Jul 15, 2020

A commoner dines (and drinks) at the Brazen Head Pub, West Bend, Wis.

Whenever I begin an extended work assignment out of town, one of the first things I do to help acquaint myself with the area is to find a place I can call my “regular” hangout during weeknights.  Not every night.  But a chill, low-key and above all, comfortable place I can frequent once or twice a week and feel welcome.    

On my first night in West Bend, Wis., I was fortunate enough to find such a place when I walked into the Brazen Head Pub in the city’s historic downtown district.

In full disclosure, I knew very little about West Bend before I had to work there.  It’s certainly not on most short lists of “must see” destinations in Wisconsin.  With a population barely over 30,000, West Bend rests in the south-central part of the state about 30 minutes northwest of Milwaukee.  The surrounding area is typical rural Wisconsin scenery shaped by glaciers eons ago.  Perhaps what’s really noteworthy about West Bend is that there’s nothing noteworthy about it.  The town does seem like a perfectly fine place to live and raise a family though.  

So, with nothing out of the ordinary to go on, I found myself researching West Bend’s downtown area for my latest home away from home.  I did my research, and the Brazen Head Pub was one of the first places that caught my attention.  Seeing it for the first time from my parking spot on the street sealed the deal.  

I guess one should expect things to be slow on a Monday evening, but still for an Irish pub with the word “Brazen” in its name, the atmosphere here was surprisingly but pleasantly quiet.  

For a pub, Brazen Head is also about as authentically Irish as one could hope to find in West Bend. The décor seemed appropriate, although the Pandora music station that was playing came straight out of the classic 80s MTV era. 

The evening’s bartender, Matt, was extremely welcoming and easy to ask questions to about the bar and the surrounding area.  With a better selection of drafts than I originally expected, I decided to try a coconut porter from City Lights Brewing to quench my thirst.  All “call” pints were $4.50 on Monday nights, so it seemed like an affordable risk.   

As I savored the subtle vanilla and coconut flavors of my Milwaukee-based craft beer, I became better acquainted with the bar.  The Brazen Head is very much your standard old-time downtown city bar, long and narrow-spaced.  A lone booth s set into the wall for a larger group to gather for some sense of privacy.  The standard slot machines keep the gaming regulars happy.    

And along the wall opposite of the bar side of the room, a few round tables and high-top chairs provide seating for those who prefer to sit, just not at the bar.  There’s plenty of standing space for the more crowded times.

The food at the Brazen Head may seem like nothing more than your standard pub fare, but I assure you everything I ever ordered was well above average.  After all, this didn’t become my “go to” hangout in West Bend without reasons. 

The house “specialites” are highlighted in black, and the one that stood out to me on my first visit was the Brazen Melt, a Philly-style roast beef sandwich with solid portions of Swiss cheese, peppers, onions and mushrooms added on.        

Matt enthusiastically complimented the choice, and my first bite removed any doubt about his sincerity.  The roast beef was as tender and juicy as I had hoped, and the au jus on the side was the perfect dipping to break down the French bread roll which held the sandwich together.  Brazen Head also has a solid reputation for its fries (and its variations on them), and these steak fries were spot-on.  Dipping them in the au jus was almost as good as dipping the sandwich.

To consistently crank out return-worthy grub is no small feat, especially when you consider the size of the Brazen Head’s kitchen.  As I became more familiar with the place, I had the opportunity to try other menu items which were just as enjoyable.  If you’re a dive bar with a kitchen, you better have good wings, and Brazen Head’s are predictably impressive in both size and flavor. And as the menu implies, they will run out if you don’t get there early enough.  I would also highly recommend the turkey bacon avocado wrap.   

The Brazen Head Pub turned out to be just what I needed for an extended stay in a new city.  The staff and patrons were friendly, the food was consistently delicious, and the drinks were affordable and aplenty.  It’s the best place I found to feel at home away from home in the West Bend area of Wisconsin. 

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