New Aqua restaurant may be joined by new tower

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm

New Aqua restaurant may be joined by new tower
Walia brothers have big plans for Park East Hotel site

By Katherine Michalets, of SBT

When Rick Walia designed the upscale Aqua lounge and restaurant, he incorporated his travel experiences to create an international flair.
However, Walia’s goal was not only to create a restaurant with a wonderful atmosphere, but one that would stand out among other Milwaukee restaurants.
"I had a dream since 1991 to open a beautiful place in Milwaukee. My goal is to be the No. 1 restaurant and entertainment business in Milwaukee," said Walia, who is the general manager of Aqua, located at 1011 N. Astor St.. "When we bought this property I felt that there was an opportunity for me to bring that dream to reality."
Aqua is attached to The Park East Hotel, 916 E. State St., in what was formerly the hotel’s restaurant.
Walia and his bother, Jay Walia, general manager of the Park East Hotel, bought the property in March 2003 from Towne Realty.
In addition to the hotel, the brothers own several gas stations. Aqua is the brothers’ first restaurant.
Renovations of the former Park East Hotel restaurant cost about $1.5 million and took about seven months.
"Everything is custom-made. Everything has turned out great," Rick Walia said.
Walia and a friend, Jim Condos, collaborated in designing Aqua.
The restaurant features a geometric theme, which includes a colorful disco-like dance floor; a blue, purple, white and green color pallet; a private eating and entertaining area surrounded by a white curtain with a circle pattern; and a moving coat rack is placed near by in case extra privacy is needed.
Huge water lily and zebra murals stretch across the walls. Sheer, colorful, linen curtains adorn the ceiling and windows. Modern and colorful lights suspend from the ceiling in a design that Rick calls South Beach.
"All my competition tell me that this place should be in Chicago or somewhere else, but Milwaukee is my home," said Walia. "We have a very good atmosphere, a very good food menu and we are training our staff to be the best."
Many of the staff members attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Rick envisions clients of Aqua to be young and upscale professionals.
Aqua will not be a nights-only destination. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night menus will be provided.
For breakfast, the brothers have arranged for Starbucks products to be offered. For the rest of the day, they have a varied menu containing food that Rick described as being "international and Milwaukee gourmet."
Some items on Aqua’s menu include Hudson River Fois Gras, Mediterranean Mahi Mahi, Rack of Lamb Provencal and Kobe Rib Eye. Walia believes Aqua is the only restaurant in Milwaukee to serve Kobe products.
The Park East’s old restaurant won’t be the only thing seeing a renovation. Future plans for The Park East Hotel include joining a hotel franchise to upgrade the 159-room hotel rooms, according to Walia.
He declined comment on which franchises they have begun to research. A long-term plan is to build a high-rise tower on top of the hotel. The complex may include a combination of hotel rooms, apartments or condominiums.
Walia is also contemplating the possibility of an entertainment source on the top floor of the tower.
"I am taking Milwaukee to a different level, an international level." Walia said.

Nov. 28, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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