Salon owner developing The Guitar Bar
Small entertainment venue coming to Milwaukee’s Water Street district
A Milwaukee business owner is in the midst of turning what had been a hair salon into an intimate musical venue where small ensembles can entertain downtown music patrons.
Turning what is now a hair salon into a nightspot presented entrepreneur Donnis Briesath with logistical and regulatory hurdles.
The Guitar Bar, located at the southwest corner of Water Street and Juneau Avenue, will feature a custom-built guitar-shaped bar and a small performance stage.
Briesath has moved her Water Street Station salon, which had occupied the 650 square feet of the first floor, to the second floor of the same building to make way for the new business. But initially, she planned to combine hair styling and a café/tavern into a single business.
"I first had the idea for James Bean Enterprises in 1996," Briesath said. "But somewhere in state law, it says you cannot have a bar and a salon on the same premises. You can have a sporting goods store that sells guns on the same premises with a tavern, but not a styling salon."
The legal definition of separate premises requires completely separate entrances between businesses and the outdoors.
Briesath also had to obtain a permit from the city to offer live music. The small size of the establishment means the number of performers will be limited to three, and dancing will not be permitted.
The small footprint of the narrow building also limits the maximum number of people Briesath’s business can handle at a time.
"We redid things so the door opens outward instead of inward," Briesath said. "That increases our maximum capacity from 50 to 80. We also have room for outdoor seating."
Securing space for her project was also a challenge. Initially, Briesath wanted to purchase the building she was located in, and in 1998 submitted an offer to purchase the property from then-owner John Gardner. However, Briesath’s offer was trumped when current owners Dan and John Baumgartner purchased not only Briesath’s building, but also an adjacent building that currently houses McGillycuddy’s Bar & Grille.
Briesath is now leasing the lower two floors of her three-story building from the Baumgartners.
Tight cash flow also threw Briesath a few curves, but the savvy stylist leveraged a loan from the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative into what could be enough money to get her new venture airborne.
"I got what I needed for buildout," Briesath said. "What I am doing now is trying to skimp so I have enough left over for working capital."
Briesath said she convinced some contractors on the project to work for one half down and additional cash once the business is operational.
The Guitar Bar should be open in time to benefit from increased traffic on Water Street during next week’s Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary celebration, according to Briesath.
Aug. 22, 2003 Small Business Times