By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 17, 2002 at 5:28 AM

An upscale bar on the corner of Hadley and Weil in Riverwest sounds like an oxymoron. After all, for years, the space was occupied by the ghetto glorious Stork Club, and before that, it was the gritty but lovable Gordon Park Pub. Now, it's Nessun Dorma, a sparse, modern bar named after an opera aria that serves an array of micro beers and nice wines. What happened?

"45 gallons of varnish remover," says owner Joe Gilsdorf, referring to how much solvent it took to remove the multiple layers of paint -- and grime -- from the walls, ceiling and floors. Carpenters also removed and cleaned every piece of woodwork, refinished the wood floors, widened the doorways and restored a hutch. Only the bar and the walls are original, but the buffed-out bar now has a brass foot rail and the walls are a warm combination of olive and burnt umber.

Nessun Dorma (2778 N. Weil St.) has a number of Lakefront Brewery beers on tap, one of the few aspects of this sophisticated new space that nods to the past. Supposedly, the Klisch brothers, owners of Lakefront Brewery, tapped their first public barrel in this location when it was still the Gordon Park Pub.

The bar also serves cheaper tap beers and wines to placate patrons with fewer drinking ducats.

Gilsdorf and his business partner, Dean Cannestra, plan to soon serve food, including salads, sandwiches, antipasti and maybe Italian entrees. "But no fish frys," says Joe adamantly. "We don't even own a fryer. We want to have a little more fun in the kitchen."

The two men originally met at Palermo Villa, an East Side Italian restaurant owned by Cannestra's family. One night, Gilsdorf dropped into Palermo for a glass of wine, and Puccini's opera "Turandot" was in rotation on the stereo. When the song "Nessun Dorma" started to play, Gilsdorf attempted to sing the song despite the fact he didn't know a word of Italian. Cannestra was at the restaurant that night, too, and was entertained by Gilsdorf's antics. The two became friends and eventually, started to talk about becoming business partners.


They decided to name their bar after the Puccini aria that translates, roughly, into "no one sleeps," a fitting name for a bar. "It's a hard name for people to wrap their tongues around," says Gilsdorf, who has worked in a number of Milwaukee watering holes including The Tamarack, The Ale House and The East Sider. "We tried to think of another name, but this one stuck, for better or for worse."

In the corner, above the bar, a television remains silent throughout the evening. Gilsdorf says he personally doesn't care for television but that he will turn it on occasionally for specific sports events. Just another sign that many of the city's corner dives are transforming into classy digs. And although Nessun Dorma is good for Milwaukee in many ways, the nostalgic -- as well as ex-Stork Club regulars -- will feel far, far away from Kansas.

Nessun Dorma is open seven nights a week. Guitarist Matty Michaels performs at the bar throughout November.

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.