The Pabst Brewery Tour at the Best Place offers a treat for both beer lovers and lovers of history and historic architecture.
Lets face it. Milwaukee is probably most famous for beer. At one time, nearly all the major beer producers were in Milwaukee. That included the largest, Pabst.
The Pabst brewery in Milwaukee closed in 1996.
For years, the brewery buildings lay abandoned, vacant, and deteriorating. I have spent a lot of time parked in front of some of these buildings and they are impressive. In fact, I watched during a wind storm as a window was blown out of one of the buildings and the glass shattered on the road just across from where I was parked. I kind of thought that if I ever wanted to get photos of these old buildings I better start soon or they would not be around too long. However, something interesting happened to that particular building within a month. More about that a bit later.
I noticed a sign that said that on the window of one of the more interesting buildings in the Pabst brewery area a couple years ago. Did I mention old buildings fascinate me? I know beer interests a lot of other people and so I decided that this was something that needed to be covered here on Eyes On Wisconsin.
The Best Place
The Best Place originally was the Pabst Corporate Office and Visitor’s Center. It is an historic structure and on the National Register of Historic Places. Jim, the current owner gave the tour I had and I believe he gives nearly all the tours. You enter the tour at the gift shop. The gift shop has some memorabilia that was left in the brewery when it closed as well as new merchandise.
Well maybe not really free beer as it’s part of the tour fee but your tour gets you a glass of beer. I don’t drink, so I had a Coke. The drinks are served after you leave the gift shop in the Blue Ribbon Hall. The Blue Ribbon Hall is where we waited for the tour to get started.
The tour is very casual.
Our tour had only 4 people including me. It was the afternoon before Christmas Eve so I’m not surprised. We started by sitting around a table and Jim asked everyone to introduce themselves. He does this to some extent every time (a bit harder to do when the tour has a large number of people). Jim then went into the history of the Pabst Brewing Company which covers part the history of Milwaukee and the a good part of the history of beer in America too. Everyone was encouraged to take their beer with them on the tour.
You can tell the owner Jim is passionate about the subject.
He really made the history come alive. It is also well illustrated on the fresco in the Blue Ribbon Hall. Also, the historic building you are in adds a lot to the story.
After most of the history, there were some old beer commercials (and some new ones) to watch. It was interesting to see one Old Milwaukee Beer commercial with Will Ferrell on top of that very building were I saw the window blow out.
Next we went out to the Captain’s Courtyard.
The Captain’s Courtyard features a statue of Captain Pabst. It also features a large Pabst logo which has a “B” in it. The “B” is for Best and Pabst Brewing was started by Jacob Best. Captain Pabst married his daughter and eventually took over the family business. I’ll leave the rest of that history for Jim to tell you on your tour.
Next on the Pabst Tour is the original Guest center.
This is where the tours started when the brewery was open. There is a section of stained glass window with Benjamin Franklin in it. Benjamin Franklin is featured for his quote:
Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.
There is also the guest book with some famous names it in. Jim asked a few trivia questions here and one of the other guests in our tour won a free beer for getting it right. The old guest center is an interesting room. The stained glass windows and the fireplace provide a lot of atmosphere to the small room. Jim even has an interesting personal story he added about the guest center from his college days.
The King’s Courtyard is next on the tour.
The King’s Courtyard is named for the King of Beers, King Gambrinus. A statue of the King of Beers is currently on a semi-permanent loan and is prominently displayed in the center. Visitors are encouraged to get their photo taken with the King (and encouraged to copy his pose – right hand up in the air with a beer and left hand at the waist). Later, you can upload your photo to the Best Place website to be displayed. Photos are also encouraged with the statue of Captain Pabst.
The rest of the tour includes the old Pabst corporate offices.
You’ll see where potential employees of the Pabst Brewing Company slide their applications though a window. You’ll see Captain Pabst’s original desk and office. Most of this space is slowly undergoing restoration and is still in the condition it was after being abandoned for years. It’s a great chance to see what happens to a once great building once it has been abandoned. It is easy to imagine how this might have looked 75 – 100 years ago with the people working there. What an amazing chance to step into the past.
There are some great thing planned at the Best Place.
The owner is considering turning the second floor into a bed and breakfast (or a beer, bed and breakfast). I think this would be a very cool place to stay. Some areas still need restoration work before they are safe for the tour.
Would I recommend the Pabst Brewery Tour?
Defiantly, yes. In fact, one of the other three guests was a return visitor bringing a couple of his friends to see the tour. For anyone interested in history, the tour is an amazing look into life and business early in Milwaukee’s history. I don’t drink and really had a great time learning about the history of the beer industry in Milwaukee. For those that like beer, this is the real history of beer in the United States. Plus, two words should really get their attention:
The Best Place Pabst Tour is a great story of historic preservation.
I think it’s going to get even better. Remember that building where I watched the window get blown out? Just a few weeks later a sign appeared on the building. It is becoming The Brewhouse. It will be an extended stay hotel. I learned that it will also have a museum featuring some of the equipment from the Pabst Brewery and the famous stained glass window of King Gambrinus. Much of these historic old buildings would have been lost if not for the owner of the Best Place. His action and passion has made the preservation of the historic buildings possible. It’s a story you can hear for yourself during the tour.
I personally plan to take the tour again some time in the future.
As of this article, walk-up tours are given on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Special tours can also be hosted. The Best Place is also available to rent for weddings and other special events (it books up very quickly so if you are interested you need to call well in advance). I would suggest calling or checking the website to check on tour times and days.
Phone for the Best Place Milwaukee:
The address for the Best Place and Pabst Brewery Tour:
- 901 W. Juneau Avenue
- Milwaukee, WI 53233