The plant-based scene is heating up on Milwaukee’s East Side, as a new vegan comfort food haven prepares to open (at least for carry-out) Tuesday, Dec. 28 on North Avenue.
Nice Times is the name of the new bar and eatery, which occupies the former Hotel Foster space at 2208 E. North Ave., a venue most recently (if briefly) home to Snack Boys.
The new venue will join a growing number of plant-based eateries in the area, including the globally inspired Strange Town at 2101 N. Prospect Ave., as well as the new breakfast and lunch spot, The Lafayette Place, which opened in November at 1978 N. Farwell Ave.
But it will bring a distinctly different vibe – along with a small retail shop, a comfort-food based menu and a slew of cocktails and mocktails – to the proverbial table.
Just have fun
Behind Nice Times are industry veteran and former Snack Boys partner Stephen Landish and Mark Goldwell, co-founder and creative director for Zero Studios, both of whom saw the opportunity to create a low-key concept in a space that’s been a part of Milwaukee history for decades.
“I would have opened this concept anywhere with Steve,” says Goldwell. “But this space made it a no brainer. I did a show here when it was Hotel Foster… and I think everyone has some sort of affinity for this space, and that makes it feel really special.”
Goldwell says the name effectively summarizes the vibe they hope to create at Nice Times.
“There’s a lot of meaning behind it,” he says. “But also not. Ultimately our goal is to provide an accessible, positive experience for everyone.”
Those good vibes begin with a comfortable eclectic space that’s doused in sunlight during the daylight hours and lit with a subtle glow during the evening hours, plus plenty of space for guests to enjoy food, drink and … well, nice times.
Step into Nice Times and you’ll be greeted by a wall of shelving filled with products from various artists and makers (both Milwaukee-based and beyond).
Goldwell says they hope to support local artists by showcasing their work throughout the space (currently, guests will find art by Ike Harris) and providing a place to sell that work. He says they ultimately hope to launch makers markets at Nice Times on Sundays as well.
The retail shelves sit adjacent to a main floor lounge area featuring soft seating in the form of brightly colored vintage finds from Ormson Supply in Bay View set off by geometric wallcoverings designed by Shade Akanbi for Chasing Paper.
The bar, done up in peach tones with green bar stools is lit with fixtures from Tom Dixon Lighting with mirror signage that reads: “Nice Times Metaphysical Club” by local artist Chris Walker.
Meanwhile, a more formal (but equally as eye-catching) seating area occupies the space to the West of the bar.
Upstairs, guests will find a combination of table seating which overlooks the venue’s second floor balcony patio, plus a small tucked away lounge area on the side.
On the menu
Service at Nice Times will be fast casual. Guests will place their orders at the end of the bar with pick-up at the kitchen service window. The venue will also operate as a One Fair Wage employer; so guests will see a 20% surcharge on each order. No additional tipping is needed; but the surcharge will be divided among employees to enhance their wages.
“It’s important to us to ensure that folks have more fair and dependable compensation,” notes Goldwell of the practice. “COVID has been so tough on industry folks, so we’re nudging closer and closer to ensuring that everyone is paid a fair and livable salary.”
Goldwell says that Nice times will offer abbreviated hours (from 4 to 10 p.m.) during their first week; but beginning in January, the venue will be open beginning at 11 a.m. During the day, guests will be able to order coffee and tea, along with pastries and breakfast sandwiches like the playfully named Thundercat, a creation featuring tempeh sausage, kimchi scramble, spicy jam and a pump of avo ($9).
“Come by, grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich or pastry and hang out for a bit,” Goldwell says, noting that the space will also function much like a coffee house, providing a space where folks can work or have casual meetings.
Beyond breakfast offerings, Nice Times will also feature a menu focused on plant-based comfort foods from including the Sloppy Joseph (TVP and veggie slop, crispy shallots, tahini ranch, bread and butter pickles, pickled ketchup, $9) and the Nice Burger (topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle, pickled ketchup, pump cheese and special sauce, $9).
Additional offerings include The Clown Car featuring ginger barbequed carrots, collards with a kick and slaw ($9), along with Flower Child featuring sweet chili cauliflower, quick pickles and kimchi mayo ($9).
Add on Fries AF ($4), French fries which can be loaded up with a variety of toppings from pump cheese and avocado pump to pickled ketchup, hot ass mango sauce, remoulade and tahini ranch (+$1 each). There will also be big ass cookies and brownies to enjoy ($4 each).
“There’s a cool tension between discovery and nostalgia,’ says Goldwell. ‘So our menu speaks to that. The items are familiar, but there’s a little sense of delight and something different as well.”
Take for instance the OMG I <3 Dawson’s Creek, a riff on the po’boy featuring fried parsnip "oysters," remoulade, shredded lettuce, tomato and pickles ($9).
At the bar, guests will find a selection of canned beer, wine, hard seltzers and kombucha along with natural wines for purchase by the bottle (sparkling, white, orange, red and rose). Spirits will also be stocked, including a curated selection of bourbon (from Buffalo Trace to E.H. Taylor small batch, Weller, Elmer T. Lee and Blackened x Willett).
But that's not all. Six tap cocktails (including two non-alcoholic options) will include drinks like “Advanced Hippie Shit” (orange, thyme, turmeric and gin) and “Grandma’s Couch” (date, almond, apricot and rye) along with Crunchy Ass Garden Face (sambal, honey, carrot, tequila. Each will set you back by $10.
“The cocktails are all really funky,” says Goldwell. “But they taste really great too. We want to be a bit different in terms of the types of drinks we offer, as well as providing something that’s not totally focused on the alcohol.”
To that end, guests will also be able to add Enjjoy CBD to any drink for a slight upcharge.
“Nice Times is meant to be mad casual and humorous,” says Goldwell. “The goal is to create a really well rounded culture here that isn’t focused on late night ragers. Ultimately, we just want people to come here and have fun.”
During its first week, Nice Times will be open daily from 5 to 10 p.m. Beginning in January, hours will expand to Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.