Riverwest Public House
Strengthening community while serving up drinks
The Riverwest neighborhood has long been a melting pot of individualism and community activism. College students, families, old hippies and young professionals mingle well together in this enclave of diversity. The Riverwest Public House Cooperative (815 E. Locust St.) reflects this interesting confluence of backgrounds and attitudes.
The idea of a “public house” dates back to the Middle Ages and evolved from earlier Roman establishments. In England, public houses were open to all (as opposed to a private house) and often became the center of the community. Public houses, less formally known as pubs, provided a place to meet, exchange ideas, discuss community issues and enjoy a fine beer.
Keeping true to these traditional roots, the Riverwest Public House embraces community and offers a wide range of events. On any given evening, you could see a band, rise to the challenge of team trivia night, get free HIV testing or participate in consciousness-raising lecture/discussion sessions.
The Riverwest Public House is also the only true cooperative bar in Wisconsin. Memberships are available for $40/year or $200/lifetime. In turn for their support, members receive discounts on drinks and merchandise, access to fun special events and a vote on choosing the leadership of the bar. Any profits earned are donated back to the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance which is responsible for sponsoring forward thinking ventures like Solar Riverwest, and much-loved community events like the annual Riverwest 24 Bike Race, in addition to starting up other co-ops in the neighborhood.
This cooperative spirit manifests in several ways in the bar. The Public House strives to keep their prices reasonable, encouraging folks to come in even if they don’t have a lot of cash in their wallets. Most beers run about $4 and the selection consists of a multitude of Wisconsin-made brews from favorite local breweries like Lakefront, New Glarus and Tyranena. Coffee from the Madison-based Just Coffee Cooperative seems a steal at $2 a cup or $5 for French press. On weekends from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., patrons can enjoy popular vegan or regular Bloody Marys ($5) and order tasty brunch food from the Riverwest Co-op Café delivered directly to their table in the bar.
The success of the Riverwest Public House is tied directly to the community they support. Clearly this co-op bar has been embraced by the neighborhood in the past three years since it opened. Perhaps it won’t be long before we see this model repeated elsewhere in the city.
For more information about the Riverwest Public House and to view their upcoming special events visit riverwestpublichouse.wordpress.com.