Von Trier to rebrand as upscale cocktail lounge

Posted at 7:10 PM, Aug 16, 2017

An East Side staple is going under some major changes. Von Trier, the German themed bar on North and Farwell Avenues, announced it will be changing its theme and design to an upscale cocktail bar.

"By saying 'upscale cocktail lounge,' we're not going to just be a cocktail lounge," said John Sidoff, Owner of Von Trier. "We'll keep some [German beers]. We'll have a really good section of craft beers, a large wine selection as well, along with craft cocktails. We plan to have a diverse crowd here with diverse tastes."

The nearly 40-year-old establishment is beloved in the area. So much so, that an online petition has garnered more than 1,500 signatures in 24 hours. However, Sidoff said this isn't really a change at all.

"The change is reverting back to what it was, which was a great classic cocktail lounge," Sidoff said.

Sidoff remembers his days going to college at UWM and going to Rieder's bar on North and Farwell Avenues. He said it was a classic cocktail bar.

"The owner, Frank Rieder was an older guy," Sidoff said. "He would bartend in a short cutoff white tuxedo coat with a black bow tie. He was quirky. He had an unbelievable juke box in here that only had classical, opera, jazz and some Frank Sinatra standards."

For anyone who has been in Von Trier, it's hard to believe the building used to house a classic cocktail bar. But Sidoff and his crew unearthed a classic piece of the bar from before it became Von Trier in 1978. Behind its own mural is an original mural which appears to have shapes and lines all across. Sidoff hopes it can be a part of the new lounge.

"We're thinking of showcasing the mural we found once we removed the old mural from the back bar," Sidoff said. "We think it will give a mid-50s or 60s feel to it."

He said the new bar will serve small plates and other shareable food. There will be obvious changes but some things will look familiar.

The bar itself will remain the same but will be refurbished. Also, the stained glass windows will likely be taken out and put on the ceiling.

"[We will] be re-purposing those windows possibly as lighting on the ceiling," Sidoff said. "We'd put the panels up on the ceiling with light shining down on it."

However, all of the beer steins, cuckoo clocks and even the notable Colnik Chandelier will be put up for auction.

In the eight years he's owned Von Trier, Sidoff has seen lots of changes on the East Side. Even before that, he owned Hooligans for a long time and he worked at Frenchy's, where Beans & Barley currently sits. So he knows there are ups and downs to the East Side and this is just one of those times.

"If I had to block people at the door from coming in seven days a week, we wouldn't be changing," Sidoff said. "But my feeling is that it was just time for a change. Having the first beer garden [in the city] was a real advantage. Now, you can go to any park in the city and go to a beer garden. The demand wasn't there. We felt that we needed to provide people with what they want."

However, Sidoff isn't ignorant to the idea of the emotional impact the change will have on folks in the area. It's hit him hard too.

"I'm sad it's changing," Sidoff said. "I know that a change is needed for it to be successful but I spent almost 40 years here, coming over after work. It has a special place in my heart. I'll just kind of miss walking in and seeing it the way it was. I understand these people are upset and a little sad, but things have to change. It's better to have this change than a business go out of business."

Sidoff says Von Trier will remain open for the rest of the year through the holidays so patrons can enjoy their annual "Christmas Village" inside. Then, in January, a number of the items inside the bar will go up for auction. For more information on when the auction will begin, you can follow Von Trier on Facebook.

"I thought by doing this, we'll also enhance the area," Sidoff said. "I probably won't be doing this much longer but I want to leave something that's my legacy. I plan on leaving a location that's profitable for the next owner and has a good foundation to it so it can be here for another 40 years before somebody decides they want to turn it back into a German bar. But give us a chance. Trust me. You're going to like what you see."