Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bar Louie

1114 N. Water St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

It's not a good sign when a new business opens and quickly ends up on The S**T List. For some reason, though, I'm not too surprised.

Bar Louie, with locations nationwide, recently ventured into Wisconsin and the drunkest city in America by taking over the space formerly occupied by Brew City BBQ. Admittedly, when I first heard about Bar Louie and that it was opening on Water Street, I wasn't very keen on the idea. In a town that prides itself on the neighborhood tavern, a "corporate bar" just doesn't seem to fit. But I gave it a chance. Twice.

The first time I went in was with Buzz (related here) and the experience was a tad odd. We were their first real customers. And you could tell the servers were just dying to get their first real tips as close to twenty milled around the hostess station salivating in our direction. But alas, we were only there to quickly check the place out and simply have a drink.

This first experience wasn't horrible by any means (aside from the bartender confusing bourbon and scotch), but it left me with an uneasy feeling I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Within a week, though, the rumblings started. Nearly everyone who visited Bar Louie, while impressed by the decor, was highly disappointed by the service. One group of people that work with Buzz and I stopped in for lunch one day. Without going into great detail, let's just say one meal was completely removed from the bill while the rest received a 30% discount. Bar Louie deserves credit for attempting to rectify the situation, but based on the repeatedly bad service people are receiving, those discounts will put them out of business within a year.

The final straw, though, and what got Bar Louie on the List, happened just this past week. Buzz, who loves his beer, really wanted to stop in and try one of the 40 malt beverages on tap. It was a Monday night and the crowd was surprisingly large. The formerly bored waitstaff had its work cut out for it.

At this point, I'd like to interject a little something here. You see, I believe a bar needs to have a personality. And that is best revealed in its bartenders. Bars with crappy bartenders, or those who are just plain jerks (and there are plenty of them out there) are just bars. But bars with friendly faces behind them who do more than drop a drink in front of you and take your money are treasures. Think Cheers.

Bar Louie is no treasure. The barstaff spent most of its time filling drink orders for tables. Approximately 15 people sat around around the bar contesting for the attention of either one of two bartenders. When I finally managed to get the attention of one bartender for longer than a couple of seconds, I tried to strike up a brief conversation with something like "how's business?"

He wanted none of that. Instead, he handed us menus (which we had already said we didn't need). When he came back I asked him if I could make a suggestion. It was something along the line of "you guys could probably use another bartender back there. I can tell you're really busy filling the tables' orders, but that doesn't give you a chance to focus more on the bar customers. You wouldn't believe how much more people tip when the bartender chats with them."

His response: "It's a corporate bar. We don't care."

And that's what got them on the list.

If there's one thing Bar Louie is not, it's a bar. Sure, there's a bar in there, but in my opinion the only reason it's there is to hold people while they wait for a table. Bar Louie is nothing more than a hip TGIF with the personality of white bread. If you choose to go, don't be fooled into thinking you're walking into Milwaukee's next hot spot. In fact, I'd recommend you not go at all.

Bar Louie...welcome to The S**T List.


Blogger Jay Bullock said...

And now they're going to f*** up Bayshore!

5:24 PM  
Anonymous sesh said...

I've been in one in Highland Park. They were understaffed and the music was too loud for my buddy and I to converse without shouting. We did meet one real nice bartender, but she was too busy to talk for more than a few seconds at a time.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Bill Frist said...


1:53 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

A friend of mine recently forwarded me this blog and it's very disappointing to me.

It sounds like the blogger (and a couple contributors) have had very poor experiences at our Bar Louie on Waterstreet and for that I apologize.

A couple of things stand out to me about the description. First, it sound crazy to me that one of our bartenders would ever say anything about "not caring about a guest". If that is true and the management knew about it, that person wouldn't have a job. That is absolutely not our approach to guest service. If it were, we wouldn't have been successful over the past 16 years.

Bar Louie started out as a neighborhood tavern and grill in Chicago. The things that were important to us at the beginning still are; treating every guest as a "regular" and exceeding the expectations of every person that walks through our doors. We do this with a very comfortable and clean environment. We also do this with consistently good food, big martinis and cold beer. But, more than anything, we do this by hiring people that have a positive attitude, high energy and a commitment to guest service. We encourage these people to use their unique personalities while working and empower them to do whatever it takes to help our guests enjoy themselves.

As for the importance of a good bartender, I'm with you 100%. I'm a sit-at-the-bar kind of guy (which frustrates my wife) and know that the bartender often represents the real culture of a restaurant and bar. I bartended for some ten years and it frustrates me to no end to hear that you had poor bar service. My guess is that those bartenders aren't with us any longer -- poor bartenders don't usually exist at Bar Louie.

Look, we expect Bar Louie to have character. That character comes from it's staff and management. Each Bar Louie is different in that respect and we want each one of our (very few) Bar Louie's to become part of their community. We plan on being in Milwaukee for a long time. The Bar Louie on Waterstreet and the one in Bayshore are both quite unique. Honestly, we've had terrific feedback overall in Milwaukee and have been quite successful there so far.

Still, I can talk until I'm blue in the face about why Bar Louie is a great place to hang out, have a great meal, enjoy a beer from our great selection of drafts, or whatever. But what I'd really like to do is invite the bloggers on this site to give us an opportunity to show them what Bar Louie is really about -- to give us another chance. So, I encourage you to contact me at so I can buy you a burger, a drink, whatever. Hopefully we'll be able to deliver the kind of service, personality and atmosphere that you would find at Cheers-- that's our goal.

Thanks for your time. Sincerely,

Jeff Lloyd
Bar Louie
Director of Operations

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would agree the Water St Bar Louie is not a place I plan on visiting any more. I live in the neighborhood and would frequent for lunch, dinner or drinks. I never once had good experience with waitstaff, they are very inexperienced and are more there for the party then to work. The bartenders spend more time chatting with waitstaff and other bar tenders then waiting on customers...takes forever to get a simple beer! I put up with it and finally Friday night was the last straw. The "bouncers" are very rude and think they are "kings". For some reason there were 5 "bouncers" standing outside and they were almost bullying us as we walked up. They were speaking very racial with us and called my one friend "old whitey" and referred to his wife as "old lady". I don't expect to be harrassed by door men at an establishment where I am going to spend money. The door guys are always rude but this last time it was just plain awful. I am not sure who does the hiring there or manages the employees, but maybe they need to step up their game. I will not be visiting Bar Louie on Water or at Bayshore for that matter. I will also be sharing my story with all my friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. Not sure how long this place will stay open with the reputation it is getting.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked For Bar Louie in Denver starting on New Years Eve 2007 as a DJ and got to see things from another perspective. The management team was poorly trained and as a result, their only resolution to customer issues was to comp or discount tickets. Their managers were only paid $400 weekly and was instructed by corporate to work bar tending shifts to make extra cash. Because of this, while there was an over abundance of servers, the bar was understaffed by managers (Less bar staff = more tips for management).

In the first 5 months that I worked there, that location went through three different General Managers and as each one came through things got progressively worse. Server morale went down and with it the quality of service and product coming out of the kitchen declined.

I of course have my own issues with Bar Louie as I have still not been paid for $700 worth of services I provided for them. The first G.M. to work there kept promising to handle things and there was always an excuse as to why their past due bill with me was never paid. As the second G.M. came onto the scene, he assured me that he would rectify the situation but only lasted in the position 5 weeks. The third G.M. promised to look into the situation and ended up canceling my show claiming that they got an E-mail from corporate canceling all DJs nationwide. At that point, I was given a number for corporate and was told that I would have to deal with them about back pay. I called and left several voice messages and my calls were never returned. I spoke with a manager I knew from another store and when I told him about the E-mail, he said there was no such E-mail that he knew of. I went on their corporate websites and called five other locations across the nation and out of those five, three were running DJs that weekend.

I am filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and am considering legal action against Bar Louie. As I am also a member of the American DJ Association (ADJA), I am also referring them to be put on a list of disreputable businesses to deal with so that any reputable DJ does not have to go through what I did in my dealings with Bar Louie.

If a company treats their management team, employees and subcontractors this way, how can they not expect that attitude to carry over to their customers. I will never patronize their establishment again and encourage everyone that I know not to do so either as this seems to be not only a problem in Denver but nationwide.

Bar Louie, you belong on The S**t List!

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HAHAHA Jeff Lloyd posted here???? HAHAHA I was a manager at a Bar Louie before they canned me. It was rediculous the amount of time I gave my all to them and they just kept removing the benefits of my job(declined vacation till I just said fuck it) paid me almost nothing, and really screwed everyone on the staff over by overstaffing till people quit(usually the better employees, the other ones didnt care enough to quit.) I give up. I would rather work a garbage truck than work in a restaurant again after that shit. Goodbye Bar Louie, and thanks for nothing.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, if a bar is packed the bartenders don't have time to sit there and chat with you. I think it's inconsiderate that you would want to make your lame cliche comments like "how's business?" and "Sure looks like you could use another bartender back there". If they stop and talk to you while their understaffed then they are going to miss out on more tips in the long run. Obviously if it was dead and they chose to ignore you that's one thing but you have to have compassion and not be so needy of attention when bartenders are trying to get out of the weeds.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

Sir, great review. I especially appreciated your mention of the sacrilege in confusing scotch and bourbon, something that would most likely happen at a corporate bar. It's deplorable.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's late 2010, and it's still exactly what you described. Inattentive staff, and boring, whitebread bar atmosphere.

They make plenty of money, though, so it will never change.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for Bar Louie and I'm also very familiar with the one in Milwaukee. Everything the blogger said about Bar Louie is 100% true. I worked for a Bar Louie that ended up closing and not once did anyone help us out and let us know this day was coming. A co-worker of mine went to her lunch shift only to find out the night before the restaurant closed. The doors were locked and the lights were off. When she called our manager he didn't answer and changed his voice mail saying to please contact the corporate office for any questions, but didn't leave a # for corporate. NOT ONE manager, general manager, owner, no one called any of us to tell us what happened. They left us all in the dark with no jobs, scrambling to find out how we would find something new in time to pay our bills. Bar Louie doesn't care about their workers and they sure don't care about their customers. Because I would still be one to this day if what happened went down a different way. But you better believe I will never step foot into a Bar Louie again nor will anyone I know!

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff Lloyd is a JOKE! He use to come into the Bar Louie I worked at and he acted like a complete asshole every time. He would get mad if we forgot to mention items we were out of to him when serving him, even though from the second he walked into the door he KNEW what items we were out of! Here's a thought we should have NEVER been out of items to serve our guest and we shouldn't have been wasting our time serving you food, when we could have been taking care of our real clients. He also was an AWFUL tipper, being the director of operations doesn't make you any better then anyone Jeff Lloyd. You're a complete asshole who doesn't know how to treat people. Take the stick out of your ass and learn how to treat the people that work for you, and give them a reasonable tip for having to waste their time pretending that they like you. You're a D-BAG and deserve to know how it feels to be treated like the piece of crap you are. Hopefully, you get fired and have to become a server for Bar Louie some day you dumb SOB!

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Fresh said...

I work at the one in Orlando, FL. It is way too overstaffed, the servers suck, and they promote people who don't deserve it. Bottom line, I am getting the fuck out of there ASAP. It's been a mistake in waiting too long to leave. Oh, did I say 95% of the servers there suck balls?!

7:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A national class action lawsuit was recently filed against Bar Louie for under paying their staff.

The complaint can be viewed here:

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bar Louie not only have horrible food, but also the way it's managed is far from proper customer service.
Managers suck and the staff is being used in most degrading manner.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked at the Orlando location for 3 years as a server, I opened the store and I showed up every day on time. In that 3 years we had 4 GMs. The last gm we had while I was still employed Timm Dumansky was the biggest prick of them all. He never stood by his employees and toward the end of his employment fired all the male foh employees except for one or two. I guess he was trying to make it like a wing house or hooters. So when my time on the chopping block was up he had no legitimate reason to fire me so he had some people he knew come in sit at my table to have dinner, well I served the table and everything seemed to be going ok but ended up complaining to the other manager Felix about and drink or something and I guess Felix snubbed them and didnt really care so they apparently wrote a letter to corporate. So when Timm comes back from vacation he sits me down and says the table wrote a letter to corporate about Felix and Timm tells me corporate told them to let me go. Keep in mind I had been working since the place opened for 3 years and I was a trainer and never had any negative marks on my record. So I asked to see the letter to corporate and the letter from corporate which I was never given. I also emailed corporate asking them what the deal was and never had a reply. Bar Louie deserves the law suits and negative comments. Bad management all around...

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nope your just a sleazy sleaz who deserved to be fired

9:09 AM  
Blogger SJ said...

I went to Bar Louie recently alone. I ordered a drink and was asked by the bartender to start a tab so he wouldn't have to keep bringing me receipts so I agreed. I gave him my card and he brung it right back I ordered my second drink and told him that was my last. The next day I checked my car and found out that Bar Louie charged me $70 for two drinks! When I called the manager to let them know he accused me of walking out on my bill and told me to find the people that were sitting around me for a refund! I will be taking further action because my tab should have been around $23 and if you're going to charges card over $50 I'm supposed to sign a receipt! CAN WE SAY CREDIT CARD FRAUD! The bartender also charged a man sitting near me twice for the same drink but it wasn't my business to poke my nose in it even though I witnessed him pay for the same thing twice! Taking people's money isn't right Bar Louie!

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha. You, sir, are deplorable. And though I appreciate the difference between bourbon and scotch, I can assure you, I would never appreciate your douchebaggery, or your patronage. Stay at home and drink there, and save all us bartenders the agony.

5:20 AM  
Blogger phast joe said...

I'm work for bar Louie they recently sent me a 41k plan after working full time hours shortly after that they cut my hours to 36 hrs per pay roll since I have received the 41k plan were I average 670 to 730 per pay period now has been reduced to half or less after receiving the 41k plan this job has cut me out of 3000 $ after receiving the 41k did I mention I do 90% of the prep by my self so yes I feel that its labor laws being broken management blame cooperatie for cutting my hours we're I'm in debt after working 10 mos 8 of them full time up until I received the 41k this has put me in a bind I'm not able to afford my rent child day care and. Transportation expence I need help all because they cut my hours I am in 2000 dollars in debt

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Industry Guy said...

Clearly written by someone who has never served another person anything in your life.
So you didn't appreciate that a busy bartender, in a busy bar, that just opened didn't have time to take your suggestion or to chat with you? Also, I loved your transcription of the conversation you had with the I'm sure that's exactly how it went.
I get the impression that on your first visit, while you were observing the conglomerate of new waitstaff huddled around the host stand...salivating over your business, they most likely observed the aura of pretentiousness surrounding you. Lovely how you're so impressed with yourself about not being willing to support the new business and were just there to "simply" check the place out.
Buddy, you haven't a clue about what it takes to open a new place and to be a member of an excited new team only to have unpleaseable people lIke you coming in to "give it a shot" with a presupposed "what's this corporate joint think it's doing on Waterstreet"-attitude. I guarantee they didn't stand a chance with you even if free beer was being pumped directly into your mouth from giant fake tits.
Last thing; about the whole tragic and inexcusable bourbon for scotch mixup which occurred, again, on a busy opening week, I can see another possible perspective; So, these two guys sit down at a busy new bar, one of them asks to be called Buzz (ugh...), and the other asks what type of bourbon do you have; even though they're plainly displayed on the backbar behind the bartender who, I'm guessing, is hustling and sweating his butt off, and the bartender quickly mentions a couple but has 20 other guests to serve so points to his backbar. Unacceptable I'm sure! Clearly he didn't know who you were, and the cashe that comes along with being associated with a big name like Buzz. Foolish proletariat bartender! you got Well Scotch.
Give up on this blog, as you don't get it.

12:03 PM  

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