Second Salem Brewing Company is a small, locally-owned brewery that offers several beers from light to dark. There are two full bars, a gastro-pub with outdoor seating, and a tap lounge & anteroom. Thinking about the establishment principally as a gastro-pub, or even a tavern, gets Second Salem wrong (very much so).
It’s not just a pub, so to speak.
This is a brewing company that offers locally-brewed beers on tap. Not just offers them, but offers them prominently and proudly. One wouldn’t have to enjoy beer to enjoy Second Salem, but those who do enjoy beer will appreciate Second Salem far more.
I’ve thought about this brewery for a while, having watched and visited its predecessor establishments at the location, as well as the evolution of Second Salem’s current offerings from small gastro-pub to brewing company and tap lounge.
The evolution of Second Salem is in reverse order to its principal offering: the pub came first, then the brewery and tap lounge. (I reviewed that small pub favorably some time ago.) But it’s the brewery and tap lounge that makes the establishment unique.
On all my visits (lunch, dinner, tap lounge for two flights), I found that most patrons visited the pub. Some were inside, and others outside, on a patio with a newly-installed pergola. I took dinner outside on the patio, and it was pleasant overlooking the lake, but it surprised me that the tap lounge was less-frequented.
From my way of thinking, the brewery and lounge are the heart of Second Salem, and its most unique offerings. Perhaps because the pub came first, patrons are more accustomed to eating there.
The tap lounge is beautiful and cleverly decorated with references to Whitewater as a ‘second Salem.’ Even a generation ago, it probably would have been difficult to play on the town’s reputation for spooky tales without creating offense; it’s a sign of progress and confidence that the owners have the humor and wit to tease about our city’s legendary past.
On my supper visit, we arrived (two for dining and beer) when the tap lounge was not yet open. That had been the purpose of my visit, but it opened later than the stated time of 4 o’clock.
I would have been disappointed, but a waitress from the pub, noticing that I was curious about the tap lounge, asked me if I wanted to take a look through it. She might have said nothing, but instead she said just the right thing: would you like to see what it’s like? I took her up on her offer; her question turned a patron’s slight disappointment into a chance look at the lounge more closely before it opened later that night.
Supper was a burger with provolone, wings, Pepsi, and Beast of Bray Road on the patio. I asked and received a burger cooked rare, with sweet potato fries. The meat-averse diner with me chose a cali wrap without the bacon. We shared wings, with ranch sauce for dipping, and iced tea.
(On an earlier lunch visit, I had the mac & cheese and part of a giant pretzel. The pretzel is so ample it’s suitable for eating with several others. Although I’m not certain, a rough estimate is that the pretzel is about one-third the size of Rhode Island. Bring hungry friends.)
I chose these selections because they were likely to be popular choices for other patrons, and a better sample for me of what they might request and receive.
Toward the end of the meal, our waitress let us know that the tap lounge was open. She might have said nothing, but she remembered and let us know.
We went to the tap lounge, and spent a good while there, having a great time. In fact, just that – a great time. The bartender was friendly, we ran a tab, and she was attentive throughout our lounge stay. (She helpfully provided a menu for me to try to read without my glasses, when she overheard that I was being tested over my eyesight. I passed that test, by the way.)
That’s a good experience: aware of patron’s needs, friendly, ready to assist even with something silly.
Servers and bartender were excellent, putting aside any concerns about service.
Sometime during the evening, I put aside the idea of a review – thinking about particular points or experiences – and simply enjoyed the stay. It’s the first time from among those places that I’ve reviewed that I had that feeling so strongly. (I’m analytical by nature; I don’t have many moments where I set that nature aside. It’s a welcome feeling, now and again.)
My recommendations among the six brews I sampled (in two flights of three each): The Beast of Bray Road (an amber ale), Witchtower Pale Ale (an ale with a slightly lower alcohol content than BoBR) and the Old Main Golden Ale, which is light and a good choice for anyone not used to ales.
Long, rectangular, with seating, fixtures, and lighting that reflect a new-yet-old tavern feel, the tap lounge is beautiful. A lot of care went into the selection of furnishings in this lounge. (That same care is evident in how the brewery brands itself, with shirts and posters displaying logos or silhouettes of the Beast of Bray Road. Servers all wear clothing with the logo or the depiction of the BoBR.)
Located at 111 W. Whitewater Street, it’s one of the best spots in the city: near Cravath, at the intersection of Main and Whitewater, it’s visible to almost anyone traveling through the city, and is easily accessible by walking to anyone in the old city or campus. There is parking on either side of the building, in a private lot of the Mill Pond lot closer to Main Street.)
A few quick suggestions, all minor: (1) the sign outside for parking should display the restaurant’s current name, (2) the display of brewing equipment from windows along Whitewater Street, or from inside the tap lounge, should be softly illuminated to showcase a unique feature of the establishment, (3) hours posted for the lounge should match actual hours, and (4) the hallway between the lounge and pub should be better illuminated to make traveling from pub to lounge more inviting (it’s a long hallway, and relatively dim).
A big suggestion, not minor at all: At every turn, this brewery should, as a matter of branding, emphasize the tap lounge’s availability and offerings. Why not lead with what’s unique to the brewery? Open as much as possible, sign illuminated, welcome and inviting.
Second Salem will benefit from a community expectation that the tap lounge is open (and visibly open from Whitewater Street).
I’ll be back, for food, ale on tap, and a growler.
LOCATION: 111 W. Whitewater Street
Whitewater, WI 53190, (262) 473-2920.
Tap Lounge Hours
Monday – Closed
Tuesday – Closed
Wednesday – 4 PM – 10 PM
Thursday – 4 PM – 10 PM
Friday – 3 PM – 10 PM
Saturday – 11 AM – 10 PM
Sunday – 11 AM – 4 PM
Monday – 11 AM – Close
Tuesday – 11 AM – Close
Wednesday – 11 AM – Close
Thursday – 11 AM – Close
Friday – 11 AM – Close
Saturday – 10 AM – Close
Sunday – 10 AM – Close
PRICES: Main dish and a beer for about $12-20, depending on selection.
DRINKS: Locally-brewed beers, full bar, sodas.
SOUND: Moderate, with background music, but one can still hear one’s companions.
SERVICE: Helpful, congenial, obliging. With moderate seating, I found the level of attention just right.
VISITS: Two (one lunch in pub, one supper on patio & stay at the tap lounge).
RATING: Recommended — 3.75 of 4.
RATING SCALE: From one to four stars, representing the full experience of food, atmosphere, service, and pricing.
INDEPENDENCE: This review is delivered without financial or other connection to the establishment or its owner. The dining experience was that of an ordinary patron, without notice to the staff or requests for special consideration.