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What’s got you scratching your head about Milwaukee and the region? Bubbler Talk is a series that puts your curiosity front and center.

As Up & Under Pub Replacement Nears, A Check-In On Milwaukee's Brady Street

Steve Cohen outside former Up & Under pub
Marti Mikkelson
Steve Cohen of the blues band Leroy Airmaster stands outside the former Up And Under Pub on Milwaukee's Brady Street.

Commercial districts across Milwaukee saw businesses close during the COVID-19 pandemic. The vibrant bar and restaurant scene of Brady Street on the east side was no exception, and a listener asked us for an update for this week’s Bubbler Talk.

The marquee and iconic round Up and Down Pub sign light up before the bar closed.
Shepherd Express
The marquee and Up and Under Pub sign lit up before the bar closed.

Probably the most notable shuttering was that of the iconic Up And Under Pub last September.

It had operated at 1216 E. Brady Street since 1977 and specialized in live music. The Up And Under closed its doors because the owner reportedly fell behind on rent during the pandemic and the building owner evicted him.

Dave Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor for Milwaukee’s alternative publication, the Shepherd Express. He remembers when Up And Under first opened.

“At that time, there were a number of live music bars along Brady Street, the main street of the counterculture, and Up And Under was one of them. They quickly became known for many years as a blues bar. Blues music was very popular at the time,” he says.

Luhrssen says by the year 2000, Up And Under began to diversify its offerings and music lineup. You could catch a poetry reading at the place or enjoy live reggae or rock music, in addition to the blues.

One blues band that played Up And Under countless times was Leroy Airmaster.

The band’s leader, Steve Cohen, says he was instrumental in starting the epic Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the place in the early ‘80s. He says the sessions grew to as many as 30 artists jamming on a tiny stage and they drew huge crowds.

“These were our buddies, and they were all great musicians, and we just had a great time getting loose; audience loved it too. We had a lot of different kinds of people, and we just packed the place every Sunday for six or seven years,” he says.

Steve Cohen (seated, playing harmonica) jams at Up and Under Pub in the 1980s.
Courtesy of Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen (seated, playing harmonica) jams at Up and Under Pub in the 1980s.

Cohen says even though the jam sessions ended, he and his band continued to perform at Up And Under throughout the ‘90s.

He says while he hadn’t played at the place for many years, when he heard it was closing, it reminded him of how volatile the industry can sometimes be.

“Certainly, it’s the end of an era. The fact is nothing does last forever. Bars come and go,” says Cohen.

But, when one door closes, another opens. The building that houses the former Up And Under Pub isn’t going to stay vacant. A temporary sign painted on the windows says, “Coming Soon. Nashville North Honky Tonk.”

The Up and Under Pub building with signs announcing the soon to be Nashville North Honky Tonk.
Marti Mikkelson
The Up and Under Pub building with signs announcing the soon to be Nashville North Honky Tonk.

Rachel Taylor, who is the executive director of the Brady Street Business Improvement District, says, “We don’t have any other live music locations on the street in the same capacity that are going to offer that, so I think it’s going to bring a nice, new option to people on the street."

In addition to the “honky tonk” that’ll replace the longtime blues bar, Betty’s Burgers and Custard has moved into the building vacated by Cousin’s Subs and now Pete’s Pub resides where Brady Street Hardware used to stand.

Amid the changes, other longstanding businesses remain and so does the area’s character. There’s a chance that some classic Brady Street elements could blend with the new.

Leroy Airmaster’s Steve Cohen says he wouldn’t rule out performing at the Honky Tonk in the Up And Under building — if it offers a blues night.

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Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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