If you talk to Drew Konop about his new bar and restaurant Karma, he will tell you that it is not a sports bar, per se. And, despite its 17 plasma screen TVs and Vegas-style sports book scoreboard tracking sports stats, game match-ups and scores, he's right.
There's no sports memorabilia covering the walls, the room does not glow in cheesy neon beer advertisements and there isn't a sea of peanut shells cracking under your feet as you walk. In fact, it doesn't feel or look like a typical sports bar at all. It's more of a casually upscale establishment that doubles as a great place to catch the game.
The space appears modern and fresh, but, at 600 E. Ogden St., the site is steeped in history. Long before it was the former Vivo Urban Bar and Grill, it was John Ernst Cafe, which, at the time of its closing in 2001, was the oldest restaurant in Milwaukee. Still present are original 1878 John Ernst fireplace and the solid wood door, now hanging as decoration above the hearth.
With help from Milwaukee's Flux Design, the bar's interior resembles a bit of a rustic motif, with exposed beams and dark paneling. Across the room from the bar -- which is convex in shape and conducive to conversation -- are a series of plush, spacious booths, upholstered in deep red and accented with dark, cherry wood.
"We wanted to create a cool bar that is also a nice place to eat dinner and watch games, if you want," says Konop. And although the booths fill for Packer, Marquette and Wisconsin games, the TVs are by no means limited to the local stuff. Karma also shows everything that direct TV has to offer, including soccer and rugby championships.
For Konop and his business partner, a good bar also means being comfortable and eating well -- something they've managed to achieve with chef Greg Zimmerman, formerly of Tess.
Zimmerman's created a contemporary American cuisine menu that doesn't scream "bar food" nor is fine dining. It's definitely complex and vast enough to keep the taste buds tempted and the prices -- $5-$12 -- are quite fair. Stocked with crocks of all varieties -- French onion, chili, spicy mac and cheese - sliders, burgers that come in either black angus, buffalo, turkey, ostrich or black bean, salad and pizza, Karma is a lunch and dinner destination any day of the week.
Brunch is a decadent weekend affair with items like classic eggs benedict, deep friend stuffed French toast, baked strata du jour and the Irish crock.
The fare is not all that different from a place like Hooligan's, which comes as little surprise, as that's one of Konop's favorite Milwaukee bars.
"I go out in Milwaukee and wanted to incorporate elements of places I like -- Hooligans, Balzac -- into Karma," he says.
Sure, Konop's tastes show, but Karma ultimately and uniquely stands on its own. Through the back French doors, the outdoor patio -- look for this segment to come to fruition next spring -- will have a wine-bar feel, with candles, comfortable furniture and lots of foliage.
A descent down the stairs welcomes guests to Sutra, a cushy lounge with a separate bar and sound system, unitized by DJs on the weekends. Down here, the couches are long, the chairs are oversized and the lights are low. The room is open to the public but is also available to rent for private parties.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”