Water Street Brewery’s downtown location to resume operations with new name, fresh look

Water Street Brewery in downtown Milwaukee is now dubbed The Brewery. Photo credit: Water Street Brewery

Last updated on October 12th, 2022 at 02:12 pm

After a near three-year pause in operations, Water Street Brewery in downtown Milwaukee will be back up and running later this month – under a new name and modernized approach to the classic Milwaukee brewpub concept.

The longtime establishment at 1101 N. Water St. has sat lifeless since March 2020, when state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions went into effect. Now, operators are gearing up to reopen the bar-restaurant, now known as the The Brewery, on Oct. 26.

The Brewery will be the last restaurant to reopen among the family of bar-restaurant properties owned by local entrepreneur R.C. Schmidt. The portfolio includes Water Street Brewery locations in Grafton, Delafield and Oak Creek, as well as Vagabond, Trinity Three Irish Pubs and The Harp Irish Pub, which are all located within a block’s vicinity of Water Street Brewery. Schmidt also owns the four-story historic building at North Water Street and East Highland Avenue that houses Water Street Brewery on the ground floor and apartment units on the upper three floors.

Prior to the pandemic, Water Street Brewery had been a downtown staple since it opened in 1987. But as the surrounding neighborhood and downtown entertainment scene evolved, the concept hadn’t changed much. So, like many businesses, the brewpub used the pandemic to re-evaluate.

“As we thought about reopening, we started thinking about the concept and how it related to the entertainment district downtown, and the Water Street Brewery downtown was very similar to ones in the suburbs, in terms of traditional dining, where you see a hostess, you sit at a table, the server comes to you, you get your food, pay your check and walk out,” said Matt Schmidt, director of operations for his family’s business. “We thought that model downtown was working OK, but it wasn’t doing as well as we thought it could do. … This was our chance to make a big change.”

The space has been remodeled to create a more open, lively atmosphere that better fits the neighborhood, said Schmidt. Built-in booths have been removed to expose the building’s original cream city brick; a new back bar and DJ booth have been installed; memorabilia honoring Milwaukee’s storied beer history decorate the walls.

Patrons will now have a broader range of seating options, from high top to low top and booth-style arrangements. And for those who’d rather be on their feet, there’s now a collection of games, including pool tables, darts, shuffleboard and Skee Ball.

“Basically what we’re trying to do is create a modern take on a classic Milwaukee bar,” said Schmidt.

Instead of traditional table service, patrons will now place orders at designated ordering stations at the bar, and food runners will deliver the food to the table. Patrons also have the option to place orders on their smart phone using a QR code at each table.

The menu has been updated to focus on small plates with a greater variety of cuisines, including dishes like Indian butter chicken and tuna poke, but diners will still find classics like the Scotch Egg, Wisconsin cheese curds and Bavarian-style soft pretzels.

“In the last five to 10 years, diners have become more adventurous,” said Schmidt. “I would say 20 years ago, it was pretty straightforward in terms of menu variety, especially in southeastern Wisconsin. People like their burgers, chicken sandwiches and wings, and you’d see that on a lot of menus. People have become more adventurous and willing to try different flavors and different techniques and give chefs and restaurateurs more leeway to be more adventurous with their menus, and we want to play into that.”

Schmidt noted that the restaurant’s new mode of service has been tested at the suburban locations and is designed to help ease the strain often put on staff during busy nights with events at Fiserv Forum or the Marcus Performing Arts Center.

“We’re going to get busy for Bucks games and PAC shows, but we think it’s going to generate more business and sustained business, so it will be easier to staff and schedule, which is much better for our employees,” said Schmidt.

The Brewery will tap into its operators’ robust late-night bar business around the corner at The Harp and Trinity.

“That’s why we’re adding a DJ booth,” said Schmidt.

Patrons looking to kick off a night out early can enjoy live DJ performances over dinner, and throughout the evening on Fridays and Saturdays. The Brewery will serve food late, until 11 p.m., with the bar operating until close.

Together, the Schmidt family’s restaurants employ about 350 people, which is down from about 500 prior to the pandemic, said Schmidt. The Brewery is actively hiring bartenders, food runners, and cooks among other roles, and until the restaurant is fully staffed with new hires, it will rely on support from existing employees.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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