It’s last call at The Tonic Tavern. Just a few months away from what would be its 15th anniversary, the Bay View bar located at 2335 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. will close permanently. Owner Paul Jonas tells Milwaukee Record Tonic’s final day of operation will be Thursday, February 29.
Opened in June of 2009, The Tonic Tavern has been a longtime fixture of the neighborhood’s nightlife scene. According to Jonas, the bar never fully recovered from the pandemic. That, coupled with personal adjustments and the approaching expiration of the bar’s lease, prompted Jonas to make the difficult decision to end the business.
“I think I just lost my drive to do it,” Jonas says. “I changed a lot of stuff in my life the last five years and I’m looking towards retirement, so I think I want to do something else with the rest of my life.”
Beyond serving up beer, wine, and spirits, Tonic Tavern was also known to host a wide range of music-based events. “I always wanted to be involved with supporting art,” Jonas—a musician who plays in 5 Card Studs—says.
Through the years, the bar has been a frequent participant in Bay View Gallery Night and Bay View Jazz Fest installments in addition to hosting an array of local acts and occasional performances by touring talent. Some standout events include a pair of Daikaiju shows, a DJ set by comedian/actor Hannibal Buress, and an appearance by Blues Traveler frontman John Popper that featured a harmonica duel with local blues legend Jim Liban.
Along the way, there were Packer parties aplenty, a pig roast, recurring DJ and karaoke nights, the “Gigs 4 Good” benefit concert series, and countless moments spent with staff and regulars alike.
“I already miss it,” Jonas says.
Over the next three weeks, Tonic Tavern plans to host its regularly scheduled Thursday DJ nights, “Milagro Monday” specials, Tuesday karaoke, and Sunday matinee concerts (excluding this Sunday). The bar will also be the site of a Mama Tried after party on Saturday, February 24. From February 26 through the February 29, Jonas says Tonic will offer an all-you-can-drink special for a flat fee.
“That way everybody can just come throw money at the bartenders. That’s the goal,” Jonas says. “There’s no point in having any inventory at the end, so we’re going to do whatever we can to get rid of it and put it all towards putting more tips in the bartenders’ hands.”
Jonas says bar ownership probably isn’t in his future. As his Tonic Tavern tenure nears its conclusion after a memorable 15-year run, he’s thankful for the experience.
“I want to express a gratitude to the people who worked there and helped me, and to Bay View in general for the support over the years,” Jonas says. “It’s the neighborhood I grew up in and I love it. That’s why I wanted to do something here.”