2012 marked the beginning of The Public House’s second year of operating as the only bar of its kind. What makes it so special? First, it’s a cooperative. That means you can become a member and legally own the place (along with a few hundred other folks). Membership means you get member prices on drinks and admission into certain special events, but more importantly, it means you get to elect our Board of Directors, who make important decisions for the long-term health of the bar. Our workers (bartenders, cleaners, the door person, inventory, events and finance) operate the day-to-day functions of the bar as a collective. That means that instead of a manager, they make decisions together. We think this is a better model than your everyday run-of-the-mill bar (or any business, for that matter) because it means the people who spend money here and make money here have a voice in how the business is run. All this is pretty rare for a bar. But there’s more.
The second thing that makes the Public House special is our dedication to this neighborhood. In 2010, a group of cooperators here in beautiful Riverwest decided it would be cool to have a lucrative business that would donate all its profits to the purpose of starting more co-ops in this community. That way, even more local businesses would be controlled by the people who shopped and worked at them. So with a lot of help and elbow grease, they opened this little bar right in the heart of the neighborhood. What’s more, the Public House hosts regular fundraisers, public lectures, political debates, spelling bees, and of course, live music. And we’ve sponsored all kinds of good things around the neighborhood like the Holton Youth + Family Center, Riverwest 24, Hunger Task Force, Garden Park Farmer’s Market, River Revitalization Foundation, Woodland Pattern, ArtWalk, MKE Film Festival, Hovercraft, The Center Street Artists Relief Fund, People’s Books Cooperative, Riverwest and plenty more. All this is to say that when you drink here, you’re putting your beer money to good use.
We were humbled to be voted into the top 3 for Best Rock Club in the Shepherd Express Best of Milwaukee list alongside Cactus Club and the Up and Under. This was because of you. Thank you. Aside from music, we’ve focused a lot on having regular Sunday night “Night School” programing of interest including lectures, documentaries, neighborhood conversations, and workshops. Throughout the election season, we were visited by candidates (including Tammy Baldwin), hosted debates, and live election coverage. Plus, sprinkled in with our usual programing are Gameshows, Hot Blind Debates, and Spelling Bees. The coming year should see a quarterly Members-Only event to coincide with solar holidays.
We’ve also focused on enhancing our menu of craft beers. Lagunitas, Black Husky Brewing, Finch’s, Founders, and of course Lakefront Brewery, all provide some of our growing selection of local and delicious craft beers. We also proudly serve Milwaukee Pizza Company pizzas, Just Coffee Co-op coffee from Madison, and Rishi Tea, which is headquartered in Bay View.
Internally, we’ve focused the past few months on improving the way our Workers Collective and Board of Directors operate by articulating clearer policies of accountability, hiring, and compensation. Our Workers Collective is a group of employees who are dedicated to going “above and beyond” their official job description, tackling special projects, taking on administrative tasks, and ensuring the smooth operations of the bar on a day to day basis. It requires some extra time and love to maintain a collective management structure.
A handful of our staff and board members along with board members from the other neighborhood co-ops are getting very close to finalizing the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance‘s incorporating documents. The process is slow going but we’ve been making continuous progress over the past two years. RCA Meetings are the first monday of the month at the Public House at 7pm.