by Tea Krulos, photos Vince Bushell
Lisa is from Lansing, Michigan, but she became bored with life there. There just wasn’t much to do. She recalls that she spent her time with her youthful friends going to the mall, bowling, and hanging out at an arcade called Pinball Pete’s smoking cigarettes, then hanging out at Denny’s drinking coffee and smoking some more. She left town when she was 21, eager to see more of the world. She lived in Colorado and then moved to New Orleans. Her and her boyfriend at the time decided they should move back to the Midwest. They thought maybe they would move to Chicago or Minneapolis or Detroit. But their car broke down in Riverwest.
“I went to the Food Co-op and everyone sitting outside was like ‘who are you? I’ve never seen you before,’” Lisa recalls, smiling. She has the patient beauty of the Mona Lisa. “People gave me tours of the neighborhood and were very inviting and friendly, I felt like I fit in here.”
Lisa decided to let that hunk of junk car sit broken and used her extra money to pay a security deposit on a place instead. She began working at the Riverwest Food Co-op and then the Riverwest Public House Cooperative came along. Lisa was there at ground level.
“We’re a cooperatively owned bar with a structure like food co-ops that are member owned,” Lisa explains. “We have a board of directors that oversees the big picture of the business and a worker’s collective that manages the day-to-day business.” She says she loves the bar’s “sense of community, the variety of events, and I guess I’m biased, but we’ve got a pretty good beer selection.”
Lisa is the general manager of the Public House’s workers collective (full disclosure—your humble reporter is a worker’s collective member, too) and you’ll find her there bartending frequently. Her favorite cocktail is a whiskey sour, or if she’s feeling adventurous, a gin gimlet. When she’s not behind the bar, she’s often sitting at the other side, trying to organize Public House business in a 3-subject notebook. She’s usually flanked by members of her entourage, which include neighborhood rockstar and Public House events manager Harrison Colby, mischievous sidekick Miggs, mild-mannered Neil, and a variety of other neighborhood characters.
“My friend circle is close, we spend a lot of time together,” Lisa says. “We have keys to each other’s houses, a lot of family meals, dog adventures (Lisa’s friendly canine companion is named Mulder), music playing, group paintings– that’s fun, I have a work in progress in my living room right now.”
Lisa mentioned music. She does play guitar, ukulele, banjo, and she likes to sing. She rarely plays venues outside of her living room, which is a crying shame if you ask me, but I suppose it adds more value to having a seat in Lisa’s living room. Lisa’s crew even invents their own games!
“I’m trying to think of what we named the one, it was just like a sequence game, like one person would drop a marble in a cup and it turned into like 53 different sequences and it was really goofy and weird and hard to explain but it was fun.”
Locust Street Festival of Music & Art, which is happening this year Sunday, June 11 is the busiest day of the year for the Public House. There’s a beer run, six stages of music, food vendors, and a lot going on at Public House.
“It is wild and fun and hectic and busy. It’s a really good day for us and one of the few days of the year we pull in a lot of volunteers,” Lisa says. Public House has a beer stand outside serving Lakefront brews and an outdoor stage that features favorites that have played Public House throughout the year. At the Public House’s indoor stage, you’ll find DJs from 91.7FM WMSE, trivia, and an afterparty. The bar will be serving their signature Locust Street margaritas, bloody marys, hard root beer floats, and new this year– Tullamore Dew sours.
Moving forward, Lisa is looking to coordinate freshening the Public House up with some painting, rearranging, and doing some upgrades, and making more use of neighboring Garden Park. There will be a food truck day on Tuesday, June 27 with a DJ in the park and Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers doing free STD testing inside the Public House (they also do free testing every second Tuesday of the month) for National HIV Testing Day. Neighbors Black Husky are also going to collaborate with Public House on an Oktoberfest event in fall.
Most important to the future, Lisa says, is keeping Public House focus on being a great community building and event space.
The Riverwest Public House Cooperative depends on strong membership. Memberships are $40 a year/ $200 lifetime and includes discounts on drinks and member events. Stop in and talk to a bartender for more info.