By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Aug 12, 2021 at 11:31 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

You’ll be able to get your first taste of Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen when the new venue opens its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday, Aug. 14. 

In the meantime, we’ve got a peek at what you’ll find inside the beautifully restored historic building including the beautiful first floor dining room and bar, the on-premise pilot micro-distillery and Founders Room, the second floor event space and – what might be the building’s crowning glory – The Aviary, a gorgeous rooftop patio that offers some of the best views in (and of) the city. 

Crafthouse exteriorX

Like so many things, it took a village to complete the multi-purpose venue, which offers not only a place to gather and enjoy great food and drinks, but also spaces for celebrating events.

Co-founder Evan Hughes says that the project wouldn’t have come together without the help of  HGA Architects & Engineers who designed the look and feel of the modern industrial space and Gardner Builders who helped bring the building to life. Credit also goes to project manager Jones Lang LaSalle, who kept things moving and PyraMax Bank, without which the project wouldn’t have been possible.

It’s a space that Hughes says was created to offer guests a true experience that rivals any other in the city.

“We want everything here to be unexpected,” he says. “Whether it’s the service, the food or the atmosphere.”

Dining room and bar 

Navigate the stairs which lead to the first floor space and you’ll find leather-wrapped railings that that pay homage to one of the building’s former tenants, the Wisconsin Leather Company.

Leather railingsX

You’ll find an open lounge area and retail space just to the left of the entrance where you can peruse Central Standard swag for purchase. The space is framed out by gorgeous cream city walls and decorative windows offering the benefits of a bright southern exposure.

Crafthouse retail spaceX

Straight ahead, guests will walk into a spacious dining room with hardwood flooring set against Cream City brick walls and a blue ceiling.  A metal sliding door at the back of the space, powered by gears and weights, offers an artful industrial feel. It was made with elements repurposed from the building’s former elevator, one of only four water-powered elevators in the city and among only 40 in the state.

Elevator doorX

To the left is the bar where guests can mingle with snackable bar fare and enjoy the full complement of Central Standard Craft Distillery offerings, cocktails and other beverages.  Take a peek at the back bar and you’ll see the start to an artistic display which will eventually be fully strung to depict the Milwaukee flag.

Crafthouse main barX

The dining room itself is spacious and well appointed with blue fabric-covered banquettes against the eastern wall and high top tables accompanying tasteful leather upholstered seating.

Crafthouse dining roomX

And its at those tables that guests can enjoy a brand new menu of fresh, seasonal dishes (built for sharing… or not) from Executive Chef Franklin Purdue. That includes bar snacks like orange and rosemary scented olives ($10), fried smelt with gribiche style tartar sauce ($12) and shareable items like a vegetable relish tray ($15) and cheese and charcuterie board ($17/$30).

There are also housemade soups, including the must try fresh corn soup with basil oil and jalapenos ($8) and salads including a Romaine heart wedge salad ($13) and the perfectly delicious Standard Salad with baby gem lettuce and green goddess dressing ($10).

There are also fabulous entrees, from housemade raviolo filled with farm cheese, spinach and egg ($19) and whole roasted hen served with broccolini and jus ($30) to aged ribeye with fondant potato and smoked soy sauce ($46).

We had the (very fortuitous) opportunity to chat with Purdue and sample the entire menu during a FoodCrush Live mukbang on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s what you missed:

The pilot distillery

Decend the stairs adjacent to the entrance  and you’ll find yourself in the pilot distillery, a room which houses a 100 gallon pot still which will be used to produce spirits on site, including some unique products that may only be served at the Downtown tasting room.

Still at Crafthouse X

Walk a few steps further and you’ll find yourself in The Founders’ Room, a room lined with Central Standard bourbon barrels and a nearly 20-foot-long, 3,000 pound table made by Nick Hardrath of The Urban Craftsman from a section of an 122 year old ash tree that once graced the front of the Pabst Mansion.

Founders RoomX

The showpiece table tells its own version of Milwaukee history via its rough bark (visible on the edges and underside), eye-catching grain and its variations in color, which belie the tree’s role in filtering out pollutants from the air surrounding the historic mansion. Some might say that this portion of the tree stands proudly once again (and hopefully for another century), supported by its decorative iron legs and protected by its shatterproof glass top.

The table will be used as the site for bourbon tastings and small private events held at the urban distillery. It will also play host to folks who embark upon the distillery tours which Central Standard plans to begin hosting in the next month or two.

The Mix

An elevator will take you to the second floor event space – named for the building’s architect Edward Townsend Mix – which is large enough to accommodate mid-sized weddings, large parties and corporate events.

A small private room just outside the elevator accommodates 10 (as a lounge for wedding parties or a small event space), as well as a small catering kitchen and spacious hall (The Mix) with room for up to 240 (standing) and enough room to seat 120 for a plated dinner. 

The Mix event spaceX

The full bar in the space was repurposed from the original Central Standard tasting room in Walker’s Point.

Bar at The MixX

But, the most breathtaking area in the entire space might just be the rooftop.

Pano of rooftopX

The Aviary

Take the stairs to the top of the building, and you’ll find a space worthy of its name: The Aviary, a rooftop space that offers amazing views of the city, a glimpse of the lake and bustling views of the highway and the Historic Third Ward. 

The patio, which will open to the public soon, seats up to 44 (with a capacity of up to 88) at weatherproof metal tables and bar stools surrounded by metal railings built by Kendall Polster of the Weld Guy. In the coming days, a patio sail (made from an actual sailboat sail) will provide shade above the seating area.

Crafthouse rooftop patioX

A temporary bar will service guests for the interim, offering drinks and bar snacks to enjoy with the view.

Some elements are still in process. Numerous planter boxes, which will be installed around the border of the rooftop patio, were built by Nick Hardrath of The Urban Craftsman. And the front portion of the roof will house an herb garden next summer. The garden will not only provide a fragrant, beautiful natural element on the patio, it will also supply Chef Purdue with fresh herbs to use in the kitchen.

Beginning Aug. 14, Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen will be open Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (bar closes at midnight). The kitchen is open daily for dinner service, with light snacks and drinks available between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Once open, The Aviary (rooftop) will maintain the same hours as the restaurant, closing at midnight daily. Reservations are recommended.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.