Naming a bar "Lemon" is risky. The word doesn't always conjure up positive thoughts, especially when referring to Pintos or Edsels. But for Michael Sottile's new East Side lounge, Lemon works.
"The fruit is small and colorful, with lots of personality," says Sottile.
His description of the citrus garnish also illustrates his lounge, a 300-sq. ft. space attached to the Miramar Theatre (formerly the Mirabar) at 2844 N. Oakland Ave. "I've seen bigger walk-in closets," he says.
With a caboodle of flickering candles, a super-clean feel and Santi Moix's striking paintings on the walls, the cozy quarters pack a lot of punch -- as do Sottile's life stories.
Prior to moving to Milwaukee, Sottile, a writer and actor, lived in New York City and Los Angeles. He appeared in a quirky collection of films, including "Reservoir Dogs," "Speed" and "Outbreak," and did a stint on television's "General Hospital."
"As an actor and writer you're out of work so often you either take up computers or restaurants," he says.
Sottile, it turns out, did both. He wrote two screenplays -- one is a black comedy about a real estate agent in Manhattan -- as well as a one-man show that he plans to perform, possibly at the Miramar, in the near future. Also, his family owned an Italian restaurant in New York, and he worked in a string of eateries -- including Town Restaurant in New York City, Valentino in Los Angeles and Milwaukee's Lake Park Bistro.
Sottile and his family -- partner Kate Wilfer (owner of Juxt Home & Baby in Wauwatosa) and their 3-year-old son, Luke -- moved from New York City to Milwaukee after 9/11 so they could be closer to family.
"From our apartment, we saw steaming piles of molten metal and rubble," says Sottile, who lived four blocks away from Ground Zero.
Sottile says he likes Milwaukee and thinks it's a good fit for his family. "It's a very manageable town with great restaurants and very family oriented. I'm going to be here for a while," he says.
Owning a bar was one of Sottile's long-time dreams, and when he saw the intimate space on Oakland Avenue, he felt it was a fortuitous finding. After leasing the lounge in July, he opened just a couple of weeks later -- on Aug. 1 -- and has been behind the bar every night since.
"When I decided to open this thing seven nights a week, I didn't think I'd be the guy actually running it seven nights a week," jokes Sottile.
Lemon specializes in wine and martinis -- the caramel apple martini is deliciously sweet yet tart, and the Lemon Drop martini is the appropriately named house special. A nice selection of beer and cocktails are also available.
Plus, Sottile makes room for entertainment. The Billy Johnson Trio plays jazz every Tuesday, Wednesdays feature the smooth down-tempo beats of DJ Caution, and Flamenco guitarist Evan Christian gigs every Thursday. A high-definition plasma television airs movies, ranging from classics to American film noir.
Lemon is also available for private parties, with Sottile providing the space, drinks and hors d'oeuvres. "It's very easy to have an intimate party here," he says. "This is a great place to hang out."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.