The historic brown bottle is closed in Schlitz Park

After reopening under new management last year, The Brown Bottle has once again closed its doors at 221 W. Galena St. in Schlitz Park.

The closure, which took effect on August 13, affects the operation of the bar and restaurant. Alice’s immersive cocktail experience pop-up will continue in the space through August 28.

Among the charms of the Brown Bottle was its speakeasy-like setting. Located just off Galena Street, it’s tucked away from Martin Luther King Drive, making it feel like a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

But that quality was not an asset for the restaurant, which relied heavily on traffic from employees of the Schlitz Park complex for its core business. In fact, its location was certainly part of the challenge F Street Hospitality Group faced when they reopened the historic bar and restaurant last August.

That, combined with the other pandemic-related trials facing restaurants across the city, ultimately contributed to its demise.

“With tenants not returning to offices after COVID and severe staffing shortages, Brown Bottle experienced a difficult year that culminated in a difficult decision,” notes Kaelyn Cervero, CPCE, vice president of F Street Hospitality at the closing.

“We would like to thank our patrons for their support and our team members, who have found new homes at F Street Hospitality, for their hard work.”

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The restaurant, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018, has a history dating back to 1938, when it served as a gathering place and tasting room for visitors who came to visit Schlitz, the brewery that “made Milwaukee famous.”

Schlitz was founded in 1849 and followed closely on the heels of the Pabst Brewery, which opened its doors in 1836. In its heyday, Schlitz was the largest beer distributor in the country. But as the decades passed, several union strikes and changes to the beer’s decades-old recipe saw the brewery fall from its former grace.

In 1982, when Stroh Brewing purchased Schlitz, the site reopened as a tavern and restaurant called the Brown Bottle, which operated without interruption for 20 years.

Interestingly, the restaurant was named to pay tribute to one of Schlitz’s contributions to brewing history: the brown bottle. Traditionally, beer was bottled in clear glass. But Schlitz decided to set their beer apart by bottling it in brown glass. Not only was it a market differentiator, it preserved the beer inside the bottle by protecting it from light, giving it a longer shelf life. After Schlitz’s bold move, brown bottles became the industry standard.

Between 2004 and 2012, the tavern was renamed Libiamo, an Italian restaurant. But in 2014, it was reclaimed and brought back to life as part of Schlitz Park’s Stock-House renovation. From there it operated for five more years before closing in March 2019.

In 2021, amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, F Street Hospitality (operators of Pizza Man, Bottle House 42 and Timmer’s Resort in West Bend) took over operations at the venue, hoping to bring new life to the historic pub.

In turn, the question is raised again: What will happen to this longtime Milwaukee institution? Time will tell.

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