Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow his never-ending adventures—sponsored by Miller High LifeHERE. This week, fish fry #534: Studz Pub in West Allis, Wisconsin.

“If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

It may not be Cheers, but Studz Pub (6833 W. National Ave.; 414-607-8839) is still a place “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” and it happens within a matter of minutes. When I walked inside at just after 5 p.m., I scanned the almost-full bar and found a seat at the far end near the kitchen. Moments later I had a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet ($7) in front of me, the bartender had introduced herself as Susie, and I had introduced myself as Caleb. That’s where the endearing warmth and authentic charm of Studz began—albeit sometimes coarse and often unscripted—and it did not end until I walked out the door.

The warmth of the greeting was matched by the vibrant shimmer of the Old Fashioned, from the garnishes at its top—a fresh, thinly cut orange slice and two stemmed, rich-red cherries—to the bright layer of muddled cherries at its bottom. It wasn’t astounding, but it hit every mark it needed to, being at least on par with every other corner bar cocktail in West Allis.

Studz Pub offers two-piece ($11.95), three-piece ($15.95), and five-piece ($19.95) hand breaded or baked cod dinners that come with a choice of potato pancakes, fries, or tots. Baked fish flavor options are Greek, garlic butter, lemon pepper, and Cajun. A hungry traveler can “make it a combo” for an extra $5, which nets them four panko breaded shrimp. Other Friday specials are a fish sandwich with fries ($12.95) and fish tacos ($12.95). “I’m going to go all in,” I exclaimed, prefacing my order for the biggest fish fry option that Studz Pub offers, the five-piece breaded cod with the shrimp. I just couldn’t help myself. Since the potato pancakes weren’t homemade, I opted for the fries.

The barroom boomed with loud voices and sounds of glasses hitting the bar and clinking each other, a rising crescendo fueled by cheap domestic beer, the arrival of the weekend, and perhaps some assistance from the Colorado vs. Florida game on the TV, although most people were paying no attention to it. I was reminded of the Sound of Stallis as it was described to me at Kokopelli’s (which is now Layman Brewing) so many fish frys ago. Another form of the Sound of Stallis was shaking the foundation of Studz Pub, but no one seemed to think it was anything out of the ordinary.

This was no special occasion—people were here because that’s just what they do on Friday (or on any other day of the week, for all I knew.) Most were up front by the bar, because that’s where the thrust of the energy and the action was. I overheard the waitress who was tending to the back dining room—a cozy room with tableclothed tables, as far as I could tell from my perch at the bar—tell someone that only three tables had been served so far, and that the lousy weather might have had something to do with the low turnout. But the barroom paid no attention to the slowness of its counterpart. One doesn’t reflect when living in the moment.

It was not only the raucous energy that was palpable, but the camaraderie between the patrons and workers, patrons and patrons, and workers and workers. It came out in friendly greetings, almost always by name, as well as by gentle ribbing, which from time to time included coarse language—not in the politically incorrect kind of way, but in the “Well, we’re at a bar and we’re gonna drink and, you know, we’re gonna have a good time” kind of way.

It brought to mind a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote in defense of his books and free speech, where he acknowledged his books contained characters that spoke coarsely—because that’s how people speak in real life—but also that they begged people to be kinder and more responsible than they often are. That’s what I found at Studz Pub: some coarse language here and there, but a place that made me want to be kinder, because kindness is what I found there.

The spirit of Studz Pub comes first and foremost from the owner, Dean Ratas, chief ribber behind the bar—shooting off jokes and gentle insults down the line—and also one of the most welcoming and nicest barkeeps you’ll ever meet. He introduced himself with a handshake shortly after I put in my fish order, and by the time I left he had fist bumped me twice, patted me on the shoulder, and called me his buddy. He didn’t tell me he was the owner; I gathered that myself. He thanked me for coming in and told me he hoped I liked the fish fry so I’d come back again, saying “I need all the fucking help I can get.” Dean’s the first one to joke about himself too: Next to the wooden sign hanging from the ceiling at the center of the bar that reads “STUDZ PUB IF ASSHOLES COULD FLY THIS PLACE WOULD BE AN AIRPORT” is a sign with Dean’s face on it that reads “BIGGEST ASSHOLE IN WEST ALLIS!”

“If you haven’t figured it out, Dean’s the owner,” quipped his wife Susan, “but we can still call security on him.” (At one point about 15 minutes later, Susan did yell out “Security!!!” after Dean made one snarky remark.) Susan (not to be confused with Susie) has all the sweetness of Dean, and a bit of sarcasm, and when you are sitting on the other side of their bar, it feels like you are at one of those famed Milwaukee-area basement bars of days gone by. The only remnants of those days might be old Kodachrome slides, but Studz Pub—open since 2009, in a building that once housed establishments like Handlo’s Hall, the Great National Saloon and Restaurant, Sir Winston’s, and Rookie’s Sports Bar—is in living color in 2024.

It wasn’t long before the fish fry arrived, a meticulously assembled mound built to melt the rest of the week’s troubles away. I didn’t think the coleslaw had much flavor at first bite, but then there it was, hitting all the notes. It was creamy, thick, juicy, and chunky, too, and I was starting to warm up to it quite a bit, when just like that it was gone, like a child’s balloon popping in their face. Two hefty, fresh, and soft half slices of marbled rye were more than adequate; I honored their presence and role in another fish fry. Light on salt, with a smidgen of seasoning and a softer texture, the crinkle cut fries were prepared about as well as crinkle cut fries can be. I’m not sure if adding four additional breaded shrimp onto a fish fry is ever not a good idea, since they are about the same everywhere you go, but it certainly was a good idea here. I also later realized that I had been charged only $4 for them, not the $5 that was listed.

The five pieces of cod were consistent, not fluctuating from piece to piece. They were meaty and thick, and covered with a thin, moderately seasoned breading. The breading and its seasoning were the main draws for flavor, in part because they told a story on their own, but also because I wasn’t particularly ignited by the tartar, a lighter, mayo-based condiment with relish whipped in. I’ve had a dozen or more tartars almost identical to it, so it isn’t an outlier and my guess is many people like it; it must come down to a personal preference that I can’t pinpoint, and I only can say that maybe the tartar had the sweetness without the tanginess, or vice versa. Still, I asked for a second container after finishing the first.

A dice cup slammed down on the other end of the bar, shaking my fish fry as I ate it. Dean asked me how my meal was, and I told him it was good, because it was. It was around this time that I was given a Studz Pub punch card and was told that if I came back for another 11 meals the one after that would be free. I was also told a few times throughout my meal by different people that on Fridays Susan either makes or buys desserts and that anyone who has a fish fry can have some. There were three options this Friday, and I set my mind on the red velvet cake the moment it was given as an option. “You can take it home with you if you can’t fit it in,” Susie told me. I was almost to my fifth piece of fish when I decided to box up the rest of the fish and eat the cake right there.

Studz Pub is a place where you are welcomed right away without an initiation phase, and soon everybody knows your name. There’s plenty of character, endearing warmth, and authentic charm, and just a little coarseness, too. It’s a real place and there’s nothing contrived about it. So it didn’t matter much to me if the tartar sauce wasn’t my favorite. Still, it was crucial that the breaded cod was consistent and flavorsome, and that the sides all helped to solidify the meal. Although I’ve had better cod fish frys, this is another one worth giving a try. If you are looking for a place to both feel like you belong and to get a bar counter fish fry, Studz Pub is it.

The only problem for me is I can’t go back the next 11 weeks to fill out that punch card, because I’ve got other fish frys to get to. So I need 12 of you to get down to Studz Pub to get fish frys for me. Give Dean all the help he can get. Sending you his way is all the help I can give.

Takeaways: Endearing warmth and authentic charm; vibrant Old Fashioned; hefty rye; the slaw is gone just as you warm up to it; soft and not too salty crinkle cut fries; consistent cod with a moderately seasoned breading; add panko breaded shrimp to make it a combo; complimentary dessert with each fish fry.

Note: This is the last weekend of the 2024 Friday Fish Fry Day campaign to raise money for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin on behalf of those facing food insecurity in our state. After making a donation you’ll be prompted to vote for your favorite fish fry establishment. The winning location will be announced following the campaign.

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About The Author

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Originally hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin—home of Walleye Weekend, the self-professed "World's Largest Walleye Fish Fry"—Caleb Westphal has not missed a Friday night fish fry since sometime in 2013. He plays saxophone with the surf-punk-garage outfit Devils Teeth. He also spins classic 45s and would love to do so at your roller skating party, car show, or 50th high school reunion.