Father and son : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Father and son

The family pipe tradition carries on at Uhle’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

by H. Lee Murphy

Want a taste of the old German culture of Milwaukee? Stay overnight amid the glorious Victorian-era luxuries of the downtown Pfister Hotel, built in 1893, and then walk a few blocks for an afternoon smoke in the well-worn lounge of Uhle Tobacco Co., which has been in business continuously since 1939. Not much else around town has survived so long. Historic beer makers such as Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon are mostly gone, flagship retailers like Gimbels and the Boston Store are closed up, and even the great restaurant Karl Ratsch, perhaps the finest schnitzel maker in the nation, turned out the lights a year ago after 113 years in business.


In an era in which so many big cities have lost their legacy downtown pipe shops to the suburbs and to changing smoking laws, Uhle’s soldiers on in its decades-old location on Wisconsin Avenue, which is otherwise plagued by empty storefronts. The downtown shoppers and local businessmen who could once be counted on to stop in for a refill of the firm’s popular bulk tobacco blends are a thin crowd these days. Yet Uhle’s has turned into a destination in its own right, with suburbanites willing to drive in for an afternoon spent with the genial sales staff in well-stuffed leather easy chairs.


It’s hard to believe, but in 80 years Uhle’s has had only two owners. The place was founded by Jack Uhle, who also ran a tobacco wholesaling operation and pipe factory, and since 1982 it has been owned by Jeff Steinbock. (Co-proprietor Jim Steinbock, Jeff’s brother, retired in 2006.) It looks like it will remain a family affair. Jeff’s son Dave, who is 32 years old and the father of three toddlers, is a vice president and manager, and the heir apparent. Most encouraging of all, Dave is a serious pipe smoker, with a straight Billiard clinched in his jaw for much of each workday, while his dad Jeff, 63, is more likely to be nursing a cigar. Most of the staff of seven employees are committed pipe smokers, setting a fine example for customers.


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Category: Fall 2018, Feature Article

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