Thursday, January 28, 2010

Madam Belle's Silver Dollar Saloon - Richfield, WI

Drink up the ambiance at Madam Belle's Silver Dollar Saloon

You simply will not believe everything of note I learned at Madam Belle's Silver Dollar Saloon. The place is bursting with history, legend, pride in ownership, and happy patrons. I spoke with owner Chaz Hastings to get the big picture.

Cool building stuff and lore
Madam Belle's is one of the older buildings in the Richfield/Germantown area. The time line Chaz has been trying to put together has some anomalies in it, but he's heard the building dates to about the 1870s. There is a house next door with identical timbers that can be dated to that time frame. Rollie Bast (Riteway Bus Service), told Chaz he can remember the place was a filling station when he was a kid. However, Chaz also heard it became a saloon by the 1920s. The building was purchased by Cybil and Mike Schweitzer, who turned it into a drinking establishment they named The Silver Dollar. They added a second story with 12 bedrooms, but had no intention of opening a boarding house. The Silver Dollar is located on Fond du Lac Avenue, which was an important early route between Milwaukee, Chicago and northern Wisconsin. The watering hole did a brisk business, and so did the ladies in its upstairs rooms! Legend has it that Cybil and Mike were robbed the very first week they opened, and that Frank Capone stopped there more than once. Chaz pointed out two bullet holes in the northwest wall of the building, said to have been made by a shoot out in the bar. One other tasty tidbit Chaz heard is that just like drink chips, early patrons could purchase, swap or give away upstairs chips. Hah, chippie chips?

Chaz, Harleys and more
After Mike passed away, Cybil ran the saloon until sometime in the 1960s. Since then, it was passed to a number of different owners, one of whom named it "The Filling Station," acknowledging one part of the building's history. When Chaz Hastings came into the picture, it was called Cody's Bar. Chaz is the owner of Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, Inc. "I had met Cody through Milwaukee Harley," he explained, "Cody told me the bullet holes in the bar are attributed to Frank Capone, by the way. Anyway, I was looking into buying some bikini contest rights from him, and Cody wanted me to buy the bar too. The contest thing never panned out, but that's how I ended up in the bar business." That was three years ago. Chaz explained that Milwaukee Harley Davidson is about lifestyles, not just motorcycles. "I thought that one of the premier riding spots in the state is Holy Hill," said Chaz. "And this bar would be on one end of that ride. Since then, I bought Tally Ho in Erin, on the other end of the ride, and Bottoms Up, which is close to the dealership. So I can offer food, drink and special activities to bike clubs, customers and friends."

When Chaz bought the tavern, it was only closed one week to jump start renovations, which are ongoing. "We put in a brand new bar with an epoxy top," recounted Chaz. "We have all kinds of area "relics" under the epoxy. We removed carpet from the floors and exposed the original hardwood." Actually, the whole establishment sports rustic hardwood, with the most dramatic being the huge timbers Mike Schweitzer cut down on the property and used as ceiling beams and supports for the new second story. They are very unusual, and bear his original hatchet markings. Chaz also updated the plumbing and electrical, added a new sound system, nice TVs and a kitchen. The saloon previously had no food service. A lot of the work was accomplished by friends Jason Pipkorn and J. J. Krenz. "They were customers here before I bought the bar, and they're also tradesmen," said Chaz. "And, since Milwaukee Harley Davidson is a pretty time-consuming business, they've also come on board here with me as partners. It's also good that they're both from the area. You will always see one of us here during the Friday night fish fry, meeting customers and working, We're very owner-involved."

Antiques and memorabilia
"When we first got in here," said Chaz, "there was no theme. But history was everywhere, the brothel and filling station background and the old building itself, with all the rough hewn wood. So we began gathering items to decorate the walls with: old signs, including an old Harley sign, old beer signs and paraphernalia, old religious pieces (ties in with Holy Hill) and there are even old family items. I have a photo of my great grandparents, one of my wife and her family in old costumes, even a large mirror that was passed down in my family. We also have the original bell hanging behind the bar." This is the last piece of the puzzle in the saloon's name; Silver Dollar was original, the "madam" is obvious and the bell dates back to Cybil and Mike too. Cybil had a baby grand piano behind the bar. Legend has it that after a song finished, she would ring the bell and flash the crowd for tips!

What's happening now
Business was stable from the onset, as Chaz was able to use Milwaukee Harley Davidson to advertise the saloon and special events. "Plus," he said, "The business is steadily growing. I think there was just a need for a fun bar in the area. We have an adult, mature crowd, but it's a fun and friendly group. Cabelas' shoppers like to stop here for lunch, and we do events like poker runs for bikers." Customers enjoy a DJ on Thursday and Saturday nights, and the bar occasionally has live music for special events. They have a well attended fish fry and prime rib night. The menu features appetizers, burgers, other sandwiches, wraps, salads and soup of the day. For those who want lighter fare, there's a veggie wrap, a light salad dressing choice and pan fried options during the fish fry. Chaz and his partners are proud of their burgers, and will soon be instituting an ongoing burger-eating contest. It will be time based - i.e.. how many burgers eaten in the fastest time? "We are going to have lots of great prizes for that contest at the end of the year," said Chad. "We'll be advertising for it soon." Remodeling is ongoing, as stated. The basement is being redone for private parties, an outside deck with seats will be added for smokers and the website will be updated shortly. "We're also continually looking for more antiques to decorate with," said Chaz. "First time visitors should really spend some time walking around taking a look at everything before they settle in. We would also be very pleased if anyone with knowledge or memorabilia about the early history of the place would stop in. We'd love to hear it. We're becoming greater and greater history buffs." Chaz added that General Manager Sandy Burkhardt is usually behind the bar and always happy to chat. Madam Belle's Silver Dollar Saloon is located at W204 N14025 Fond du Lac Ave. (Hwy. 145). The phone number is 262-677-9272 and the website is They are open seven days a week.

Sandy Burkhardt shared the following recipe, which is always her contribution for free half time food during Packer games. She says it “scores big” with all the patrons.

Sandy's Half-time Banana Bread
1 1/2 to 2 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
Mix well
Add 1 1/2 cups of flour
Mix well
Add 3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven at 350ยบ. Grease a bread pan. Pour batter into greased bread pan and bake for
Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour & 15 minutes, until the top is light brown. Or, just stop in next Packer Season & enjoy it at half-time!

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