Rock on

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

The owner of The Guitar Bar on Milwaukee’s North Water Street bar strip is making several changes to attract more customers to her tavern and make better use of the building’s limited space. To draw attention to the bar, a 10-foot-tall, candy-apple-red model of a Fender guitar will be installed in the next few months on the corner of its building at Water Street and Juneau Avenue.
The bottom of the guitar will be mounted at least 10 feet off the ground on a 45-degree angle, said Donnis Briesath, the bar’s owner. The guitar was built by local artist Tom Wilson.
Andrea Rowe Richards, spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development, said Briesath had approached the city about the new sign but needs to complete final paperwork before it can be installed.
Briesath calls The Guitar Bar the "anti-Water Street bar" because of its small space, friendly atmosphere and emphasis on live local music.
"We’re the rock in the water," said Drew Ingle, the bar’s manager.
The exterior isn’t the only change planned at the bar. Briesath has already added eight tables that can seat up to 20 people on the sidewalks outside the bar. Two of the tables are placed on the Water Street side of the bar and six are along Juneau Street.
The bar also has added a small pizza oven to cook Palermo thin crust frozen pizzas.
However, even bigger things are in store for The Guitar Bar.
Briesath said she plans to install new windows to the front of the bar that can fold open, and she will replace both of the doors at the front of the building. The new doors will allow the bar greater flexibility for positioning the performers, who play near the entrance. The new windows and doors will be in place later this month, she said.
"We will replace the doors with glass doors, so the band can be on either side (of the doors)," she said. "The whole façade will be glass."
Briesath is planning additional changes upstairs.
By early fall, she’s hoping to create a lounge on the second floor that can accommodate 15 to 20 patrons. Due to the small size of a water main serving the building, Briesath said she will not be able to add running water to service the bar on the second floor, but she will be able to serve drinks from a dry bar there.
"There’s a beautiful view from up there," Briesath said. "You can even see the fireworks from there."
To open the space as a lounge, contractors will remove doors from hinges and will knock several openings in walls, she said. Briesath is hoping to have the upstairs open by the fall.
Briesath’s Water Street Station salon on the second floor will remain in business after the new lounge is open.
Briesath said her landlords, Don and John Baumgartner, have been supportive of The Guitar Bar so far, and she’s optimistic they’ll provide a new stairway to the upper level.
"They’ve been really great," she said. "I’ll do everything else."
To staff the revamped bar, Briesath has hired a new crew of bartenders, led by Ingle.
"I’d like to put out a call to local musicians to do something different," Ingle said. "They can play acoustic here, and I’d like to mix and match different types of acts that you wouldn’t normally see together – like a punk band playing an acoustic set with a singer-songwriter. We want to create the friendly corner bar atmosphere, but focus on rock."
Briesath is no stranger to the rock scene. She has operated Water Street Station in the building for 15 years, and has done hair, catering and other functions in the music industry for 25 years.
Briesath said she was inspired to open a rock-themed bar in the space when she was leaving the salon one night in June 2003.
"When I’d be closing the bar at 9 p.m. the street would be getting busy," she said. "I put two and two together."

August 5, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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