Landmark Saukville town watering hole to be upgraded, but retain quaint ambience
Ozaukee County Board Chairman Robert Brooks is adding to his portfolio of local entertainment venues, taking over MacCarthy’s Irish Pub, 3315 Hwy. I, in the Town of Saukville.
Brooks and his wife Dawn secured the liquor license for the business at last week’s Saukville Town Board meeting. The license was issued to Saukville Shooters, LLC.
The couple also own the Railroad Station bar in the Village of Saukville, in addition to a local real estate business, Brooks Investment Group.
Brooks said he has a three-year lease on the building, but his intention is to purchase the property before that lease expires.
“I love the property. It is a great location,” he said.
The popular bar had been owned by Finbar MacCarthy, who moved out of state last fall and plans to return to his native Ireland to open a guest manor.
“We have had our eye on this property for some time, and talks with Finbar have been off and on,” Brooks said.
“Business at the Railroad Station during the past year or so has been very good, and we wanted to expand our options. This seemed like the ideal opportunity.”
Although an earlier plan for the property to change ownership and its name fell through, Brooks said he plans to keep the MacCarthy’s name.
“People know it as MacCarthy’s, and I see no reason why we would want to change the name,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he will be satisfied with leaving things untouched.
“We intend to do quite a bit of updating, while maintaining the current atmosphere. The plan is to completely redo the kitchen, and replace the flooring and coolers,” Brooks said.
He told town officials between $40,000 and $50,000 would be spent on making improvements inside the building.
The bar will remain open through most of the reconstruction, but the kitchen will be closed for about two weeks.
“You’ll notice a substantial difference pretty quickly. If everything goes as planned, it should all be ready in time for St. Patrick’s Day,” Brooks said.
The traditional Irish holiday is the busiest day of the year for the pub.
Brooks said he also plans to bring live music back to the venue, with an emphasis on Irish acoustic tunes.
He said the building has a rich history, although much of the lore connected with the site comes from information provided by MacCarthy, who was known for occasionally telling tall tales.
“If we are to believe what is printed on the back of the menu covers, the site was originally home to a cheese factory that was built in 1888,” Brooks said.
At that time, the Cold Springs Cheese Factory was one of four such facilities operating in Saukville. Contemporary newspaper accounts claimed it produced up to 900 pounds of cheese a day.
The original building was destroyed in a fire in 1893, replaced by a newer factory that continued production for two more decades.
According to local legend, the property was then acquired “by a gentleman of Chicago origins” for an undisclosed price.
The romanticized history of the property says, “Considerable scandal broke out locally when it became known that the building was being used as a house of ill fame (i.e. a brothel).”
That uproar reportedly died down when local residents learned the new owner was notorious mobster Al Capone, according to MacCarthy’s account.
“Capone and his henchmen continued to use the property as a halfway house throughout the Prohibition times (local reports show that he had at least one whiskey still on a nearby farm),” the menu claims.
In a disclaimer typical of MacCarthy’s humor, he added, “The Saukville Unofficial Sly Secrets Act prevents us from naming our neighbor.”
Again quoting from the fictionalized menu account, “a shooting in the bar and the attention it was gathering over the years was enough to eventually coax Capone and his merry men to ‘abandon ship.’”
The property has continued to operate as a tavern since those Roaring ’20s.
MacCarthy also hinted that old-timers who frequent the bar insist it is haunted.
Although the future may not be nearly as colorful, Brooks said he has great plans for the business.
“I don’t think there are enough places in Saukville where you can order a burger and a beer, and that is what we want to be. We plan to be open 365 days a year, probably from 11 a.m. until bar time,” he said.
Brooks said the pub will be staffed by some of the current employees, along with people from the Railroad Station and new hires.
MacCARTHY’S IRISH PUB on Highway I in the Town of Saukville will retain its rustic ambiance under its new owner, Rob Brooks. Photo by Mark Jaeger