"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Absolut, Avion, Fireball, Pama, Red Stag and 2 Gingers – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Katie Rose is the manager at Burnhearts and she’s working on opening her own restaurant and bar this spring, but this wasn’t the original plan.
Growing up on a farm in a tiny town in central Wisconsin, Rose came to Milwaukee to study to become a lawyer. She didn’t even want to be a bartender, but the Burnhearts regular was recruited by owner Jess Seidel five years ago.
Lots has changed for Rose since then. On a quiet Monday night after a busy happy hour, we caught up with her to discuss Goodkind, her wild ride in the service industry, and why people are like her "air."
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell me the Katie Rose story. You’re from small-town Wisconsin, right?
Katie Rose: I was born and raised in a super, super small town, population 19. I went to high school in Denmark but I grew up a very tiny farm.
OMC: How did you get to Milwaukee?
KR: I went to college down here. I went to Marquette University with every intention of becoming a lawyer.
OMC: Farmer to lawyer?
KR: Yeah, I mean obviously, that’s what everyone does. I hated it, I hated it, I hated it.
OMC: Were you working at bars in college?
KR: No, I never did. This is my first bartending job, I’ve been a bartender for five years. I came down here for school, I did not like what I was doing, so I switched majors and I got into marketing and public relations which really suited me far better, versus being trapped in a law library. I have to be around people otherwise I lose it. People are like my air. I need to be around people.
I met a group of friends and they introduced me to a lot of Milwaukee that I had no idea even existed. All I really knew about it was the East Side a little bit and stupid, stupid Water Street because everyone was so young. But then I met a group of older individuals who are still my friends to this day, who I thank so much for getting me out of there. I started hanging out in Riverwest a little bit, more on the East Side.
OMC: This was during college?
KR: Yeah, then I got into finding out who was spinning the best records because I’d always collected records since I was very young, and I found a couple of really cool DJ nights where I met a lot of really phenomenal people. One thing led to another, I dated the same guy for a really long time, and we moved together down here to Bay View. At that time I was working in radio doing marketing and he and I loved shooting pool. Burnhearts had just opened up and we had just moved into the neighborhood. We started coming here to shoot pool for happy hour.
Jess just asked me to be a bartender here. I had never bartended in my whole entire life. I had waited tables and I always really enjoyed the service industry, but I had no plans at all in becoming a bartender. In fact, I told her no, thank you. I was just a customer and she pushed me and pushed me and she was like, "I think you’ll be a great bartender, I really want you to be a bartender."
I finally gave in and here we are, soon I’ll be opening my own spot, which is bonkers because I’ve only been doing this for five years. It’s totally terrifying.
OMC: So you gave up on the lawyer thing?
OMC: Did you graduate from Marquette?
KR: No, I didn’t. I left everything behind. I was in school for four years, I could’ve graduated in a semester and I just left.
OMC: This is your full-time job?
KR: Yeah, I manage here full-time.
OMC: While you work on starting Goodkind?
KR: While we’re working on the new place, I manage here and I’m behind the bar four nights a week.
OMC: The new place is with the other owners of Burnhearts?
KR: Yeah, we joined forces and with the chefs from Odd Duck, as well. There’s five of us. We’ll open in spring.
OMC: That’s quite a testament to you as both a bartender and a future business owner, that the people who employ you here think highly enough of you to bring you into their next venture … plus the hottest restaurant in Bay View wants you. Why you?
KR: BJ and Jess and I have been talking about doing another project for a little while just because we're a family here. Every staff member has worked really hard to get Burnhearts to where it is now and I feel like it’s almost like a little kid where you have the training wheels on and you just take your training wheels off and shoot it down the sidewalk and it’s rolling. I think that’s the best analogy for Burnhearts -- we’ve all done such a tremendous job of getting it to this point and now we can let go a little bit and it’s good. It’s healthy, it’s time for a challenge, we’re really ready. I’m super ready for something that’s going to be both exciting and terrifying and just electrifying.
OMC: Tell me about Goodkind. What’s it going to be like?
KR: It’s going to be a really comfortable and cozy neighborhood spot that’s going to fit right into Bay View.
OMC: Is it going to be like Burnhearts?
KR: It’s going to feel a lot like Burnhearts, but it’s not going to look like Burnhearts. Just because our spirits are there and the way we like things to look and feel is very similar so obviously that’s going to transcend.
OMC: Are you still going to be here?
KR: No, I know, it’s really weird. It’s very sad but it’s exciting at the same time. I’m still going to come in and hang out, I’ll still do all the ordering and everything for here so a lot of my job will still crossover but I will no longer be behind the bar, which is very strange.
OMC: What’s your favorite drink to make?
KR: That’s super subjective because my favorite drink to make is the one that when the person tastes it and they say, "Wow, that’s exactly what I wanted." That’s my favorite drink when they're enjoying themselves.
OMC: That’s different than some bartenders who answer that question with "rum and Coke."
KR: I do that also.
OMC: Yeah, but you seem to enjoy making drinks like a chef likes to make meals.
KR: It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s super interesting, just figuring out what tastes good with what and this is different from that. If you adjust this a little bit it changes the whole drink or whatever.
OMC: As a former regular yourself, is it more fun to serve people you’ve never met or is it more fun to have a community of friends that comes in here?
KR: I like a little of both because when people that have never been in here come in I love turning them into Burnhearts regulars. But man, it’s a family here. It’s like a weird little family.
OMC: Do you still see shenanigans?
KR: Yeah, all the time.
OMC: What kind of funny stuff do you see?
KR: Oh man, the hook-ups, the break-ups, sometimes it’s a struggle keeping the community secrets because you see it all, you hear it all. We’re really only three feet away, people don’t realize we can hear everything. I keep it all inside, I never tell.
OMC: Do you drink while you tend bar?
KR: Occasionally I’ll raise a shot with some folks but I’m not the type of person to have a beer behind the bar at all times or drink like that.
OMC: Why not?
KR: I don’t know, I feel like it’s better to be completely on point. You’re in charge of a lot of people, you’re in charge of a lot of things happening …
OMC: And a lot of money.
KR: Yeah, a lot of money and people’s safety. There’s a lot that we have to be aware of as a bartender.
OMC: Especially if you’re working by yourself.
KR: Yeah, precisely.
OMC: Where do you go to drink when you’re not drinking here?
KR: Frankly at this point there’s so much going on that I usually just go home and crash. Like today, I got done with my shift, I’m going to have a beer or two and then head home. I go to a lot of the neighborhood spots. I go to Blackbird and Sugar Maple.
OMC: You drink locally?
KR: Yeah, definitely. The bridge is so far away.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.