There's surely more to Wisconsin than cheese and sausages, but those are the things we care about. And that's what Wally's Wisconsin Tavern, the new concept that the owners of Rhein Haus just opened beside the LoDo restaurant, is offering — plus a few more things from the Great Lakes region that will warm the hearts of homesick Midwesterners.
Wally's, which officially opens on Friday, September 8, sits right next door to Rhein Haus, at 1417 Market Street. While the new bar has its own entrance, the two are connected inside and will soon have swinging saloon doors that lead from one to the other. There's not a huge stylistic leap from the German-style Rhein Haus to the more American Wally's, but the latter has its own beer and cocktail list as well a short menu that reads like the greatest hits of Wisconsin bar food as it has evolved from its Scandinavian and German roots.
At the top of the list: cheese curds — possibly Wisconsin's finest export. Here, the curds are white cheddar, jacketed in pretzel beer batter and served with a side of jalapeño ranch dressing. There's also a butter burger; a double-barreled bratwurst served on a hard roll; and a Milwaukee sampler platter piled with cold cuts, cheese, rye crisps and obatzda — a Bavarian spread that's Wisconsin's answer to pimento cheese. If any of these culinary terms — butter burger, hard roll, obatzda — are unfamiliar to you, that's only because the hyper-regional cuisine of the Great Lakes has made few incursions into the Mountain West.
The menu's fries, tater tots, hot wings and soft pretzels are a little more familiar, though we're still not sure what to make of Oshkosh cranberry slaw. And on Fridays, there will be fried walleye. Regional beers from Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, including Leinenkugel's, Horny Goat, New Holland and Goose Island, flow at the bar, which also mixes up a slate of Old Fashioned variations, from a brandy-based version that's supposedly the unofficial state cocktail of Wisconsin to more daring options made with tequila or gin.
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Rhein Haus, which is owned by partners Deming Maclise, James Weimann, Rich Fox, Dustin Watson and Matt Fundingsland, got its start in Seattle and came to Denver in November 2015. Wally's is unique to Denver, however, and is named in honor of Weimann's father, so the bar is decorated with family memorabilia from Weimann's childhood in Wisconsin, including his mom and dad's wedding photo. A stuffed and mounted badger keeps watch over the bar, while deer heads share wall space with Schlitz signs and other beer decor. The ornate wooden bar is a holdout from before Rhein Haus came to town; if you were a regular at Old Chicago before it closed in 2014, you'll recognize it.
Wally's will be open Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to midnight, Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to midnight. While you're in this tribute to Wisconsin, you'll also be able to order from the full Rhein Haus menu if you're in the mood for something more Bavarian.