News center
Let's strategize together to create a beneficial solution.

Milwaukee bars are drawing crowds by airing 'Vanderpump Rules'

Jul 16, 2023

On May 17, a rowdy group of fans packed The Mothership in Bay View, their eyes glued to screens around the bar, cheering and booing like they were watching a sporting event.

But The Mothership, 2301 S. Logan Ave., didn't have a game on, mainly because the Bucks playoff run was cut short in April.

Instead, the bar had the finale of the reality television show "Vanderpump Rules" on every screen.

As the episode played, strangers gathered around the bar and gossiped about how diabolical cast member Tom Sandoval was after cheating on his longtime girlfriend Ariana Madix with one of her best friends. The viewers collectively groaned as cast member Scheana Shay cried, making an affair that didn't involve her somehow about her.

It's not common for reality television to be on at a bar, but the demand was there. Every table was full, people were standing anywhere they could find space, and even tables outside were filled with patrons who bundled up in the 45-degree spring night to watch the show on an outdoor TV.

With the quick end to what could have been a longer Bucks season, Milwaukee bars are taking advantage of the dramatic "Vanderpump Rules" season to draw crowds.

"It's been really busy. People who have never been to the bar have been sharing on social media about it, as well as a ton of regulars," said Mothership bartender Jason Parr, who worked during the finale and two reunion episodes. "I did not think this would be so popular. It's my wife's favorite show. I should have known better."

"Vanderpump Rules" is a Bravo reality television show spinoff from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" that follows bartenders and servers who worked at housewife Lisa Vanderpump's Sur restaurant. In more recent seasons, the show has become more about the cast members as they moved on with their lives, opening their own bars and restaurants or moving on from the service industry.

The current season, Season 10, has been especially talked about with the monthslong affair, known as "Scandoval," wordplay on the last name of the man who cheated.

Season 10 was the most-watched season of "Vanderpump Rules," with an average combined audience of 2.5 million, a 77% increase over last season, according to Variety. The finale had a series-high viewership of 4.1 million, Variety reported.

That was followed by a three-part reunion show. Two episodes have aired; a final one airs June 7.

Mothership bartender Jenneca Younger said she had been a big fan of "Vanderpump Rules" for a while but had watched it less since COVID-19.

"When the Scandoval happened, I reupped and restarted watching," she said. "From there, we were like, all right, we'll at least show the season finale. That was popular, so from there we were like, we have to show all of the reunion episodes just because of the bar being a cool place for everybody to watch and kiki and be all weird together with like-minded people."

She said that they had toyed with the idea of airing "Vanderpump Rules" at the bar since Mothership opened in 2019. That year, they did throw a "Vandperpump Rules" party complete with themed drinks and toy Pomeranian dogs — a breed Vanderpump has adopted many of over the show's run.

Four years later, the staff at Mothership still had a love for "Vanderpump Rules" and needed a reason to use a projector screen and new outdoor television, set up with the hopes of a long Bucks playoff run.

"We had prepared so heavily for the Bucks to hopefully make it through the playoffs, that I'm like all right, Bucks are done. Vanderpump is in. That's how this runs now," Younger said.

Younger, who convinced Mothership owner Ricky Ramirez to air the show, may have started the trend in Milwaukee.

She said the show might be popular with workers at bars because it follows service industry workers. People can visit the actual restaurant featured in the show, and other bars can recreate items served at Sur that are mentioned regularly, like a Pumptini cocktail and fried goat cheese balls.

Kat Doughty, beverage director at The Pharmacy bar at Crossroads Collective, said she is a big fan and was trying to convince her boss to let her air the show.

At first, he was not going to allow it, but he was convinced after Doughty showed him how popular Mothership's Instagram post about their plans to air the show was.

The Pharmacy aired the finale, then added more things every week: first, themed drinks, then "Vanderpump Rules" trivia before the second reunion aired and a bingo game for during the show.

"We've been having a lot of fun. Last week, everyone around the bar had a Pumptini and there was like five orders of goat cheese balls out," Doughty said. "It warmed my heart."

La Piña, 1801 S. Third St., which opened in early May, also saw how popular the show was at The Mothership and started airing "Vanderpump Rules'" three-part reunion episodes the following week.

Isabel Gonzales and Sean Valverde walked into La Piña around 7:30 p.m. May 31 ahead of the second reunion episode.

They found out about the watch party from a poster in Gonzales' nearby apartment building.

"It's kind of cool to have something like Bravo being showed at a bar," Gonzales said. "It also will be fun to watch it with other people who are into it."

They didn't know the recently opened La Piña existed and said "Vanderpump Rules" was a good way to bring new customers in.

"We like to visit new bars," Valverde said. "We like margaritas, too. When I saw it was a tequila bar, I was in."

Back at The Mothership, Bree Hogan and Rachel Thomas got a table in front of the large projector and were waiting for the show, nicknamed "VPR," to come on.

"We're big into 'VPR.' I'm getting all my friends to watch it," Hogan said. "I've been into it since the beginning and I've never been able to watch it at a bar before now."

Bryan Ash arrived at The Mothership around 7 p.m. to make sure he got a spot at the bar.

"It's such a pop culture phenom, so I was like, I have to come," Ash said.

Many "Vanderpump Rules" fans made the comparison of gathering to watch sports at a bar, which is what bar TVs are more commonly used for. Some said if they aired things like reality television, it could be a good business opportunity for the niche community.

"I think that pop-up things likes this would generate more business for other bars instead of just playing a regular baseball game," Ash said.

"We're all joking saying this is our Super Bowl for people who aren't really into sports. So this is for people who are into pop culture and the Bravo universe," Valverde said at La Piña.

Contrary to the real Super Bowl, the crowds watching "VPR" are mostly women.

Parr, bartending at The Mothership, said the crowd was 90% women when they aired the finale.

"We always did kind of our own Bucks parties, and people who didn't fit into a sports bar would come here to watch that," Parr said. "Now it's kind of filled the same role whether it's people in the LGBTQ+ community or just women feeling comfortable at a bar with just their girlfriends. Just making a safe space for people to come and watch something they would otherwise have to watch at home."

All three bars will air the final reunion episode with sound at 8 p.m. June 7.

The Mothership has rotating $10 "Vanderpump Rules" themed cocktails. La Piña also has themed cocktails — a Tequila Katie and a Pumptini.

The Pharmacy at Crossroads Collective will have a Pumptini cocktail, Scandoval shots, and goat cheese balls. They will again have "Vanderpump Rules" trivia and bingo.

RELATED:'Vanderpump Rules' cheating scandal: What Tom Sandoval, Raquel Leviss and Ariana Madix have said