At OnMilwaukee, we love to write about the hidden gems, those unique places in our city that are unlike those found anywhere else. Among them is the green room at the Riverside Theater, a space created to cater to the musicians and performers who’ve chosen Milwaukee as a stop on their tours.
In an effort to elevate the backstage experience and create an even more compelling "home away from home" for artists and their crews, The Pabst Theater Group recently reimagined the space with the assistance of a number of skilled local artisans. The goal? Offer a stellar hospitality experience that keeps artists coming back to Milwaukee.
Take a peek
“Because our city had a history of not being included on many artists’ tours, we knew from the very beginning that our first task was to convince bands to choose Milwaukee when they were considering a tour,” says Gary Witt, president and CEO of the Pabst Theater Group.
“Traditionally, artist hospitality isn’t a priority in the touring industry in America, so we chose to make our backstage experience something that would help to change that.”
The reimagination of the space – which has taken place over a series of months – was completed with the help of a number of local artisans, including Scathain, an artisan collective which built the hand-welded light fixtures, custom poured glass windows, industrial tables and booths and the custom privacy walls that separate the open kitchen from the dining area.
To give the room a local feel, repurposed cream city brick – which wraps around the northerly wall – was installed by Trinidad Home Remodeling. The feature is enhanced by hand-painted “ghost sign” ads by local artist John Chirillo featuring logos from Colectivo Coffee and Miller High Life.
“Even before the remodel was fully completed, we heard a lot of feedback from artists, all of whom were really excited about the space,” says Esmeralda Sambar, director of hospitality, whose job is to ensure that every artist who visits a Pabst Theater has a stellar experience – from facilitating hotel rooms and coordinating schedules to keeping folks comfortable while they are on premise.
“The eighth floor space is a highlight of their time here. It’s where they get home cooked meals and kick back and relax with their ‘tour family’," she says. "Among the things The Pabst does best is taking pride in that experience and ensuring that artists are more than comfortable when they are here.”
Additional features include warm orange walls, locally inspired artwork (including a portrait of Bay View icon, The Crusher), and longstanding amenities like a Colectivo barista station and a wide-ranging collection of vinyl, which can be played on the green room’s turntable.
“In the space, you’re surrounded by Milwaukee - from the images on the walls to the Colectivo Coffee – you never forget where you are,” says Sambar. “And if there’s anything Milwaukee knows, it’s good food, good drink and a good time. This space is a reflection of that, and it really shows that off to the people who come through.”
“The space has been designed with a great deal of thought,” adds Sambar. “It’s not sterile or pretentious. Artists can watch a game, put on their favorite records or interact with our hospitality staff. We put on our best performance, and that allows them to put on their best performance.”
Witt says the goal was to create a space that went above and beyond.
“This room, along with the amazing service of our hospitality team, exceeds every expectation that [artists] have on the road,” says Witt. “And shows artists that we care and we want them to be here, and that heightens their entire experience - from the quality of their performance on our stages to their eagerness to come back and play in Milwaukee again and again.
"The team at Scathain absolutely channeled the soul and identity of our Executive Chef Kevin Sloan and our backstage experience to create something very, very special for artists when they visit our city.”
The chefs perspective
Executive Chef Kevin Sloan, who has headed up the kitchen in the green room for over a decade, says the remodeling process was a reflection of the creativity and skill that artisans like Scathain bring to their work.
“When Scathain came in, we gave them the backstage experience,” he says. “They came in, we fed them and then they channeled that experience, along with our feedback, to create the look and feel for the space. It was a meeting of the minds from the word go.”
He says feedback from bands has been exceedingly positive, a good sign that the extra effort the team put in was worthwhile.
“We’ve done a good handful of shows at the Riverside since we opened back up,” Some of them were with bands who’ve been here before. And it was really fun to watch bands come through and see their reactions to the new space. They completely appreciate the effort. And they see that we’re not just sitting still.”
Sloan says the project is also a reflection of the quality of the hospitality that he’s always aspired to, and which he sees throughout the Pabst Theater Group as a collective.
“When I started with these guys ten years ago, I placed a lot of faith in the fact that they cared as much about the hospitality as I did,” he says. ‘And I’m really happy that they have proved that time and time again. I’m really proud of this. I’m proud of our company for making this a priority … because it doesn’t have to be.”
Sloan says that – in addition to cosmetic upgrades – the Riverside also applied for and achieved commercial kitchen licensure from the City. That's a significant move, as it opens up the possibility to host public events in the green room for the first time ever.
The green room is currently available to rent on a very limited basis during the months of February and March. Bookings include a tour and private dinner (for up to 20 guests) prepared by Sloan and his staff. Serious inquiries are accepted online at pabsttheatergrouprentals.com
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.