Featured bartender: Rumpus Room's Bill Browne
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By definition, Bill Browne is a Water Street bartender. But, since Browne serves customers at Bartolotta's Rumpus Room, his clientele is wide-ranging and not typical of many Water Street places.
With a background in brewpubs and fine dining, Browne is comfortable serving each and every one of them. In addition, Browne is the bar and restaurant's beer buyer, so he knows intimately the products on offer.
We caught up with him recently to ask about his experiences at Rumpus Room.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us a little of your background behind the bar.
Bill Browne: I started bartending at a brewpub in Colorado, then I moved back to Milwaukee and worked at a few different restaurants around the city. Eventually I landed with the Bartolotta Restaurant Group and most recently at The Rumpus Room.
OMC: How did you become a bartender at Rumpus Room and when did you start?
BB: I was working at Bacchus around the time plans to open the Rumpus Room began. I was also going through the Cicerone program, which is basically a sommelier certification for beer. The GM at Bacchus suggested me for the job of beer buyer at the Rumpus Room and after some talks with the big boss' and some training, we opened in October (of 2011). I've been here since the beginning.
OMC: Has the experience there been different from your previous gigs?
BB: Somewhat; it's still bartending. But the selection here is vast and gives you a lot of different options when trying to help a guest. Knowledge is probably what makes this place different. You have to know a lot in order to steer people who want suggestions.
OMC: Do you have to know more about pairing food and drinks than you might at a traditional bar?
BB: Indeed you do. Beer tends to be my natural go-to for food pairings but we have tons of stuff to try and have fun with.
OMC: What's your clientele like at the bar? Rumpus is on Water but it isn't a Water Street bar, per se; however, it likely draws a bit of that crowd because of its location, I assume.
BB: It has been a surprising mix of people. We almost entirely miss the basic Water Street crowd that is out to drink a lot for a little. Though because of our location I think a lot of people just avoid the area, especially on big drinking holidays like New Year's (Eve) and St. Patrick's Day, which can mean a very quiet and intimate dining room on those nights. I like it.
OMC: What is your specialty/signature drink?
BB: Being the beer buyer here, I would say my signature drink is actually the entire beer menu. It comes down to what the guest wants. I'm going to put as much effort into making them happy with their drink as I would any other drink.
OMC: Are there some drinks you make at Rumpus that you weren't really familiar with before?
BB: Tons of them! The thing I've learned the most about while working here is everything that goes into a drink. We make a lot of syrups and liqueurs in-house and the bar staff is in charge of making those. It takes some practice to make them taste right, but it's cool to know that you are using something you made from scratch.
OMC: What is the most ridiculous thing you've seen a drunk patron do – not necessarily at Rumpus Room?
BB: The most recent dumb drunk move I've seen was someone chug a bottle of hot sauce.
OMC: Ever break up any bar fights?
BB: None yet. I like to make sure everyone is having fun.
OMC: What are the best and worst pick-up lines you've heard used in a bar?
BB: Honestly, I've never heard a pick-up line used.
OMC: What are the best and worst parts of being a bartender?
BB: It is overall a simple job; not easy, but simple in its essence, that's my favorite part. The late night hours are starting to get to me. And I always smell like weird bitters and whiskeys.
OMC: Do you ever get to test the chefs' ideas for new dishes?
BB: I do sometimes, especially when we are doing something like a beer dinner. I am usually in charge of pairing for those and so I have to taste things he is making and figure out what would work best for the dish – or vice versa, he tries the beer and creates a dish around it. We are very open and have a lot fun doing pairings.
OMC: Do you go out to bars when you're not working? Do you have a favorite bartender?
BB: My girlfriend and I have kids so we only make it out sometimes, but we are both into collecting whiskey, wine and beer and have a decent "bar" going at home, so that makes it easier for us to try new drinks. My favorite bartenders are Dan and John at The Palm (Tavern) in Bay View.
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