Tag Archives: Firehouse

Engine Co. No. 3, Milwaukee

Historic Photos of Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee

The Hipstory

The Engine Company Number Three firehouse was built in 1904 in a Milwaukee fur trading quarter called Walker’s Point. It was built in a time when mustachioed firemen perched in the lookout tower to spot blazes for miles around. They slid down a copper pole to harnessed horses ready to pull both men and steam pumper swiftly to the site of the flames.

Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee History

Milwaukee firemen served the Walker’s Point neighborhood from the brown brick building at 217 W National Ave for 25 years until its tower was dismantled in 1930 and its doors were shackled shut. Over the next 84 years, the brown brick building sat vacant, floor rotting, ivy vines crawling across crumbling brick, fireman’s pole sold for its copper. It sat lonely and deserted, like a broken toy soldier.

Abandoned Firehouse Milwaukee

Until in 2013, when Peter and Sonia Sandroni blew the dust off the old firehouse and breathed new life back into it.

The Rebirth

Peter and Sonia opened their international tapas restaurant, La Merenda, in 2007. They drove by the firehouse every day, and finally, following six successful years at their first restaurant, they rescued the firehouse that had rescued so many before.

Engine Co. No. 3 Historic Restaurant Milwaukee

The structure of the building was in good shape– the Sandronis just had to patch a brick here and there– but they were starting with a skeleton. “There were no stairs,” remembers Sonia. “You had to jump to get to the second floor.”

Historic Firehouse Memorabilia Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3

The Sandronis went to work restoring the original wood floors, brick interior and charming facade of the building. Reclaimed wood from throughout the building was used for the rebuild and will be used on the restaurant’s new outdoor deck, opening in 2017.

Inside Engine Co. No. 3 Hipstorical Restaurant Milwaukee

The original pulley door was replaced by a shiney new black glass door that now opens to the front patio on warm, sunny days. Though the lookout tower was gone when they arrived, the base of the original shaft can be seen from inside the front door.

The Tower Shaft at the Hipstorical Engine Co. No. 3

The Sandronis’ hard work paid off, and the new-old restaurant– Engine Co. No. 3— opened on September 9, 2014.

The Details

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: when it comes to Hipstoricals, it’s all in the details.

Engine Co. No. 3 teamed up with the Milwaukee Fire Historical Society to give the place its finishing touches. Framed badges are hung above the bar, and behind it on shelves are rusty lanterns, axes, hoses, bells, boots, and helmets. A focal point of the room is a 12-foot life net, hung on the wall that evokes images of a cartoon fire brigade rescue.

Life Net at Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee Hipstorical

At the back of the restaurant is half of a 400-pound, 30-foot fireman’s ladder; the other half is upstairs in the private party area. All of the items have either been donated or are on loan from the museum. Photos from the museum’s archives hang in frames on every wall, including one of the original crew from Engine Co. No. 3.

Hipstorical Firehouse Restaurant Milwaukee

The Menu

Sonia Sandroni is a native of Colombia, her husband has Italian and Irish heritage, and their butcher is South African. Combine those diverse backgrounds with the success of La Merenda’s international menu, and it only made sense for the team to create a new menu for Engine Co. No. 3 inspired by flavors and dishes from around the world.

Sonia Sandroni International Restaurant Milwaukee

My visit was during brunch, and so I had the difficult job of choosing between the South African Queen Brekki, the Quiche Lorraine from France, the Kolbasz and Paprika Krumpli from Hungary, and the Wisconsin Omelet, just to name a few.

Brunch Cocktails Milwaukee Restaurant
A Company Beermosa, made with New Glarus Spotted Cow and fresh-sqeezed OJ

Sonia and her team use farm-to-table ingredients from Wisconsin farmers. Engine Co.’s locally sourced meats are prepared by Engine Co. No. 3’s in-house butcher, Matthew, and the menu changes each season based on what’s fresh.

Best Restaurant in Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3

“We tried to create a very unique menu, and it took a little time for people to get used to it,” says Sonia. “But La Merenda welcomes curious visitors from all over the world, and that’s what we wanted to do here too.”

Best Brunch in Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3

My friend and I decided on the Hungarian dish– smoked Hungarian sausage, Bryntag Farms sweet potato puree, and three Brothers Farm sunny eggs– and the Colombian Patacon con Huevo– smashed and fried plantains with cilantro rice, Flyte Family Farm beans, hogao (a spiced tomato sauce), and fried sunny side up eggs. The latter was also enjoyed by President Obama who stopped by for a bite to eat when he was in town, and both were inexplicably delicious and unlike anything I’d tasted before– exactly what I’m looking for on my hipstorical travels!

International Cuisine Milwaukee Engine Co. No. 3


The old-school neighborhood of Walker’s Point may have been shy at first– unsure of the international flavors on the menu at Engine Co. No. 3. But I think it’s places like these are exactly what we need right now. Engine Co. No. 3 didn’t go running. They stayed put and were true to their uniqueness. They didn’t try to change who they were to fit the neighborhood. They waited for their neighbors to come around and become comfortable with the different.

Embrace the different. Be open to newcomers and new flavors from around the world. Be your unique, delicious self.

Engine Co. No. 3 Milwaukee

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Milwaukee? Email me and help me build my archives!

The Silver Dollar, Louisville

If you’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby, add it to your bucket list. It’s one of the coolest and most unique experiences I’ve found in my travels in the U.S. And while you’re in Louisville, make a visit to The Silver Dollar.

Louisville Firehouse Restaurant

Built in 1890, the Silver Dollar’s first life began as the Hook and Ladder Co. No. 3 firehouse. Named for the school board president Albert A. Stoll, it was one of the oldest operating firehouses in the country until it closed down in 2009 and became The Silver Dollar. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in the Clifton preservation district of Louisville.

Silver Dollar Exterior Louisville

Nextdoor is the Hilltop Theater, which has recently been restored and is looking for a business owner to give it new life. Oh, how I ache to move to Louisville to light up that vintage marquee and make this theater a snazzy speakeasy or hip music venue with craft beer and artisan cocktails. I’m working on finding an investor…

Silver Dollar Interior

My favorite hipstorical places are those that have done their best to preserve original details from the building’s original purpose. And during this restoration project, Shine Contracting did just that. From the outside, the Silver Dollar’s firehouse facade stays true to its roots, but with a fresh coat of red paint, no doubt. One of the three original fire poles is still in the building, and they’ve preserved the 60-year-old hand-painted map of Louisville used by firefighters for decades. Original call boxes still hang above the booths inside.

Silver Dollar Map

Where the kitchen now stands was once a horse stable. Yes, a horse stable. I don’t know about you, but when I think of fire station, I think of ear-piercing sirens and big red trucks. But The Hook and Ladder Co. was around far before firetrucks were fueled by gasoline. In the early days of the firehouse, fires were fought by men arriving by horse and carriage and steam pumper.

Silver Dollar Interior Louisville

The vision behind this charming little barbecue joint was to reimagine the honky tonks of 20th century California, birthed by a subculture of southerners who came to California during the dustbowl. The owners have done a fantastic job of creating a truly unique space and a delicious menu inspired by flavors of the south with modern twists. Try. the. Chicken and waffles. You will not be sorry. I didn’t even get photos of the food. There was no time. It was too delicious.

Silver Dollar Menu Louisville

I visited The Silver Dollar with cousins and friends on a lovely evening in May. We sipped Mint Juleps and Kentucky Mules on the back patio.

Silver Dollar Patio Louisville

We weren’t quite adventurous enough to try the pickled pig’s feet or fried chicken livers on the menu (exactly the two things my dad would have ordered if he were there). But from the beef brisket to the fried catfish, all of my cousins and I enjoyed our meals and the fun, honky tonk atmosphere of The Silver Dollar.

Cousins at Silver Dollar Louisville

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Louisville? Email me and help me build my archives!