“Aller Anfang ist schwer.” (All beginnings are hard.) — German proverb
When Gudrun Casper-Leinenkugel and her group of managing partners began planning the Patton Public House in July 2013, they had no inkling of the many twists and detours the road to opening would take. Their chosen location, the building that for decades housed the Barbecue Inn on Patton Avenue, needed work. Many of the 60-year-old structure’s main operating systems required repairs or complete overhaul to bring them up to code.
It took six months just to get the first electrical permit, but, eventually, just shy of the three-year anniversary of the project’s inception, Patton Public House quietly launched in June. And finally, after weathering a mid-July staffing crisis caused by problems with a payroll company, the restaurant celebrated its grand opening on July 23.
Casper-Leinenkugel is no stranger to hard work. “I’ve been working since I was 13,” she says, but she wasn’t mowing lawns, delivering papers or baby-sitting. “I owned a laundromat. I had to learn how to run the business and fix the machines. It was a good learning experience.” Since then, she has opened six restaurants and bars across the country.
Casper-Leinenkugel, whose family operates Wisconsin’s Leinenkugel Brewing Co., grew up splitting her time between living in Germany and on the northern border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The idea for Patton Public House was inspired by the comfort food and beer supplied by the European public houses she grew up with. “We’re actually trying to bring back what a public house used to be,” says Leinenkugel.
“In the early 1930s and ’40s, England took over the public house name and just called it the pub,” she explains. “It became synonymous with these little hole-in-the-wall bars. But public houses used to be what the name insinuated — a public house. It’s a place for friends, family and neighbors to come and spend the day. They would spend all day socializing, sitting outside playing horseshoes or other games.”
With this model in mind, Casper-Leinenkugel is setting up the space’s back patio with cornhole, a giant chess board, giant Jenga and an area for live music. “[It’s] just a place where you can come have a good meal, a few drinks, bring the kids or the dog and really relax. We’re not interested in a turn-and-burn experience,” she says.
The restaurant offers a fairly diverse sampling of European pub food with plenty of German favorites. But patrons unfamiliar with German fare shouldn’t let the umlauts on the menu hold them back.
“People love the pierogies,” says Casper-Leinenkugel. “And the fish and chips are just like you would find in Europe. We have had several folks who were stationed in Europe visit and tell us it’s just like they remember it.”
She also recommends the shepherd’s pie and sauerbraten (a traditional German pot roast that’s marinated for 10 days), and she says the schwein-käse, a sausage-cheese dip, is a popular appetizer to share.
And then there are the Reuben fritters, which feature all the ingredients of a Reuben — the sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and finely chopped corned beef — rolled up in bread crumbs, battered and deep-fried into a fritter. “I like them better than the actual sandwich,” says Casper-Leinenkugel. “It’s like the best part of a Reuben in every bite.”
Vegetarian options are available, too, such as an eggplant-based schnitzel.
And what would a public house be without beer? The Patton Public House currently offers 89 beers — 23 on tap, with 17 at the main bar and six at the back bar, plus more than 70 varieties in bottles. The plan is to eventually offer a total of 120 types of beer.
The reason for the extensive beer selection is a European public house tradition called Drink the Wall. “It’s a typical tradition throughout the public houses of Germany, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands,” explains Casper-Leinenkugel.
Customers who participate in Drink the Wall receive one of 100 numbered 20-ounce mugs and a matching key chain. When the customer presents the key chain, the mug is retrieved and filled with the next beer in the progression, with the goal of eventually sampling everything in stock. The mug-holder must drink at least two-thirds of each beer ordered for it to apply to the wall tally.
On top of getting 4 ounces more than the typical 16-ounce pour, Drink the Wall participants have their names listed on the Patton Public House website and on a plaque at the bar. “We have a whole list of imports that most people would never ever try without having the opportunity through a club like this,” Casper-Leinenkugel points out.
Bands and activities are scheduled every weekend, and guests are encouraged to bring their furry friends — as long as they are on a leash and well-behaved — to enjoy the large back patio area. “We even have a doggy potty, an area we fenced off in the back for people to walk their dogs if they’re staying for a while and fill up their water bowl,” she says. “We tried to think of everything.”