By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 26, 2024 at 4:53 PM

The exterior of the corner retail building at 5520 W. Vliet St. in Washington Heights still look likes the familiar Wonder Bar, which opened in 1992 and closed last year.

But its replacement, Biersal Tavern – named for a mischievous beer-thirsty German gnome – has completely upgraded the interior of the building, which has long been a tavern.


“It was kind of a renovation that turned into a rehab,’ says Gutbrod, who bought the building last summer and hadn’t expected to have to transform the interior so heavily.

“Once I started pulling old plaster and drywall down, I was finding holes and pulling up some of the flooring and finding big giant holes in the subfloor and had to patch all that up,” he says. “And once we got to that point, we just said, ‘screw it. We'll go all in and do it right’.”


The bar has gotten its occupancy permit and is awaiting its liquor license so that it can order alcohol. Owner Eric Gutbrod hopes to be able to host a friends and family preview this weekend, with a public opening the following weekend, but a number of factors could affect that timeline.

Read a deep dive into the history of the building and hear about Gutbrod’s initial plans in this Urban Spelunking story from last year.

When you do get inside, while the layout is the same and you may recognize a few things, like the bar rail and the lower portion of the back bar, pretty much everything else is new.

This also explains why it’s taken so long to get the craft beer-focused Biersal up and running.

“We also ended up having to do a lot of repairs,” Gutbrod says. “Like I said, we had the holes in the floor, holes in the wall. The bathroom walls didn't even have a structure. It was just paneling and there were no studs. New electric, new plumbing. We pretty much redid the whole thing. Just updated it all.”


There’s a new but classic-look tin ceiling, new bar and bar back structure with dark stain to match the original pieces, there are new tables, chairs and stools, all new paint, new wainscoting, updated bathrooms.

A couple shelves hold board games and decks of cards for patrons to us.


Plus, there’s antique beer memorabilia as well as some music-focused decor, too, with posters and other stuff from The Ramones, The Plasmatics, Motorhead, the Pixies, MC5 and others.

Biersal is pretty small, though, so Gutbrod says that music will be limited to acoustic performances.

And, the vintage 1972 jukebox that he’s getting up and running and stocking with his favorite records.


Proceeds from the jukebox will fund a Wax Give Backs program that Gutbrod says will donate 100 percent of the money plugging into the machine to a local nonprofit.

Gutbrod is looking for the first partner organization, spurred by a tragic occurrence in the building's recent history.

In October, the body of 5-year-old Prince McCree was found in the dumpster out behind the bar.

“I want to find a local group that works with missing and abducted children or working to change the Amber Alert process," Gutbrod says. "That was a big issue – when Prince went missing was there was no Amber Alert. I've got some feelers out.”

Gutbrod is also using his first tavern – a decade-long dream for an industry veteran that has worked in places like Central Waters Milwaukee, Draft & Vessel, New Barons Brewing Co-op, Ope!, Sugar Maple, Tin Widow and one of the area’s original beer bars, Sir James Pub in Port Washington – to help others in the community too.


First off, he’s hired an artist to paint local scenes – like St. Sebastian church and Miller Brewery – along a soffit that runs the entire length of the space.

Then, he’s given over a large chunk of wall real estate to local visual artists – painters, illustrators, photographers – to display and sell their work.


“We've sold one piece already and we're not even open yet,” Gutbrod says. “The young woman who does this abstract canvas stuff, the day I posted her stuff (on social media), 45 minutes later, somebody from Illinois messaged me and said, ‘I really like this piece. Can you sell it?’ And I was like, ‘sure.’ So, I shipped it off the other day and told Ali what happened and she was super excited and brought in a couple more pieces to put up.”

The 16 tap lines at Biersal will be focused on interesting craft and import brews, Gutbrod says.

tap handlesX

“Similar to what I did at Draft & Vessel, all the really fun stuff,” he says. “And then we'll have all your Millers of the world and Buds of the world, stuff like that in packaged beer in the coolers.  

“And cocktails. We're not going to take away from the corner bar aspect of that, if you want your standard rail vodka, you can do that. But I’m super excited to have teamed up with Annabella Shore, she's my bar manager. I like to say what I know about beer. She knows about cocktails.”

Shore is creating a craft cocktail menu for Biersal with a wide variety of options. Gutbrod says there will also be a bit of wine on offer, but not too much.

“We don't want to overdo it, especially because we've become friends with Charles E. Fromage up the road. You don't want to kind of sh*t on your neighbors. So we'll have some wine options, but it's not going to be extensive.”

 Once the place is up and running and spring arrives, Gutbrod says he will turn his attention to the exterior and the patio on the building’s east side.

He plans all new siding, all new windows, new stairs with an accessible ramp.


“We'll utilize the current patio for a little bit yet, at least to get started. And then eventually that's going to get knocked down, rebuilt, extended, fully Feng Shui-ed,” says Gutbrod. “We’ll try and make it as close to four seasons as we can. Open air, but we’ll find ways to close it off, add heaters during the colder months.

“One thing that I'm super excited for, and it was actually from your initial article, some of the old pictures you posted, is these three windows are going to be (replaced with) the big giant storefront windows. We're going to have to make seven-foot windows to to try and make it as look as original as we're able to.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.