It’s not every tavern where the bar snack is dog biscuits.
At Riley’s Social House in the Third Ward, “the bartenders and the hosts are all wearing treat pouches,” said Jessica Ludwig, who owns and operates the new dog-friendly bar at 411 E. Menomonee St. with her husband, John Ludwig.
The couple also opened Riley’s Sandwich Co. next door, at 148 N. Milwaukee St., at the same time. It’s the second location for the sandwich shop, known for cooking beef tenderloin and chicken sous vide. The original is on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood.
All the establishments are named for their dog, who joined their lives as a rescue in 2008. Adopting their dog prompted the Ludwigs to search out dog-friendly restaurants and bars and ultimately open their own places. As at the Shorewood shop, the bar will have a wall for Riley’s Pack — photos and bios of dogs that frequent the establishment.
The bar isn’t exclusive to pooches and their people, though. The lunch crowd, Jessica Ludwig said, is primarily workers on breaks. In the evenings and on the weekends, it’s a different story; 80% of the customers bring their dogs, she estimated.
Although some other Milwaukee bars not serving food will let patrons bring their dogs, the focus on dogs doesn’t usually go to this level. The Hounds and Tap, a boarding and grooming business in Menomonee Falls that opened in 2021 with a bar open to all, is another exception.
A system for dogs, inside and on the patio
Dogs are welcome inside — where there are 64 seats, with some at the bar and others at a window counter — and outside. A parklet on Milwaukee Street, conveniently located beside a patch of grass, has eight tables.
The Ludwigs decorated the space to be modern and polished but approachable, they said. Customers will see birch wood, contemporary lights, gold accents, a sealed concrete floor and white upholstered seating that makes it easy for staff to see when it needs cleaning. The couple did much of the work themselves, including building the bar.
All dogs at Riley’s Social House must be leashed, and they should sport a color-coded carabiner supplied by the bar:
- Red for “I need space,” or, don’t approach; The dog may be friendly but is better left alone — or its person prefers to be left alone.
- Yellow for “please ask” whether or how best to approach the dog, the most common.
- Green for “I love everyone,” for dogs well behaved with all other dogs and people of all ages, considered a rare attribute.
“We know that when your dog is stressed, the dog owner is also stressed,” John Ludwig said, explaining why he and his wife put the system in place.
“We’re not trying to be a place of rules and enforcement,” he said, but the Ludwigs think the system will help everyone feel comfortable.
“It’s gone over really well so far,” he said.
Riley’s drinks and food
Patrons walk up to the bar to order drinks. To order sandwiches, salads and, for the dogs, chicken and vegetables cooked sous vide, they can use two kiosks in the bar or order on their phones at rileysandwich.com.
Both the bar and the sandwich shop, which operates separately, are cashless.
Customers receive a text when their orders are ready to pick up at the sandwich shop, which can be approached from outside or from a shortcut through the bar.
Dogs can’t accompany people to the sandwich shop, so patrons who are alone with their dogs can flag a staff member.
“We will watch your dog for you,” Jessica Ludwig said. “It takes all of 30 seconds” for the customer to retrieve the sandwich. And, she said, “We’ll give them treats while you get your food” — hence the employees’ treat pouches.
Riley’s Social House has 24 draft lines of mostly Milwaukee-area and other Midwestern craft beers, but also cider on tap and several imports including Guinness.
The bar pours sangria and mimosas and wine by the glass, but it encourages typical bottle sales by marking them at roughly retail prices instead of the bar or restaurant markup.
It also mixes cocktails, like Margaritas, blackberry cucumber martinis and Moscow mules, and it has CBD shrub sodas. The house cocktails are doubles, and it’s due to supply chain hiccups that the Moscow mules are served in 16-ounce copper mugs — that’s what was available.
The pandemic, which spurred the Ludwigs to open the Shorewood shop, still had an effect as they opened in the Third Ward.
“We really rushed to open because we had this great staff, and we didn’t want to lose them to other jobs,” John Ludwig said.
So that means Riley’s Social House will continue to grow into its role. Happy hour, an expanded cocktail menu, trivia and other events such as pop-up shops and pet photographers all are in the works.
Hours for Riley’s Social House are 11 am to 9 pm Tuesday to Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm Friday and Saturday (with the sandwich shop closing at 9) and 11 am to 6 pm Sunday, although it might begin closing at 4 on Sundays. Updates will be posted on Instagram and Facebook.
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Related:‘You can be unapologetically crazy about your dog’ at Riley’s Sandwich Co., owners say
Contact Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org or (414) 224-2841, or through the Journal Sentinel Food & Home page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @makediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.