Now a bustling Middleton hotspot, The Free House Pub has been a lot of different things since it was built in the 1860s. It began as the American Hotel, famous for its 25-cent Sunday dinners, and went on to become a home residence, a doctor’s office, various restaurants, a speakeasy (according to local lore), and finally a wedding venue and photography studio when Tim Thompson and his two co-owners bought the site in 2012.
To become the downtown icon it is today, it would first need a huge renovation.
“You would never design a restaurant to look this way, but I think that’s why it’s fun and interesting, and people are intrigued by it, I think,” said Tim Thompson, co-owner of The Free House.
Thompson and his partners recognized that, at the time, the area was lacking an upscale pub experience, and they saw Middleton’s potential to be the home of a successful new restaurant.
“This place required a great degree of vision,” he said. “We wanted to tap into the antiquity of this building and then give it a big modern spin. And ultimately give people on the far west side the ability to have an adult downtown experience.”
But when the pandemic struck, Thompson, his partners and staff knew they had to act quickly. They were able to transition to offering takeout, and although it was a challenge, they successfully navigated the closure, thanks to the support of so many in the Middleton area.
“The to-go period was mind blowing,” Thompson said of his patrons’ kindness. “It was encouraging and emotional. It was really nice.”
Thompson said diners were especially excited to take home their Friday Fish Fry, made up of grilled or fried Great Lakes walleye or cod, served with homemade coleslaw and tartar sauce, lemon wedge and side of fries, cottage cheese or tossed greens (with upgrades to garlic parmesan or sweet potato fries or baked potatoes available, of course).
Now that the restaurant is back open for dining, visitors can also enjoy a carefully curated selection of craft beer, almost exclusively from Wisconsin and neighboring states.
“We have deep roots with Ale Asylum, Capital Brewery has been on board with us a long time, Wisconsin Brewing Company, Hop Haus. We use all local guys because that was what The Free House was really established to do — to use the best of what was available locally,” he said.
Beer isn’t the only local item you’ll find on the menu.
“We use local produce, a local butcher, local cheese, local sausage, local bread,” Thompson said.
Not only do those nearby partnerships help support the Middleton community, but it’s also come in handy during a time when national supply chains are challenging. Thompson says they’re thrilled to be part of such a thriving community.
“It’s been a really great ride here. Middleton’s a great place. It’s a very eclectic mix that we get in here on any given day,” he said. “The fact that we’re able to satisfy a wide demographic is one of the most fun things I think about being in our location here. Downtown Middleton is iconic, there’s no question about that.”
The Free House Pub
1902 Parmenter St., Middleton, WI
Sunday-Wednesday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-midnight