These are tough times for everyone, and we are yearning, more than usual, to return to some of those simpler, more carefree times. A time when all the women were strong, all the men were good-looking and all the children were above-average, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor. A time when a grown man could cram himself into a sweaty mascot suit and slide into a gigantic beer mug to the delight of thousands.
I’m talking, of course, about Bernie Brewer’s chalet.
We’ve often wondered what became of this symbol of our youth. The Other J.J. even uses this photo for his Facebook profile when he’s particularly excited about the Brewers, as he is now.
A quick refresher course, and sorry if you’ve heard this one: Bernie Brewer was inspired by the actions of one 69-year-old Milt Mason, an old man who was so excited about baseball returning to Milwaukee, he asked the new team if he could sit on top of the scoreboard until the team drew more than 40,000 fans to a game. He sat up there for 40 days, it is written. Those are some very Biblical round, magic numbers right there.
Wiki includes the detail that after the game that drew the required attendance number, “Mason slid down a rope from his perch sustaining burns to his hands and legs, eventually falling off and shattering most of his bones. The Brewers gave Mason a lifetime supply of beer because of the incident. After a long recovery, Mason died on June 12, 1973 from poisoning caused by a tainted batch of beer, but not before being recognized as the original Bernie Brewer.”
The Brewers mascot was not ridiculous because it was a man sliding into a huge mug of beer — it was because it was based on a true story.
During different periods in the Brewers history, Bernie would slide from his mountaintop home after each homer the team hit. But the giant beer barrel, giant mug and the chalet were not installed in the team’s new home at Miller Park. “Whatever happened to the mug/barrel/chalet?” we would wonder. “Was it demolished along with the rest of Milwaukee County Stadium? Or are they out there, somewhere, rolling and frothing for all those bygone years?”
Flash forward to a few weeks ago, I’m on the Lakefront Brewery tour, and after a few pitchers and a fish fry… there it is.
Behold, The Chalet.
Our tour guide goes on to tell us the story of how The Chalet came to reside inside the Lakefront Brewery; it was bought at a reasonable price when the team moved. She then explains that for a time, the brewery actually allowed visitors to slide from the chalet into the giant mug of beer. Until their lawyers told them they were not covered for such shenanigans. Hey, Lakefront Brewery: get a more comprehensive insurance plan. I’ll pay extra. Bring back the Fun.
To their credit, they did, however, allow me to fill up my cup with Big Easy imperial maibock lager. Oh, you don’t know? Then it’s too late. It’s a seasonal and they’re not making more. They sold out of this stuff. It was so delicious, we drank it all.
You can have like three of these, and then that’s what you are — easy. You’ll be saying stuff like, “Easy fo’sheezy, keep my rhymes so breezy.”
You’ll be asking the bartender for another “Big Sleezy.” Or asking to make a black ’n tan with it, using some Abita Turbodog beer — an “Abeezy.”
This New York Times story from two years ago mentions True Brew Crew, the fan petition site to bring back the “mb” logo and Bernie’s drinking apparatus. It says brewery owner Russ Klisch bought the whole kit for $18,000 in October 2000. I’ve said before I think sometimes the past needs to stay in the past, that the team need not break out the throwback uniforms once each week, and that we should embrace the team’s current identity. But I admire the gusto, and the fact their efforts were documented in a national paper of record.
Our tour guide told us the current Brewers ownership tried to buy The Chalet and mug back to spruce up the lackluster “Bernie’s Dugout” at Miller Park and that the Klisches liked the idea, but required Lakefront logos to accompany them. That wouldn’t really fly — it’s Miller Park, after all — and so the shack still resides in Riverwest.
So Bernie does not slide from a chalet, to a giant beer, in front of a huge barrel. He slides from a platform to another platform. “Bernie’s Dugout” is a unique fixer upper. It could use some curb appeal, sure, but I do love the “Get up! Get up! Get Outta Here! Gone!” sign. It’s a visual reminder of the beauty of those words.
We might never see the beer mug, barrel and chalet at Miller Park. You can’t always get what you want, etc., etc. But if you try sometimes, you might just find a tasty beverage.
Remember that Bernie’s Chalet is a place inside each of our hearts.