Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria opened quietly today, just in time for the lunch hour. And you need to do little more than step into the space to see that the former Water Buffalo restaurant at 249 N. Water St. has been utterly transformed.
One of the first things you’ll see is the not-so-subtle Blue Bat promise emblazoned in lights just above the dining room: "Good times." And the notion gets at the spirit of the restaurant, which aspires to be a gathering place that – during both summer and winter months – offers the respite of a warm, welcoming waterfront view.
Thanks to the savvy of Flux Design, the space is open and bright, with elements that aim to conjure the vibe of a coastal beach town. Brick and white-washed wood is offset by pops of color, like the orange bases of the bar stools and the bright blue stained flooring.
Meanwhile, a peek from the mezzanine showcases the revamped garden level bar area, which sports riverside views from its floor to ceiling windows.
And because Blue Bat is founded on an appreciation for tequila, there are also nods to the agave-based beverage, like a mural painted in subtle tones atop the cream city brick wall in the dining room.
Tequila lovers will, in fact, find their match at Blue Bat. The tequila menu sports over 150 varieties of tequila, many of which provided a stunning backdrop for the upstairs bar.
There are blancos, reposados, anejos, extra anejos and at least 15 brands of tequila’s smokey cousin mezcal (and if you need a little guidance in determining what’s what, there’s a nice little guide on the menu and educated staff to help you along).
Some of the names you’ll recognize. Others, well, you might not. Take for instance Sparkle Donkey Tequila Reposado, an oak barrel-aged tequila that sports sweet notes of cotton candy and marshmallow.
It’s a tequila named for the legendary "El Burro Esparkalo," a humble creature known for delivering liquid salvation to those in need. And if you have about three minutes to spare, take a moment and watch this fascinating little documentary about Mr. Esparkalo himself.
Of course, there are plenty of other things to love at the bar, including a small selection of red and white wines ($8-10 per glass), a curated selection of domestic, imported and craft beer priced $4-6 (including rotating drafts like Wyders Reposado Pear), and a fairly comprehensive menu of $10 cocktails including classics like the paloma, a Mexi-scon Old Fashioned (with Mexican brandy), a riff on the pina colada and numerous refreshing (beachy, if you will) flavor combinations including watermelon vanilla (with Sparkle Donkey Blanco), cucumber basil (with Siete Leguas Blanco), blood orange (with Mayalen Guerrero Mezcal) and tropical (a riff on the margarita featuring Herradura Silver).
And psst ... it's happy hour all day long (every day) at Blue Bat. So, enjoy.
Tequila also plays a part on the Blue Bat menu, which features a collection of snacks and appetizers including sweet corn hush puppies with agave caramel ($6.50) and blistered shishito peppers with a spicy peanut sauce and agave caramel ($8.75). There are salads, including one with watermelon, grilled corn, togarashi, jicama, cilantro, arugula and a mezcal vinaigrette ($9.50).
And there are signature bowls (think flavors like Korean beef, creole shrimp, Moroccan cauliflower and Bankok noodle) and eclectic street-style tacos with fillings like mezcal agave steak with red chimichurri, rajas (poblano peppers), queso fresco and cilantro ($4) and rajas, featuring black bean puree, queso fresco and a mezcal vinaigrette ($3).
Like things spicier? Feel free to jazz things up with one of Blue Bat's signature hot sauces.
Visiting for the first time and can’t decide what to order?
Chef Alex Sazama recommends the fried Brussels sprouts with lime, cotija cheese, pecans, dried mango and chipotle aioli ($8); the creole bowl with seared shrimp, blackened onion, pickled okra, roasted poblano, blistered tomatoes and gumbo file aioli served over jasmine rice ($15); and either the chicken fried chicken taco with celery, gorgonzola and buffalo aioli ($3.25) or the curry cauliflower taco with hummus, cilantro, golden raisins and zhoug ($3).
Want more about the food? Watch for our first look at the food menu next week.
Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Read more about the Blue Bat concept:
Agave is at the heart of the new Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria
Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria – full menu
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.