Third Street Tavern, Milwaukee opens with classic burgers, chicken


It felt like such a rosy spring and summer for the businesses of Old World Third Street near the Fiserv Forum: a probable Bucks run to the championship, big concerts, the Democratic National Convention and its 50,000 attendees. Lots of foot traffic, leading to many sales.

With these promising prospects shattered by the coronavirus pandemic, the operators of a restaurant-bar on Third took the opportunity to redo the place.

“We both look at each other and ask ourselves, ‘How can we make this tragedy positive? “Said Bobby Wiltgen, a partner of what was Cantina and is now Third Street Tavern, recalling his conversation with the tavern’s general manager, Jack Roman.

They had taken over the location, 1110 N. Old World Third St., after Matador had finished his run there; they stayed with the Mexican theme but changed the name.

But the kitchen was too small for this kind of restaurant, said Wiltgen (the space previously housed a duel-pianos bar that served snacks). Cantina’s operators removed some tables because the kitchen was not large enough to meet the demand for the large dining room, Wiltgen said. (The total capacity would be 400 people.)

Choosing a smaller menu made sense for Wiltgen and Roman, who offered “skinny burgers” – old-fashioned mashed burgers – for the menu, as well as cheese steaks and fried chicken sandwiches.

The opening of the tavern was delayed for two weeks, however, as pressure from the pandemic on the packaging of the meat made the preferred beef unavailable, Wiltgen said. The price of beef also doubled for a while, he noted.

Customers said the classic burger style reminded them of going to burger places with their fathers. These patties, however, are made from ground beef steak and prime rib fillings, Roman said, but served simply, a classic American cheese-onion-pickle combo on a white bun with some substance.

The fried chicken sandwich is also reduced to the essentials. “If we can perfect a really simple chicken sandwich, that’s something people can come back to,” Roman said.

For the competitive eater, Third Street Tavern offers a six-stack burger challenge that consists of six 24-ounce patties of meat, with six slices of cheese, 7 ounces of potatoes, and an onion ring that are free if they are available. are completed in eight minutes or less. Otherwise, it’s $ 29.95.

The six-tier burger, with 24 ounces of beef plus cheese, potatoes, and an onion ring, is free if a guest can finish it in eight minutes at the new Third Street Tavern, 1110 N. Old World Third St. The Tavern, the old Cantina, offers a menu of crushed burgers, cheese steaks and fried chicken sandwiches.

“A lot of people think it’s pretty straightforward. Before you know it, they’re 7 and a half minutes away,” Roman said.

The winners get their names on a champions board and a T-shirt. The others are recognized by their names on a challenger’s board.

To go along with the classic-style burgers and keep customers coming back, the men added 1990s video games to the space, along with a dart board and pool table.

Philly Cheese Steaks made the cut on the succinct menu at Third Street Tavern, which also offers appetizers and fried chicken sandwiches.

Games, because they are frequently touched, need to be cleaned every 30 minutes, and gloves and disinfectant are available for customers, said Wiltgen, whose Cream City Concepts also operates Who’s on Third and Oak Barrel Public House, also on Third Street. .

Another precautionary measure during the pandemic: The 15-item menu is readable on smartphones via a QR code, so customers don’t have to fiddle with paper menus, Roman said. And the staff wear masks (they are recommended for customers).

City rules would allow the tavern to operate at 50% capacity, or 200 people. “So no,” Wiltgen said. It doesn’t allow more than 70 diners at a time, and has al fresco seating along Highland Avenue.

Due to limited seating, reservations are recommended and taken through OpenTable and by phone, (414) 897-8137. Customers can also place take out orders.

With the canceled and postponed Fiserv Forum and Wisconsin Center District events, the tavern’s patrons are mostly former Cantina patrons, with some tourists starting to return. On the tavern’s opening weekend in late June, three groups of four from Iowa, Michigan and Chicago on a weekend getaway arrived, Roman said.

It is a worrying time for business owners. Roman, who lives upstairs from a downtown store that was vandalized and much of his inventory stolen, said he was beaten up by owners saying they didn’t know if they could reopen.

“This is scary, and no one knows what’s going to happen, ”Roman said. It was the night he started spreading the news that Cantina would become the Third Street Tavern.

“I just wanted to point out that, you know, if we do the right thing, we’re safe.… If we give them a good product that meets the need, it will be OK.”

The Third Street Tavern opens at 4 p.m. Thursday and 11:30 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The kitchen remains open until 10 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar is open later.

It’s online at, and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Third Street Tavern General Manager Jack Roman, left, and owner Bobby Wiltgen took advantage of the pandemic to create a new identity for what was Cantina, at 1110 N. Old World Third St.

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Contact food critic Carol Deptolla at [email protected] or (414) 224-2841, or through the Journal Sentinel Food & Home page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @mkediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.

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