The history of Mader's Restaurant begins with the story of the founder, Charles Mader.

Charles Mader's journey is a testament to the power of hard work and determination. Born in Germersheim, Bavaria, in 1875, he set sail for the United States in 1901. Starting as a waiter in Milwaukee, he saved diligently to fulfill his dream of opening his own establishment, which he aptly named The Comfort in 1902.

At that time, a porterhouse steak or roast duckling dinner was priced at 20 cents, while lunch was four cents. A stein of beer cost three cents, and if you drank two steins of beer, your lunch was free.

The wooden tables and chairs along the uneven bar were rickety, and a single fan oscillated from the tin ceiling, providing much-needed air circulation. The rugged men who frequented Mader’s often became inebriated and stumbled out. There were no automobiles and, therefore, no laws regarding "blood-alcohol levels." The suburbs had not yet been invented, so men often lived and worked on the same block.

In 1902, a majority of Milwaukee's population consisted of German immigrants, and their beverage of choice was beer. During this time, "Bucket Boys" would roam office buildings with wooden poles carrying buckets of beer, offering their refreshing goods to everyone - a precursor to the modern-day coffee break.

However, in 1920, Prohibition dealt a heavy blow to the taverns. Charles Mader responded by hanging a large sign in his window: "Prohibition is coming. Prepare for the worst. Stock up now! Today and tomorrow, there's beer. Soon, there will only be the lake."

After being forced to reinvent or close down the business, Mader’s wife, Celia, saved the establishment by focusing on creating traditional German dishes such as Sauerbraten, Wiener Schnitzel, and Pork Shank. When Celia passed away in 1928, Charles took over the business with their sons, George and Gustave. Their new business plan was successful and the restaurant continued thriving even after the end of Prohibition on April 7th, 1933. Mader’s proudly served the first legal stein of beer in Milwaukee, and this historic moment was announced from Mader’s on the city’s only radio station at midnight.

Charles Mader passed away in 1937, but he had prepared his sons to take over the business, which they successfully did. 

In 1950-51, architect William J. Ames was commissioned to expand the building and modify the facade, resulting in the distinctive turreted, half-timbered Germanic appearance that the restaurant still maintains today.

The walls of Mader’s Restaurant are adorned with a collection of sepia-toned photographs, showcasing many of the significant moments from the restaurant's early years.

In 1958, George Mader passed away, and Gus briefly managed the restaurant on his own. In 1961, Gus enrolled his son Victor in Michigan State University's Hotel and Restaurant Management College. After graduation, Victor spent five months working in Europe. In 1964, Victor joined Gus in running the family's restaurant in Milwaukee.

In 1965, the Milwaukee Public Museum created one of the first walk-through dioramas in the world. It transported visitors back to a fall evening at the turn of the 20th century and was called "The Streets of Old Milwaukee." The exhibition featured a full-scale replica of Charles Mader’s original storefront as its focal point. 

In 1977, Victor added the Sunday Viennese Brunch and created a small art gallery in the lobby, which was later moved upstairs to house a multi-million-dollar art collection. It was remodeled into the Tower Galleries in 1980.

In the 1980s, the private Baron’s Rhine Stube dining room was added upstairs. The room featured panels depicting legends of the Rhineland, as well as suits of armor and other antiquities.

In 1988, during a full remodel, another new dining room called the Burg Halle was created.

In 1996, Mader’s added a catering business.

In 2018, the Fiserv Forum opened in downtown Milwaukee, serving as the home to the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and hosting various live events. This development led to the surrounding area being dubbed the Deer District. Mader’s restaurant is located adjacent to the Fiserv Forum, offering a clear view of the 128-foot-tall arena from its outdoor seating area. To further integrate with the Deer District, Mader’s provides free parking for Bucks games to patrons who have dined at the restaurant.

Sources: Mader’s history and OnMilwaukee Urban Spelunking: Mader’s Restaurant by Bobby Tanzilo