Owner taps into history with name, atmosphere of landmark Port tavern
Many longtime Port Washington residents have fond memories of hoisting a frothy glass of beer at Lutzen’s, the quintessential neighborhood bar.
Jonathan Tiegs, owner of the newly resurrected Lutzen’s Saloon, hopes to rekindle those warm sentiments while nurturing a sense of belonging for new customers.
The old and new Lutzen’s share the same location, 201 W. Grand Ave.
Most recently, it was a bar known as Chuck’s Engine Room.
The tradition of the local tavern being the community gathering place is reflected in the business’ motto — “A new place to gather in Port Washington.”
Since the 1890s, Tiegs said, the Cream City brick building that houses the saloon has been home to a bar and a basement barber shop.
Tiegs, who admits he has no claim to the Lutzen name, said he saw no reason to change things when he stumbled upon the classic building.
“I was looking for a place to start a bar, and I love the building. I love Port Washington, and I love the people,” he said.
“I did a little research on the history of the building, which dates back to 1899 when it was a hotel and saloon operated by Ed Lutzen. From the 1940s to1980s, Wally Lutzen ran a bar here, too.”
Tiegs comes from Brookfield and has a lengthy background in restaurant management.
“I have been busing tables and sweeping floors since I was 13,” he said.
Tiegs wanted to embrace the history of the old watering hole, so he made enlarged prints of historic photos borrowed from the Port Washington Historical Society. The images now decorate the
walls of the tavern.
There is no telling how much of the grunge in the bar was a century old, but Tiegs said he had to clean up “a lot of dirt” before opening last month.
Among the decor changes made at the tavern is the addition of a number of dining tables, reflecting Tiegs’ desire for Lutzen’s to be known as much for its food as its cold beverages.
He admits that is a challenge, since there is no room for a grill or fryer in the bar.
Still, he serves shaved roast beef, tarragon shrimp salad and roasted turkey sandwiches, as well as Italian cold cut hoagies.
Tiegs said his sandwiches have the distinct flavor of Port Washington, with the meats and cheeses coming from Bernie’s Fine Meats and the breads from Sweet Buns Bakery.
“It is important to me to support local businesses rather than spending my money with some corporate supplier,” he said.
“This is not what you would call typical bar food. My goal is to create a place where people know they can relax and enjoy good, fresh food.”
Food is served until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 9 p.m. on weekdays.
Tiegs showed an astute awareness of the market when he said he intends to offer his customers plenty of choices when it comes to beer, but within reasonable limits.
“I am not trying to compete with Sir James Pub,” he said.
The bar has a bourbon brown ale from Lake Mills brewer Tyranena on tap, and offers microbrew offerings from Great Lake Brewing, Sprecher, Leinenkugel and 3 Sheeps.
Although new to town, Tiegs said, he loves having customers stop in and talk about the old days in Port Washington. Many of the stories involve the times when Wally Lutzen ran the bar.
Like Lutzen, Tiegs said, he is spending a lot of time behind the bar.
“At this point, if the bar is open, I am here. I work here by myself on weekdays and have friends help out on Fridays and Saturdays,” he said.
Tiegs said he knows the tavern business can be demanding, but he readily welcomes the challenge.
“I feel if you leave here happy, I’ve done my job,” he said.
Image information: LUTZEN’S SALOON OWNER Jonathan Tiegs hopes to recreate the sense of community that was a central feature of Port Washington’s historic watering holes. Photos by Mark Jaeger