The 2,700-sq. ft. restaurant at 1935 N. Water St. was designed by Kevin Rogers and Scott Kindness of Workshop Architects and will bring everything but the seagulls to a building that is part new construction and partially an old city pumping station that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“My major in college was Latin American and Caribbean Studies," says Cassie Brooks. "So, when this opportunity fell in our laps the first thing that came to mind was a Caribbean inspired theme as I am already very interested in this culture and part of the world. The Caribbean is such a mix of culture, ethnicity and race I thought this would be perfect for an East Side bar/restaurant."
"It’s just like what gumbo is," adds DJ Brooks, best known locally, perhaps, as the drummer of the now-defunct Citizen King and currently with New Sense. "It leaves the menu open (to a lot of options).”
Among the options on that menu are chicken with a Red Stripe beer glaze, pan-roased red snapper with plaintain/sweet potato mashers, shrimp sauteed in tequila butter, jerk pork, rice and peas and curried tofu. There will also be a range of sandwiches, salads and desserts.
Beginning Aug. 11, patrons will step into another world via an entrance on North Water Street, at the foot of a long row of recently constructed condos. A bar resembling a dock will be the focus of the west wall, which will be painted to give the feel of a sunset melting into the sea, according to DJ Brooks.
Seating for about 70 diners will occupy the length of the east wall, which is all windows, many of which will roll open when the weather permits. A smaller room in back will be a non-smoking section and can be used for private parties of about 20-25 people.
It won’t be the Bahamas, but that’s OK, says DJ Brooks.
“Inspired is the key word,” he says. “We don’t want people to come in and think this is strictly a Caribbean place. Of course, the food will be Caribbean.”
But, he says, DJs will spin a variety of sounds from the loft above the entrance and the Brooks’ are not trying to recreate an authentic Caribbean place as much as provide the same kind of vibe.
“The word Caribbean implies the good life,” he says. “It’s become a way of life. The wide variety of foods and the overall feeling the word Caribbean brings to people was a perfect fit for our current location. Our main goal is to make our customers feel like they’re taking a small vacation.”
The couple has hired former Hi-Hat Garage chef Michael Morton to helm the kitchen and both Cassie and DJ have restaurant and bar experience; she at Daily's, Vinifera, Hi-Hat Garage -- as well as experience in Little Rock before moving to Milwaukee -- and Hama and he at Hi-Hat Garage and Trocadero’s Red Light.
There will be additional seating for nearly 90 people outside on a mostly granite block patio that starts on the river side of the building and wraps around the entire Humboldt frontage.
The pair hopes to add another patio closer to the river and ultimately boat slips on the river next year.
Does all this work bode poorly for DJ Brooks’ musical career?
“Yeah, nice try,” he laughs, before explaining that New Sense has a lot happening thanks to some connections made as far back as the Citizen King Days.
“My wife is so supportive. She doesn’t want to see me leave the music. She knows it’s my dream. The restaurant is our dream, but there’s still the music.”
At the moment, the plan is to let patrons in on the Good Life from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday and until 2:30 a.m. on weekends. Brunch will also be offered on Sunday.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.