By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 01, 2022 at 11:02 AM

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There’s a new venue inching close to opening in the former Fire on Water at 518 N. Water St. Downtown. In fact, if all goes well, the venue could be open in time for St. Patrick’s Day festivities on March 17.

Tropic MKE is the name of the new venue, which – despite the space’s long history serving the late night club crowd – aims to, instead, offer a sophisticated  island-inspired vibe geared toward a mature adult crowd, along with Jamaican themed cocktails, frozen drinks and a menu of Jamaican-themed bar bites.

Concoctions’ big sister

Behind Tropic MKE is Hyacinth Nembhardt, owner of Concoctions, a brand she launched first as a liquor store with a drink bar in 2007, but which she took mobile in 2009 when she began setting up at festivals like Jazz in the Park. In 2017, she purchased a food truck from which she began serving alcohol-free drinks on Tuesdays in Schlitz Park, as well as at a variety of festivals including African Cultural Fest, Garfield Avenue Jazz & Blues Festival, Black Arts Fest MKE and the Milwaukee Bucks summer block party.

Concoctions truck
Concoctions' truck (photo: Concoctions)

Along the way, she’s used her woman-owned business to inspire other female entrepreneurs, hiring a variety of women to help her run the business and assisting them in developing the skills needed to branch off on their own. 

In late 2020, she leveled up, partnering with local Jamaican Restaurant Uppa Yard, to establish a brick and mortar location where she served a menu of Jamaican inspired drinks, including Concoctions' popular rum punch featuring pineapple, mango and fresh fruit along with Jamaican-spiced syrup. 

“We did well at Uppa Yard,” Nembhardt says. “But we decided to branch out on our own this past year, and we’re really excited about establishing a location Downtown.”

Good vibes

The Downtown venue, she says, has been refurbished with new paint, flooring and a brand new bar top, along with an aesthetic that incorporates both tropical elements and a clean Mid-Century Modern / Art Deco look. 

Guests can expect a largely black and white color palette, broken up with custom Jamaican-themed artwork created by Rushane (“Bug”) Drummond, a sign painter in Westmoreland, Jamaica.

Nembhardt, who says she’s been referring to Tropic MKE as “Concoctions’ big sister, says the venue has a “Jamaican meets South Beach” vibe.

“We’re definitely sticking to an island vibe theme,” she says. “And our goal is to create an adult, sophisticated environment that’s inclusive and welcoming.”

She says she’d love to emulate the vibe at Elsa’s, which attracts a diverse crowd from around the city, bringing them together to enjoy food, drink and socialization.

“I’m from New York, and I grew up in a very diverse setting,” she says. “And that’s what Jamaican culture is all about. As a business owner, that’s what I want to see at Tropic. This is my effort at reframing nightlife here.

"We want both locals and visitors to come into our space and have a great experience. I want them to see the diversity, to see the culture that we’ve worked hard to create and to leave with a great impression of the city.”

On the menu

The bar at Tropic will serve a combination of Jamaican inspired cocktails including housemade rum punch with pineapple and mango; a cucumber grapefruit mojito; the pineapple paradise with pineapple, coconut, rum and Malibu; and even a Jamaican old fashioned made with Jamaican bitters and ginger beer.

Guests can pair those drinks with simple, traditional Jamaican dishes including crispy skinned Walkerswood Wings – named in homage to the traditional Jamaican jerk marinade –  served with extra sauce and house-made trop-pickles (tropical flavored pickles) for $15; and a jerk chicken panini with pulled jerk chicken, mozzarella cheese and sauce on Jamaican hard dough bread ($12).

Meanwhile, shareable Tropic pizza will feature a thin, crisp crust topped with jerk sauce, shredded jerk chicken, mozzarella cheese, pickled red onion and avocado ($20).

Tropic pizza
Tropic Pizza (photo: Tropic MKE)

Guests can also indulge in Jamaican beef patties, pastries filled with delicious curried beef, garlic, onions and scotch bonnet peppers ($5); brown stew meatballs with slices of hard dough bread to soak up all the delicious sauce ($12); or a curry shrimp bowl with peppers, avocado and rice ($13).

“Ultimately,” says Nembhardt, “Our goal is to deliver on a great product, including establishing a reputation for great service and amazing drinks and food.” 

Once open, Tropic MKE’s hours will be Monday through Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to close. Nembhardt says that moving forward, she also hopes to expand the hours to include Sunday brunch, as well as lunch service as Downtown workers return to the city’s hub.
Follow Tropic MKE on Facebook and Instagram.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.