Let’s play a game. Guess the age of the building that houses the Landmark 1850 Inn? It’s ok, I’ll wait … Yeah, it’s three digits, 5 years older than Miller Brewing Company, built 69 years before Liberace was born in West Allis and 161 years before I finally set foot inside, all of which makes […]
Let’s play a game. Guess the age of the building that houses the Landmark 1850 Inn? It’s ok, I’ll wait … Yeah, it’s three digits, 5 years older than Miller Brewing Company, built 69 years before Liberace was born in West Allis and 161 years before I finally set foot inside, all of which makes it “Milwaukee’s Oldest Bar.” The Landmark 1850 Inn (5905 S. Howell Ave.) is located just south of Mitchell International. It’s so conveniently placed for travelers that many from out of state call it home. From flight attendants to businessmen and pilots to the transplanted, it’s a must stop when in town.
Now, for a little history lesson. Originally called The New Cohen house – named after the German immigrant farming settlement that occupied the area – the building was a central gathering place from the beginning. It attracted the thirsty farmers, it was the source for area news, mail delivery and business proceedings and of course, it was and still is a center for celebration.
The cream city brick building has seen thousands of people cross its threshold and it has experienced a considerable amount of humans being. A building of such seniority and witness is a prime subject for the possibility of, well, spirits (the paranormal kind, we’re not talking about drinking, yet).
I had the chance to talk briefly with Landmark 1850 Inn owner, Joseph Hasler. He has heard from several patrons of eerie experiences, some involving an apparition of a woman on the bars back staircase. Creepy? Yeah, but Hasler is not one for the supernatural. Hasler attributes the scattered incidents (he hears about 2-3 per year) to people’s belief that the building used to house a brothel and that the woman on the staircase is a lady of the night returning to work. Hasler obviously conducted some research on the subject as he mentioned that brothels were actually operating on Layton Avenue, a mile or so north, not at the Landmark location. He also mentioned, as a theory, the mystifying qualities of the inaccessible upstairs area of the bar. The mind wants to see something up there, Hasler suspects; it wants to believe a haunting exists. Do you want to know what’s actually up there? Nothing. It’s storage. Does that mean the Landmark isn’t haunted? (I’m shrugging.)
Now that I had this great quantity of information about ghosts, hookers, German immigrants and parties, it was time to make a visit and see and feel the Landmark for myself.
The building is indeed a formidable presence, situated alongside a bustling, multi-lane road, an international airport and a gentleman’s club. Whoa! (Light bulb) My theory: maybe the old timey working girl is being stirred up by the dancing gals’ bulging energy next door?! I think I should look into it right away! (Don’t worry, the gentleman’s club that may or may not accommodate actual gentleman is at a safe, non-obnoxious distance.)
Walking into the Landmark, the tin walls, wood floors and massive bar sprawl about the building’s main floor. The former owners and the current owner, Joe, definitely retained The New Cohen House charisma and atmosphere and I could see why it has always been a popular roadhouse. Before planting a seat, I made my way around the corner, down the length of the bar (which seemed like a city block) to the stairwell to see if I could maybe catch a glimpse of the supposed prostitute ghost. I stood there … and I waited. After a few seconds had passed and no cold spots or apparitions manifested, one of the patrons at the bar said, “If you’re looking for the bathroom, it’s around the corner.”
Considering my paranormal investigation proved inconclusive, it was time to actually experience what the bar had to offer. The draft list was extensive, 25 plus beers of all varieties including many German and Belgian flavors. I ordered a Hofbrau Oktoberfest while my lass ordered a Southern Tier Brewery Pumpking. We watched playoff baseball, we ate French fries … we were riding the season, riding it bareback through falling leaves and over chilly brooks, crossing pumpkin patches and corn fields. Ahhh…autumn. I had thought about spending some time on the front patio drinking my beer and watching planes arrive and depart, but it wasn’t necessarily t-shirt weather and the Brewers were on.
The bar was strewn with regulars who happily interacted with one another through anecdotes and jokes. The bartenders and servers dipped in and out of the laughter as time allotted. An older couple was happily monitoring the conversation around them as they finished the last few bites of their sandwiches. They paid their tab as a punch line was delivered. Leaving on a high note, it always feels good.
A few tables had groups of at least six and both seemed to be vying for the coveted “We Are Having The Most Fun At This Bar” trophy. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but fun shant be determined by the volume of the table’s voices. That said, it can be loud in the seating area of the Landmark.
Beer prices were a little on the high side, but when you are ordering a high quality brew you have to pay for it. Of course, they still have the old stand-by beers available for the light beer, light wallet drinkers. Aside from the beer listing, the remaining pages of the menu offer a short list of food items, mostly pub food and pizza; things to accompany a cold glass of beer.
In a strange ironic twist, one of the coolest parts of my evening was paying the bill. Pay your bill up at the bar – make sure you pay with cash – and watch the bartender use their many wrist and bicep muscles to push the buttons and yank the crank on one of the three old cash registers. Cha-ching is right! These things are their own security; they are massive and probably weigh more than the barrel of Hofbrau I recently tapped into. I bet half the crooks in this city aren’t even strong enough to yank the crank, let alone figure out how to use the thing. Remember criminals, there is a hooker ghost watching the place, don’t get any crazy ideas.
Although the Landmark 1850 Inn has its tales of the paranormal, it’s more than a ghostly hotspot, it’s a historical piece of Milwaukee architecture, immigration and celebration. After being closed for a few years for some much needed repairs and reopening September 18, the Landmark continues its legacy as “Milwaukee’s Oldest Bar.”