Even before entering Bay View's newest bar, Blackbird, it's clear the establishment represents something strong in Bay View. Joining several new businesses to pop up in the last year or so -- a list including Café Centraal, Sugar Maple, Classic Slice and Chartreuse -- Blackbird is tangible proof there's a new generation putting down roots in Bay View.
Blackbird owners Marisa Graff-Lange (who also owns Classic Slice) and Holly DeShaw revamped and reenergized the space formerly operated as The Groove, 3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Lange and DeShaw, who reside in Bay View, saw an opportunity for investment both in a business and a community.
"This is really an investment for us; we are definitely in it for the long haul," says DeShaw. "We both live in Bay View and feel this neighborhood is a community. That's why we wanted to be here and that's the kind of feel we're hoping to create."
Running a packed soft-opening four days ago and hosting full house for Tuesday's election, Blackbird has had an intense warmup. With employees imported from Cactus Club, Red Room and Comet Café, visitors will find a slew of veterans behind the bar fluent in the industry, only new to this particular locale.
"Everyone's known each other for forever; it seemed like the natural way to go. It's like a family," explains bartender Jordan Burich.
Traces of the Blackbird insignia can be found throughout the bar. From the two faux birds over the register to small paintings on the walls, the Blackbird logo printed on the windows represents the simplistic neutrality of the bar's style.
To transform the space, Graff-Lange and DeShaw developed a joint vision and undertook a considerable amount of cleaning. They replaced the roof, painted the interior and exterior and installed custom built booths in both the front and back rooms. Every accessible space was freshly painted in the bar's turquoise, orange, black and brown coloring, which infuses character and ambience.
The long bar, complete with a padded rail, is stained dark brown with thin striping reminiscent of album vinyl. The back bar's dark, vintage appearance is magnified by inlaid mirrors and highlighted by blown glass bulb bar lighting. Two black tuft button booths sit at the bars entrance; inherently cozy and private under the glow of dim red lighting.
"We wanted a lodge-y feel; something classy but still dive bar. Most of all, we wanted it to be comfortable. We wanted to allow a lot of movement and comfortable spaces," explains DeShaw.
The back room of the bar is lined with four large, white U-shaped booths. Once fully complete, a projection wall, sound system and acoustic curtains will make the back half ideal for community events and private parties.
"We are going to make the back room available for community groups to use. During the week, we want to open it up for community events, book clubs, movie clubs, whoever, to make a reservation and use that space," says DeShaw.
The menu caters to drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Six taps and more than a dozen bottled beers represent domestic favorites and international rarities. Fresh pints of Schlitz are served in tall pilsner glasses bearing the brewery's logo.
"We really have a mix of drinks. We have a few higher octane bottles but tasty beers on tap," DeShaw explains.
Particularly conscious of tap temperature, Blackbird pours crisp, cold drafts. Inviting non-drinkers to join in the fun, Blackbird brews French press coffee and carries non-alcoholic favorites like Izze sodas.
"We wanted drinkers and non-drinkers, smokers and non-smokers to be able to enjoy the space. We wanted to create something really cozy and comfy," DeShaw explains.
As for the question: will Blackbird be smoke-free? A healthy compromise provides smoking in the front half of the bar and a non-smoking section in the back.
"With so much open space and the installed smoke-eaters, we really feel this will be a chance for smokers and non-smokers to be in the same space without really noticing the smoke," DeShaw explains.
Demonstrating Graff-Lange and DeShaw‘s quest for authenticity and personality, an old school photo booth and a Guns N' Roses pinball machine line the wall leading to the back room.
"We really only want to add things that are vintage and are there for a purpose; stuff we know people are going to play and use," DeShaw says.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.