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Farwell Avenue’s Von Trier escaped the fate of turning into an upscale cocktail bar. Will its focus on German specialties bring back the crowds it drew decades ago?

I came of age when Farwell and North was a nightlife bellwether and “classy” meant going to Von Trier, the dark Germanic bar that was our refuge on finger-numbing winter nights. My UW-Milwaukee friends liked to sit at a certain table near the bar. To me, it seemed like we could never park close enough (that brutal wind!), but there was a popcorn machine and fancy hot drinks with rum or Frangelico in them. Probably because it was dark and German-antiquey, it seemed like it had many decades of history, when in fact, it opened in the late 1970s.

But there comes a time when old habits are replaced by new ones, and Von Trier became for me simply a spot for a Moscow Mule after a movie at the Oriental Theatre.

Von Trier


2235 N. Farwell Ave., 414-272-1775
vontriers.com

HOURS: Dinner daily. Lunch service to come

PRICES: Sausages $10- $13; specialties $11-$29

SERVICE: Friendly, fairly snappy.

RESERVATIONS: Not needed.

After scrapping plans (thank goodness) to transition Von Trier to an “upscale” cocktail bar, owners John and Cindy Sidoff, who used to run nearby Hooligan’s, opted to restore the interior’s vim and vigor and lure crowds in for more than a stein of Hofbräu and side of Teutonic ambiance. In late March, the owners held an auction to help defray the renovation costs. The auction included 80 steins and a chandelier commissioned for the Pabst Mansion in the early 1900s. As I write this, that Cyril Colnik-forged, wrought iron-antler chandelier still hangs like a specter in the front bar.

Von Trier’s kitchen could have gone down the road of chicken wings and jalapeno poppers, but instead they put some thought – German thought – into the menu. Besides “shareables,” they have meat and cheese boards using products from local companies (Usinger’s, Clock Shadow Creamery), specialties like German meatballs with spaetzle, and sausages/sandwiches, including the trendy vegetarian Impossible Burger.

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Based on the majority of plates I ordered, they’re not phoning in the German theme here. My best memory is of the sausage medley (brat, knackwurst and weisswurst, juicy and all very tasty) with caraway marble rye, good pickled red cabbage and nicely balanced sauerkraut ($19). I’m a big fan of the Bavarian cheese spread obatzda (here, a blend of Brie, cream cheese and butter). It’s great with the giant warm, soft Miller Bakery pretzel and three German mustards ($10). A smaller pretzel comes with the delicate, lightly peppery German meatballs ($11). Sop up the gingersnap demi-glace with the pretzel. The pan-fried spaetzle was a rubbery, bland disappointment of a side dish, while the cucumber salad ($7) holds its own with any main dish. It’s a rock-solid balance of crunchy romaine, thin-sliced cucumber, red onion and daikon radish and a delicious creamy, light dill dressing.

My favorite sandwich is grilled, served open-face and topped with a bologna-like meat loaf, melted Muenster and a fried egg ($11). It will make no friends in the vascular health community, but my goodness, is that delicious. Make your side the warm, tangy German potato salad.

These days, German food feels like a missing piece to the dining industry puzzle here in Milwaukee, and Von Trier is doing a laudable job. I hope these changes prove popular, because I’d like to see many more years of Von Trier.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the Sidoffs still own Hooligan’s.

Listen to Ann Christenson talk more about Von Trier on “This Bites” with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

This Bites: Von Trier’s Revival


‘Von Treasure’ appears in the May 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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

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