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Unconventional "reading rooms"

The majority of bars in America have television sets. And the majority of those televisions are switched to one sporting event or another. If you want to catch up on the news, you’ll have to pick the brains of your fellow barflies, and more often than not, that may leave you less than wiser. But in some bars, there are options for the news-hungry. And, if you’re a man, there’s one you can’t avoid.

A recent bout of day-drinking took me to the old Landmark 1850 Inn near the airport. Availing myself of the facilities between rounds, I was confronted with the front page of that day’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel taped above the urinals.

Stand-up infotainment in tavern washrooms is not new. But it’s become rarer, and I’d almost forgotten about it until that moment. I digested the lead sentences of a few articles, noted the projected high and low temperatures, washed up and was on my way, relieved and enriched.

My next stop was The Bubbler, a local spot on South Howell Avenue. More edification was in store. In the men’s room, where any fellow with a full bladder could see it, was another swath of newsprint – this time, the sports pages from USA Today.

I’d hit the daily double of restroom reading.

Teri Bashaw, owner of The Bubbler, doesn’t take credit for the saloon’s slyly bookish ways. When Vinchi’s Pizza started doing business inside the bar a few years ago, the owner asked Bashaw if he could start posting the sports pages. “The customers noticed it right away,” says Bashaw, “and they really notice when he doesn’t do it.”

Joe Halser, owner of Landmark, has been cutting up front pages for more than 30 years. 

“It isn’t an original idea,” he says. “I saw it in a bar on National Avenue. I liked the idea and started doing it.”

And it can do more than occupy patrons’ minds. John Dye, the owner of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, recalled that at his first bartending job, in Seattle, his duties included tacking up the daily paper.

“The owner said the purpose was to prevent bathroom graffiti,” he says.

The urinal news is so popular at Landmark that, from time to time, female patrons demand equal treatment.

“But their bathroom system is different,” Halser says, “so it’s difficult to do.” ◆


‘Bathroom Reading’ appears in the November 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning October 30, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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