
After parking my car, which is fairly easy to do, I walked through one of the three open garage doors at the front of the building and weaved my way past empty dining tables to the bar. The temperature outside was in the low 80s and the inside was a bit muggy even with the air conditioning and fans going.
Acting as the focal point of the open room, the expansive bar is almost like a piece of art. The installation includes dark wood, glass shelves filled with dozens of bourbons and whiskeys and three inlaid TVs. The center TV is raised and is positioned directly under a peak that is reminiscent of an old barn.
After being greeted by a very friendly male bartender wearing dress pants and a vest (he did have a dress shirt on too, don’t worry), I mulled over the menu as I waited for my friend Cat to arrive. One look at the seasonal summer drink menu and it was clear Prodigal takes their craft cocktails seriously – and for reasonable prices.
After scrolling through drinks with names like “Brown Collar,” “Grim Fairytale,” and “Tax and Tribute,” I settled on the Sidecar. Made with Korbel brandy, orange liqueur, fresh squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup, the $7 drink came served in a champagne glass straight out of The Great Gatsby, and garnished with a lemon twist.
As Cat walked up to join me, even she asked about the glass. Prodigal has style, that’s for sure.
Given the temperatures, Cat went for her warm-weather standby of Rosé (Sacha Lichine) and was pleasantly surprised with the pour she received for $7 a glass.
Between our first and second rounds, we noticed a dozen or so bottles that typically hold aromatherapy oils on a glass shelf behind the bar. As he came by for our second rounds, Cat jokingly asked the bartender what spa treatment she could get in the area behind the bar known as the “Bourbon Room” (a semi-private area with big leather couches). He laughed and said they are actually bitters, even some that he made himself. The abundance of bottles made sense as almost all of their summer cocktails include the concentrated flavor stimulant.
A week later my beer-drinking gal pal Mandi joined me to test the Prodigal waters. With temperatures outside in the mid-90s, the roll-up garage doors were closed and the patio seating was empty. Inside it was still a bit muggy, but our dresses kept us comfortable.
Mandi’s keen eye noticed something immediately that I had completely missed during my first visit. The bar stools are roughly a half of a foot too low for the very tall bar top. If you’re a person of average height, prepare to feel like the little kid who has to sit on telephone books to eat at the dinner table.
Image courtesy of Prodigal Gastropub.
Prodigal offers 15 beers on tap ranging from $4 to $8 including Wisconsin’s own Ale Asylum Hopalicious, Central Waters Mudpuppy, Lakefront IPA, New Glarus Spotted Cow and the champagne of beers, Miller High Life. Other beers on draught include Crispin, Anderson Valley Barney Flats and Lagunitas IPA.
With nearly 25 bottled beers, Prodigal offers Belgian varieties including Bosteels Karmeliet, Chimay Premiere, Duvel Moortgat and Saison, in addition to standards including Blue Moon and Stella Artois.
I ordered a vodka press and Mandi opted for the $5 nightly beer special of Fixed Gear. While it tasted a little weak for my liking, the press had a nice presentation and filled the rocks glass to the rim. For $5 though, I walked away with my thirst quenched and happy.
Each day there are drink specials displayed on the large chalkboard on the wall, and while they currently do not offer happy hour, I’m hopeful it will be implemented in due time.
The unique feel of the bar should be reason alone to stop in for a peek, but the craft cocktails and reasonable prices will be reason to stay.
Visit Prodigal Gastropub’s website or Facebook page for more information.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Prodigal Gastropub was located in the Third Ward. It is actually located in Walker's Point. We regret the error.