Walters’ on North reopened last night, and if you don’t know what that is or that it closed, I’ll forgive you for both not knowing that and for not reading any further.
Walters’ is either a neighborhood bar or a dive bar in East Tosa, depending on your definitions, but having been open for 50-plus years, the beer-and-old-fashioned place at 70th and North was unquestionably an institution in the neighborhood.
As such, it caused quite a stir last month when its owners announced that it would close at the end of the month and change hands before reopening after what was described as light remodeling.
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As a neighbor of Walters’ for a few years – admittedly, only a few, and very interesting years, COVID and all – I was a bit wary of this news. There were assurances that the bar would stay the course, but I could not shake one fact in the many reports of Walters’ transition: the new owners were … well, younger.
Walters’ has a vibe of an old bar, for better or worse, and I was worried that new blood would screw it up.
So I was pretty encouraged yesterday when Walters’ announced on Facebook that it would reopen just 10 days after its closure. That’s not a lot of time for big changes, these days, and when I stopped by last night on the way home from work, I ended up staying for … oh, let’s just say longer than I planned.
So here is an indisputable, comprehensive, not-to-be-argued list of what’s new and not new about Walters’ on North. TL;DR: It’s the kind of remodel you talk about for only about the first five minutes of your beer before you move onto other topics.
New: The floor. The removal of the drab carpet, which has presumably seen a lot of shit, was the most obvious and most commented-upon change. The new floor appears to be wood but may be laminate. Either way, it will clean up better and it’s brighter.
New: The walls! The thing about a bar like Walters’ is you don’t really notice such things until they change. I cannot say what the walls were before but they weren’t the textured, light-gray or tan walls there now.
Not new: The things that made Walters’ a borderline dive are all still there: the oddly ornate wrought-iron frame between the main bar and the side room, the faux (?) stone accents on the side room wall, the spindles pulled out of your uncle’s South Side basement bar. All potential renovation targets, all still there.
Not new: The ceiling, rugged white tiles with a few discolorations with stories to tell, has looked down on thousands of hookups and bad ideas – and like two great ideas – over the years, and I’m kind of glad it’s still adding to that total today.
New: The decor is… it’s different, but still the same. More neons, fewer sports flags, replaced by wall hangings like oversize Sports Illustrated covers (Packers and Brewers, both from the heady days of 2011). Framed Wauwatosa high school jerseys remain.
Not new: The (pretty random) sports team-themed light shades. I was fearing Edison lights to replace these stained-glass beauties, but nay, there they are: Home teams, sure, but also Michigan Wolverines, Maple Leafs, Red Sox, Bears, PGA (a whole league!), Redskins.
Not new: The crowd. Middle-aged and older closer to happy hour and edging into the 30s later on. Characters. John and other familiar faces behind the bar. There may have been a few more hugs last night than usual, but let’s shoot straight, the place was only closed for a week-plus.
New: Clean tap lines. I’d sworn off draft Miller High Life at Walters’; this exquisite beer is delicate and was clearly not itself at my neighborhood watering hole. It was my first order last night and was its usual glorious self. This could be a reopening thing, but I’m hopeful this attention to a very important part of quality draft beer will be maintained.
Not new: Hamm’s on tap. And, as far as I can recall, every other beer that was on in the last week before Walters’ closed.
Not new: Prices. My bartender warned this may be subject to change, but on Wednesday I got two High Lifes and a Hamm’s for $10. This assuages one of my primary concerns about young folks running the place.
New: A bunch of new darts and gaming machines. This isn’t really my thing, but they’re noticeable now. I’ll be more interested when the pool table arrives in the side room space.
Not new: Menu. I imagine there will be some changes at some point, but on Wednesday the plates coming out of the “kitchen” – the grill behind the bar – looked no different from those I’d seen for the past three years.
New: A, um… politically neutral environment. The new owners may back the badge but there’s no indication as such.
Not new: The bathrooms. (Well, at least the men’s room.) This was a primary hope for the remade Walters’, but … oh well.
New: The smell! The whole place had that woody, clean smell of fresh construction, but the men’s room had a heavy aroma of something a Californian would apply to his underarms – not patchouli or sandalwood but something redwoody and also deeply herbal. I could not spot one of those aroma diffusers so this remains my greatest new-Walters’ mystery.
Not new: Once I sidled up to the urinal, I was crestfallen (but maybe also relieved?) to discover the old Watler’s smell of stale piss. I remember thinking that if the new owners wanted to remove that, they’d probably have to rip out every last speck of grout. They didn’t.
Not new: I have always loved the charming chevron accent tiles in the bathroom, and with the rest of the bathroom, they remain.
New: A point-of-sale system replacing the vintage ‘90s cash register. If you open a tab now, they give you your card back.
Not new: The wobbly tables.
Not new: The perilous step down to the side room, perhaps more so now as hardwood vs. carpet.
New: The bit of high-visibility tape added to the edge of that step down as I watched.