Milwaukee’s always been a great place for people to get together. Luckily for us, it just keeps getting better. The Riverwest Public House opened it’s doors in early April, and has been host to Lakefront Brewing beer nights, live music, and of course, cooperative meetings. Founded on the principles of building a stronger community and sourcing local products, the Riverwest Public House is giving people in Milwaukee a place to come and drink fine beer with a purpose. Elena Pires was nice enough to answer a few questions about English pubs, good company and fireplaces. Read it after the jump.
On your site you reference old English pubs as an inspiration, what is it about those pubs that drew you to this idea?
The tradition of the old English public house embodies the ideas of strong community, connection and collaboration between neighbors, and rest and relaxation. The public house tradition is also deeply rooted in beer and brewing, as many started in people’s homes where they served their home brews. Our attitude and atmosphere will loosely follow in that tradition of fun and connection between neighbors, as we are “building community one drink at a time.”
Why do you feel we need a meeting place?
In our mission statement, we dedicate ourselves to “providing an open and welcoming social meeting place which encourages community participation.” The Public House will be a great place to socialize, as well as a venue for events, community meetings, and more. Riverwest is a vibrant community with many long-standing independent bars, cafes, and restaurants. What makes us different from other bars is that we are cooperatively owned.
The Public House will uphold the cooperative values of self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. We are also committed to the values of collective worker management, living wages, community involvement, and focus on local products. This means that owner-members have a definite say in what the Public House is and how it grows, and employees will be part of a fair and democratic workplace. The future purpose of the Public House is to fuel a cooperative alliance in Riverwest that will propagate and support other cooperative businesses in Milwaukee. So while the Public House will be unique, welcoming, and fun, we are much more than just another bar.
Will you guys have a fireplace?
Sorry, we have no fireplace. I agree it would make these cold Wisconsin winter nights a lot cozier, but fireplaces in bars are rare in Milwaukee, and the space we found to house this project doesn’t have one.
For me personally, beer and beer culture is powerful because the history of beer runs along the same time line as the history of human civilization. Especially here in Milwaukee, much of our cultural history and identity is tied in with beer, and Wisconsin continues to produce some of the (in my opinion) best beers anywhere. Beer has also historically been a drink that is accessible to all people, both to produce and consume, and can be a great way to bring people together.
What role do you see brewers playing in the community? What role will brewers play in the Public House?
Milwaukee has a long and rich history with beer and breweries. Brewers who use locally grown ingredients can be an important part of a community or region’s self-sufficiency, and here in Wisconsin we are lucky enough that we have breweries that use local products and develop relationships with other local businesses. The Public House itself is not a brewpub, so we won’t be brewing our own beer. We will emphasize local products as much as possible, and the community here in Riverwest in general tends to support local businesses, including local and regional breweries.
What beers will be served? Where will they come from?
We are still determining our inventory plans, and they may change in our first few months as we gauge demand. We have available products from Milwaukee’s own Lakefront Brewery, among others. One of the perks of membership in the Public House is member-only specials, and one special we decided on long ago is that Lakefront Brewery’s Riverwest Stein beer will always be available to members at a special price. This was extended to all tap beers being offered to members for $3.
When will you guys (officially) open your gates?
We held our Grand Opening April 8, so come on in!
What was the hardest part about getting all of this together?
I personally have been involved with this project almost since the beginning, when it was just a few people meeting at a bar to discuss ideas for creating a cooperatively run bar, and eventually a cooperative alliance, in Riverwest. Other people involved in this project may feel differently, but I think the hardest part was turning this great idea into physical reality, and keeping motivated in the early months of slogging through ideas, paperwork, and meetings. Once we incorporated and found our physical location, it all became more real to those involved and the community.
How can everyone get involved? Is there any way besides becoming a member?
Cooperatives exist because people become members and provide the capital needed for the business to function. That being said, cooperatives function because many different people with many different knowledge and skill sets work together and contribute what they can. Anyone who wants to get involved with this project is free to attend a meeting of the Steering Committee, held Mondays at 6 p.m. at the Public House. The Steering Committee can point interested persons to more specific committees (for example, Communications or Membership) that might fit their interests. We still have plenty of work to do and can always use new people!
I think Milwaukee, and the neighborhood of Riverwest specifically, was the perfect place for this to get started. This neighborhood is full of caring, creative, and vibrant people who are very personally invested in supporting and growing their community. Riverwest also has a strong tradition of fostering cooperatives (the Riverwest Food Co-op and Cafe is a great example, among others) and the neighborhood is devoted to self-sufficiency and strong community. Besides that, Milwaukee loves beer and bars, and the culture of the neighborhood pub goes back a long way here.
Where are you finding most of your support? Are any local liquor stores or breweries behind it?
We’ve had a lot of support from all over, most importantly from people in the neighborhood. Many of the local businesses have also been supportive, including other bars. We never set out to compete with any of our neighbors, but rather to strengthen the whole community, and local business owners realize that. We also made it a goal to support local producers, especially Lakefront Brewery and Great Lakes Distillery, and they have been supportive of our efforts.
Read more about the Riverwest Public House and become a member on their website.
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