I have recently been going through the bulk of my past posts, cleaning them up a bit, fixing font problems from when I used Internet Explorer as my primary Internet portal, and posting a number of blog entries on Urbanspoon. I was very surprised when I found that even though I had Major Goolsby's in Milwaukee as an honorable mention on my Best Burger List, I had never really done an in-depth look at the place. During a recent visit to Milwaukee, I decided to stop in for a burger at Major Goolsby's.
Major Goolsby's is one of the original sports bars in America. It opened in 1970 under the ownership of Jerry Cohen. Cohen also owned a local watering hole called Someplace Else. He hired Tom Shepard to first manage Someplace Else, then took Shepard over to Goolsby's to be the first manager there. Shepard went on to own a number of restaurants including his namesake Tom Shepard's Saloon, Dos Banditos, Jordy's Fox Point Inn, the Brown Bottle and Brew City Barbecue.
When Major Goolsby's opened, it really had no name. I understand that the first year they were opened, the local phone book had them listed as "The Bar With No Name." After trying to figure out a number of names (including "East of Mecca" - U.S. Cellular Arena just across the street to the west of Major Goolsby's used to be known as the MECCA - Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center and Arena), he settled on Major Goolsby's Pub and Grill.
Another key person in the history of Major Goolsby's was an old college buddy of Cohen's, Leo Damge. Although he didn't have a stake in the business, Cohen thought of Leo Damge as a partner as Damge kept the books for Cohen's businesses. There's a comic poster of "Leo the Cop" on the door that enters the basement at Major Goolsby's and the character is based on Leo Damage. Leo passed away in 2003 but his spirit still lives with "Leo the Cop".
As a sports fan, I dig the memorabilia that Major Goolsby's has collected over the years. They have pictures, jerseys, even bunting from World Series games on display. There's old programs from games and news articles that you can take a glimpse of. More than once, I've grabbed a beer at Goolsby's and just wandered around looking at all the stuff they have on display.
Our first introduction to Major Goolsby's happened years ago during a visit to Summerfest in Milwaukee. Summerfest started 45 years ago and Major Goolsby's has been one of the vendors for all the festivals held at the Henry Maier Festival Park for about 40 of those years. My cousin lived in Milwaukee for a time a few years ago and would have us come up for Summerfest. It became a ritual for us to have a late night Major Goolsby's charbroiled burger before we left to go back to his place for the evening. The burger patties weren't all that thick, so getting a double cheese burger to sop up all the beer in my stomach was the usual order I had at Major Goolsby's.
(Picture right - patrons lining up at the Major Goolsby's window at Summerfest. Photo courtesy of OnMilwaukee.com)
Major Goolsby's is located at the corner of West 4th and Kilbourn in the heart of the Old World 3rd Street area of downtown Milwaukee (see map). As I said earlier, it is right across the street from U.S. Cellular Arena and across and down the street from the Bradley Center. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee basketball teams play at U.S. Cellular Arena, while the Milwaukee Bucks of the N.B.A., the Milwaukee Admirals minor league hockey team, and the Marquette Golden Eagles play at the Bradley Center. Because it can seat nearly 500 people, Major Goolsby's is the epicenter for fans before, during and after hockey and basketball games in Milwaukee.
In 2005, Sports Illustrated listed their top 25 sports bars in the nation and Major Goolsby's was listed at 4. Now, I don't know if Sports Illustrated listed them in order or in just in fashion of a random 25, but Major Goolsby's makes a big deal about being ranked as the 4th best sports bar in the nation per S.I. With a number of televisions and three areas to sit and view games, it is pretty impressive for a sports bar. And earlier this year, Fox News named Major Goolsby's as one of the top sports bars in America.
It was just before noon when I got into Major Goolsby's. The downtown lunch crowd was beginning to filter in and I took a seat at one of the high tables in Goolsby's main bar area. The menus are located on the table held between a bottle of ketchup and the salt and pepper shakers. My waitress came over to greet me and asked me what I wanted to drink. I thought it was a little too early for a beer, so I just went with water.
The menu at Major Goolsby's isn't all that extensive. Besides their burgers, they have a number of bar-type appetizers, a couple variations of a grilled chicken sandwich, brats, hot dogs, and a barbecue pork rib sandwich. On Friday's Major Goolsby's features a fish fry dinner for $11.25.
But I was there for a burger. The Major cheeseburger and the Major bacon cheeseburger are the big draws at Goolsby's. Both feature double patties of beef, topped with cheese. The bacon they have on the Major bacon cheeseburger is smoky and crisp. I didn't feel like having a double that particular day so I ordered up a single bacon cheeseburger. Fries are extra ($2.45) and I passed on them or any other side.
It's hard to categorize the burger at Major Goolsby's. Honestly, there's not much to it. It's a large, yet thin and somewhat overcooked patty placed on a toasted bun that's average at best. The bacon is sort of crumbled on top and it's so crispy it's sort of tough to chew. While it's not the best burger I've ever had, and it's far from the worst.
That charbroiled taste of a Major Goolsby's burger is the key. I don't know what it is about the taste of their burgers, but I really like it. It's so hard to figure out because if you take a look at the burger, it's really nothing special. And the cooking technique is just throwing it on a flame grill. I don't know if the grill is seasoned with years and years of cooking thousands and thousands of burgers on it. I'm guessing it almost has to be. But the charbroiling of the burgers gives them that signature taste that I crave from time to time.
The food at Major Goolsby's should almost be secondary to the draw of dozens of televisions on which to watch any sporting event. The minimal menu pretty much tells you that is the case. If you want to take a look at years of Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports memorabilia, Major Goolsby's is the place to go. The burgers may not be for everyone and maybe it's because of my fondness for Summerfest, but Major Goolsby's bacon cheeseburgers bring back a lot of great memories of fun times we had years ago. But you don't have to wait for any of the number of festivals they have in Milwaukee to get a Goolsby's burger. Just go to the corner of West 4th and Kilbourn and get a burger. But don't pass up the chance to look at an extensive collection of sports memorabilia.