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Dogs are welcome at the new Riley's Social House in the Third Ward

·5 min read
The new Riley's Social House at Menomonee and Milwaukee streets in the Third Ward, where drinks and dog treats flow. Dogs are welcome inside and on the patio.
The new Riley's Social House at Menomonee and Milwaukee streets in the Third Ward, where drinks and dog treats flow. Dogs are welcome inside and on the patio.

It's not every tavern where the bar snack is dog biscuits.

At Riley's Social House in the Third Ward, "the bartenders and the hosts are all wearing treat pouches," said Jessica Ludwig, who owns and operates the new dog-friendly bar at 411 E. Menomonee St. with her husband, John Ludwig.

The couple also opened Riley's Sandwich Co. next door, at 148 N. Milwaukee St., at the same time. It's the second location for the sandwich shop, known for cooking beef tenderloin and chicken sous vide. The original is on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood.

All the establishments are named for their dog, who joined their lives as a rescue in 2008. Adopting their dog prompted the Ludwigs to search out dog-friendly restaurants and bars and ultimately open their own places. As at the Shorewood shop, the bar will have a wall for Riley's Pack — photos and bios of dogs that frequent the establishment.

Jessica and John Ludwig opened Riley's Social House and their second Riley's Sandwich Co. next door on June 23 in the Third Ward.
Jessica and John Ludwig opened Riley's Social House and their second Riley's Sandwich Co. next door on June 23 in the Third Ward.

The bar isn't exclusive to pooches and their people, though. The lunch crowd, Jessica Ludwig said, is primarily workers on breaks. In the evenings and on the weekends, it's a different story; 80% of the customers bring their dogs, she estimated.

Although some other Milwaukee bars not serving food will let patrons bring their dogs, the focus on dogs doesn't usually go to this level. The Hounds and Tap, a boarding and grooming business in Menomonee Falls that opened in 2021 with a bar open to all, is another exception.

A system for dogs, inside and on the patio

Dogs are welcome inside — where there are 64 seats, with some at the bar and others at a window counter — and outside. A parklet on Milwaukee Street, conveniently located beside a patch of grass, has eight tables.

A parklet for customers and their dogs stretches  Milwaukee St., between Riley's Social House and Riley's Sandwich Co., a takeout-only shop.
A parklet for customers and their dogs stretches Milwaukee St., between Riley's Social House and Riley's Sandwich Co., a takeout-only shop.

The Ludwigs decorated the space to be modern and polished but approachable, they said. Customers will see birch wood, contemporary lights, gold accents, a sealed concrete floor and white upholstered seating that makes it easy for staff to see when it needs cleaning. The couple did much of the work themselves, including building the bar.

All dogs at Riley's Social House must be leashed, and they should sport a color-coded carabiner supplied by the bar:

  • Red for "I need space," or, don't approach; the dog may be friendly but is better left alone — or its person prefers to be left alone.

  • Yellow for "please ask" whether or how best to approach the dog, the most common.

  • Green for "I love everyone," for dogs well behaved with all other dogs and people of all ages, considered a rare attribute.

"We know that when your dog is stressed, the dog owner is also stressed," John Ludwig said, explaining why he and his wife put the system in place.

"We’re not trying to be a place of rules and enforcement," he said, but the Ludwigs think the system will help everyone feel comfortable.

"It’s gone over really well so far," he said.

Riley's drinks and food

Patrons walk up to the bar to order drinks. To order sandwiches, salads and, for the dogs, chicken and vegetables cooked sous vide, they can use two kiosks in the bar or order on their phones at rileysandwich.com.

Both the bar and the sandwich shop, which operates separately, are cashless.

Customers receive a text when their orders are ready to pick up at the sandwich shop, which can be approached from outside or from a shortcut through the bar.

Dogs can't accompany people to the sandwich shop, so patrons who are alone with their dogs can flag a staff member.

"We will watch your dog for you," Jessica Ludwig said. "It takes all of 30 seconds" for the customer to retrieve the sandwich. And, she said, "We’ll give them treats while you get your food" — hence the employees' treat pouches.

Riley's Social House has 24 draft lines of mostly Milwaukee-area and other Midwestern craft beers, but also cider on tap and several imports including Guinness.

The bar pours sangria and mimosas and wine by the glass, but it encourages bottle sales by marking them at roughly retail prices instead of the typical bar or restaurant markup.

It also mixes cocktails, like Margaritas, blackberry cucumber martinis and Moscow mules, and it has CBD shrub sodas. The house cocktails are doubles, and it's due to supply chain hiccups that the Moscow mules are served in 16-ounce copper mugs — that's what was available.

Blackberry cucumber martinis are on the drink list at Riley's Social House. The bar also has 24 draft lines for craft and imported beers and cider, and wines by the glass or by bottles sold around retail price.
Blackberry cucumber martinis are on the drink list at Riley's Social House. The bar also has 24 draft lines for craft and imported beers and cider, and wines by the glass or by bottles sold around retail price.

The pandemic, which spurred the Ludwigs to open the Shorewood shop, still had an effect as they opened in the Third Ward.

"We really rushed to open because we had this great staff, and we didn’t want to lose them to other jobs," John Ludwig said.

So that means Riley's Social House will continue to grow into its role. Happy hour, an expanded cocktail menu, trivia and other events such as pop-up shops and pet photographers all are in the works.

Hours for Riley's Social House are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (with the sandwich shop closing at 9) and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, although it might begin closing at 4 on Sundays. Updates will be posted on Instagram and Facebook.

Related: 9 Milwaukee restaurants where you can get a killer sandwich, featuring meats, veggies and even a side of pho

Related: 'You can be unapologetically crazy about your dog' at Riley's Sandwich Co., owners say

Contact Carol at carol.deptolla@jrn.com or (414) 224-2841, or through the Journal Sentinel Food & Home page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @mkediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Dogs are welcome at new Riley's Social House in Milwaukee's Third Ward