By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Dec 09, 2004 at 5:38 AM

{image1}Omar Gagali and Youssouf Komaraest embarked on a variety of interesting endeavors since moving to Milwaukee from Africa, but opening the new African club and restaurant Club Timbuktu is quite possibly their best work yet.

Club Timbuktu, 520 E. Center St., is set to open on Wednesday, Dec. 22. Both owners hope to bring something unique to the city with their latest venture, the first of its kind in Milwaukee.

"There are other African-owned clubs and bars, but this is the first 'African club' in Milwaukee," says Gagali, who also owns Lula's African Café on Oakland Avenue.

Timbuktu will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch for vegetarians, meat eaters (sans pork) and vegans. The cuisine is a healthy mix of African, American and European foods -- from turkey sausage to panini sandwiches. African dishes will represent both the east and the west side of the continent such as akiki, tilapia and cassava.

In the evening, the restaurant will transform into a club, with live bands as well as DJs spinning tunes from a wide array of African genres including bembeya jazz, soukous, rai, soca, rumba, n'dombolo, mapuka, calypso, merengue and South African sounds.

Both owners are connected to many African performers and want to provide them with a home for their live music. Komaraest says some African groups and musicians hop from Chicago to Madison to Minneapolis, skipping Milwaukee entirely because they don't have a place to play.

Komaraest plans to do some of the record spinning himself. He was a popular DJ in Madison a few years ago and lived there while his wife was pursuing a law degree.

Today, Guinea-born Komaraest also teaches his native French at the Clara Mohammad charter school. Gagali, who left Somalia in 1978 to attend Marquette, returned to Africa in the early '90s to work as an importer and exporter. When the Civil War broke out, he and his wife lost everything they owned, so they and their children returned to the United States where Gagali worked as a taxi driver on the East Side before opening Lula's a few years ago.

Timbuktu is spacious and airy, with vibrantly painted walls. The space was originally designed to be a café called Colors, but plans fell through and it never opened. However, Gagali and Komaraest thought the bold, diverse color scheme worked aesthetically and metaphorically for Timbuktu.

"We hope to see people of all races and ages having fun," says Komaraest. "White, Black, Asian, Hispanic -- it's going to appeal to just about everyone."

The real Timbuktu (alternatively spelled Tombouctou) is a city in Mali and home to the prestigious Koranic Sankore University. It is known as an intellectual and spiritual capital and was the home base of African Islam during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Both owners felt Riverwest was the ideal neighborhood for their venture.

"I chose Riverwest because it's an area where all races meet," says Gagali. "The whole concept of Club Timbuktu is to be a place where all people come together and enjoy life."

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.