A quick game of word association will reveal that much like peanut butter is to jelly, German influence is to Milwaukee. Starting in the 1840s, floods of German immigrants made their way to Wisconsin—and Milwaukee, in particular—and settled down, largely thanks to cheap land and the exciting rush of liberation from their homeland. And if […]
A quick game of word association will reveal that much like peanut butter is to jelly, German influence is to Milwaukee. Starting in the 1840s, floods of German immigrants made their way to Wisconsin—and Milwaukee, in particular—and settled down, largely thanks to cheap land and the exciting rush of liberation from their homeland. And if drawing connections between Germans and Milwaukeeans (which, in some cases, can be interchangeable) can amount to nothing more than the love of a good pint (or five), Von Trier helps make up the glue that holds that connection together.
The history of the building in which Von Trier resides, located on the corner of East North Avenue and North Farwell Avenue, begins at almost exactly the same time that Germans began to flock to Milwaukee. Originally known as Rieder’s in the 1930s and ‘40s, the bar became Von Trier in 1978, courtesy of the new owner, Karl Lotharius, and his hometown of Trier, Germany. Fun fact? This is why if you look very carefully, even outside of the bar, you’ll see the letters KVT; they stand for Karl Von Trier, or “Karl from Trier” in English.
Though the bar has changed ownership twice more since Lotharius was the proprietor—and, at present, sits in the hands of John and Cindy Sidoff, the owners of the nearby Hooligan’s—the pillars on which the bar has built its name haven’t wavered. Von Trier has always done three things really well: their décor, their tap (and bottled) beer selection and their house cocktails list. (Scratch that; make that four things, to include the fact that there is an unlimited supply of freshly popped popcorn for all patrons, ready and waiting for the scarfing.)
But listing only those four things as their main selling points doesn’t seem to do Von Trier justice. How could I forget to include their beer garden? By and large, it’s my favorite summer patio, because there’s something inexplicably wonderful about how it’s enclosed and private, yet spacious and open—and perfect for people-watching.
Did I mention they’re the only bar I’ve ever been to that also has Lindemans Framboise—a raspberry Lambic that happens to top my list of “fruity beers”—on tap? It’s one thing to drink the Framboise out of the bottle, yet another entirely when it comes from the tap, poured straight into an elegant flute glass where you can adequately admire its frothy, pink head and rich ruby body. Von Trier also makes a mean, no frills Bloody Mary that manages to have the ideal splash of spice for my sensitive palate.
When the chilly evening air slowly crept in Friday evening, I decided to warm my bones with a cocktail off Von Trier’s Hot Drink list: the Marzipan. As saccharine as the name may suggest, too sweet it was not—more like coffee with a kick, specifically Amaretto and Frangelico. After trying my bar companion’s Hyper Monkey, however, I found myself wishing I had ordered one of those instead. I let the banana liqueur scare me off, as I’m not too fond of artificial flavorings, especially banana, but it blended in so subtly. I should’ve known better than to think I wouldn’t like a drink with both espresso and espresso vodka in it.
Sitting on the patio with a friend, Bloody Mary in hand, after a long day of jury duty on the following Tuesday, it came as a surprise to me to hear him say that though he loves Von Trier deeply, and feels that it flies under the radar for the vast majority of North Avenue bar goers. Not much contemplation was needed before I realized he was right, but instead of that being lamentable, it’s kind of admirable.
Von Trier is a special place: ornate rooms filled with old German steins of varying shapes, sizes and designs, intricate woodsy murals on the ceilings and walls, expertly carved wood accents and dramatic chandeliers (one of which, in the only occasionally opened back room, is a Pabst mansion original). It’s not the place for college kids to throw back drink after drink, not for the taste but for the effects. It’s the place where you choose a beer or a cocktail because you want to savor it and bask in its intricacies as you take in the old-world German charm of your surroundings. And I’m perfectly content with letting Von Trier continue to hide in plain sight, privy to only a keen eye—or a nose for good beer.
Homepage photo courtesy of Von Trier. Beer photo by Jackie Dreyer.