Approaching a fourth anniversary in Riverwest, Club Timbuktu has successfully established itself as a bar, dance club, restaurant, even a community center. More important, Club Timbuktu is assuredly a reflection of co-owners Omar Gagale and Youssouf Komara's West African roots.
A West African restaurant in the evening, Club Timbuktu blasts reggae, dub and world music for dancing late into the night. In the coming months, Club Timbuktu features the area's best reggae bands including De La Buena, King Solomon, Natty Nation and Marley Blues. Honoring his African roots, Komara highlights Jamac Live, a local Senegalese band.
"I grew up in the business. I grew up taking care of people with food and entertainment. I did it in Africa and then in Madison and now Milwaukee," Komara explains.
The menu's eight entrees reveal influence spanning Africa's Western coast. From Moroccan couscous and traditional peanut stew to Mogadishu fish soup and traditional West African spices, there is something certainly authentic yet strangely familiar about Timbuktu's comfort food.
The Tigajigi peanut stew simmers chicken breast, crushed peanuts, tomato, onion, parsley and West African spices. The hint of peanut does not overpower, but rather enhances the perfectly tender chicken breast meat. Served over white rice along with a mixed salad, the portions are hefty and satisfying.
Likewise, the Komara House Special richly satisfies any craving for winter comfort food. A combination of chicken, mandarin oranges, onions and peppers, the House Special is covered with a secret savory sauce.
Everything is made from scratch and reflects true cultural tradition. Recreating the recipes of Komara's family, the menu typifies the West African diet.
"All of these things- the fish, peanut stew and gumbo are what we eat every day. The food comes from the African experience," Komara explains.
Surprisingly, the menu accommodates vegetarians and vegans with veggie options in both appetizers and entrees. The vegetarian friendly Creamy Artichoke Dip blends cream cheese, sweet onion, parmesan cheese and lemon juice.
Behind the bar, Jamaican Red Stripe and Kenyan Tusker beers supplement the incredibly authentic nature of Club Timbuktu's food and atmosphere.
In the early evening, the restaurant caters to local diners and African immigrants; anyone looking to taste the culinary specialties of West Africa. While African and Jamaican masks, tapestries and family photos cover every wall, the restaurant is driven by practicality. There are tables for dining, a stage for musicians and an open floor for dancing. The only materialistic luxury in the room is a 20 inch television tuned to international news most of the day.
The restaurant's large open space is home to any number of community activities. From election campaigning to neighborhood co-ops, Club Timbuktu's involvement in the neighborhood cannot be overstated.
"I am from Africa and community service is a part of life there. It was just a part of growing up," Komara says. "As long as the event benefits the community, I give them the space and the promotion for free. It is very much a part of who I am."
The back of Komara's bar epitomizes the transformation of his African roots into his model business. Nearly an exact split down the middle, one half of the back bar is filled with the usual liquor, mixers and bar supplies. A reflection of Komara's far greater passion, the other half is dedicated to a large sound system, cd's, albums and posters memorializing the fore fathers of African and Jamaican reggae. Listening to Komara explain, both restaurant hospitality and reggae culture are rendered to have equal importance and receive equal attention.
"I've always loved the culture of music, always loved it. Whether it be African or World music or reggae, it was a part of my life even when I lived in Africa," Komara explains.
Komara conjured the image of Club Timbuktu while working with World Music bands and djing in a small second level venue on Madison's State Street. Moving to Milwaukee in 2003, Komara and business partner Gagale saw an opportunity to make their idea reality.
A native of Guinea, Komara moved to Milwaukee in 1998 after living in Baraboo and Madison, WI. Educated and employed as a teacher, Komara opened Club Timbuktu with business partner Omar Gagale to continue a family tradition. Genuinely kind, respectful and gracious, Komara's endearing demeanor is reason enough to venture back to this spacious restaurant.
"There really isn't anywhere else to get West African food in this part of the city. There are a few Ethiopian restaurants but we are very different," Komara explains.
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.