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Located on the quaint main drag of Port Washington, just a block from the harbor, Twisted Willow, 308 N. Franklin St., has been packed since opening its doors six weeks ago.
The farm-to-table bar and restaurant is located in the former Wind Rose Martini Bar space, offering a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. and dinner starting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Their menu is a refreshing mix of sandwiches, salads and high-end entrees like sirloin filet and Atlantic salmon (with some whimsical choices, like Big Kid Mac and Cheese!).
Bar manager Joe Buth took some time off while preparing for a busy Fish Day weekend to talk to OnMilwaukee.com about what it’s like to tend bar on the shores of Lake Michigan.
OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you been bartending?
Joe Buth: A little over eight and a half years, right in that range.
OMC: How did you get into it?
JB: I was living out west for a while and moved home. I was landscaping and my back decided I couldn’t landscape anymore. An opening opened up at a bar I used to frequent; it was a sports bar. I worked there for about eight, eight and a half years, and a friend of mine is a front-of-the-house manager here and needed a bar manager, so she thought of me and brought me in and here I am!
OMC: What do you like about tending bar?
JB: I would say the social aspect is pretty fun. I basically get paid to hang out with people and make drinks. Not really a hard job – well, some bartenders in the industry would beg to differ – it can be trying at times, but for the most part it’s just fun, interactive, social. It’s a good time.
OMC: What is it like bartending in Port Washington?
JB: It’s a very different clientele than what I was used to before – like I said, I was in a sports bar before, and here we’re not a bar, we’re a restaurant and bar, so I’m not here as late, I don’t have to deal with that after-midnight crowd. It’s a higher-end intellectual crowd here, people are coming in looking for a casual dining experience, they hang out at the bar while they’re waiting for tables. We get people from all walks. We have locals, we get people coming in off their yachts, from the harbor – it’s actually pretty cool, we get a pretty diverse crowd in here.
OMC: So back when you were doing the after-midnight scene, did you ever see anything crazy go down?
JB: Yeah, there’s some pretty interesting moments. Obviously, breaking up bar fights, throwing people out when they’ve had a little too much, that comes with the territory of being in a sports bar. But other than that – I think the craziest thing I saw was probably a guy I caught almost urinating in our kitchen (at the sports bar). I went in to grab ice and politely escorted him out of the building.
OMC: What’s your favorite and least favorite drink to make?
JB: I don’t really have a least favorite drink – I’m here to serve people, so whatever they want to drink, I’ll make. Favorite drinks – here I’ll make old fashioneds, and we do our old fashioned the old-fashioned way, we hand-muddle the sugar and cherry and orange and bitters. Those are pretty fun; they’re a little bit of a painstaking effort but they’re still – it’s worth it when a good product goes out. I’ve read reviews online where people mention liking our old-fashioned old fashioneds, and that gives me a little pride.
OMC: Are they popular at Twisted Willow? It’s a very Wisconsin thing.
JB: Absolutely – you leave Wisconsin you’re hard-pressed to find brandy, much less an old fashioned. Even in Wisconsin, you’re hard-pressed to find an old fashioned that’s actually hand-muddled, that’s not coming out of a mix, or just cherry juice and bitters.
OMC: What’s the most popular thing that you make a lot of, or serve a lot of, every night?
JB: Here, we go through a good amount of beer, because we have a pretty solid craft beer selection. We do a lot of local and Midwest-based breweries so I think people are enjoying that. Other than that, your basic dinner/bar drinks. We do a lot of martinis, a lot of Manhattans, a lot of old fashioneds, and then your basics, vodka tonic, gin and tonic, that kind of stuff.
OMC: So who are better tippers, men or women?
JB: (laughs) That is a case-by-case scenario. There’s no definite answer for that, and I’d have to say there’s no right answer for that. Every customer is different. Every customer is right.
- Sauza Tequila and Triple Sec mixed with Somersby Hard Apple Cider
- Apple Vodka and Triple Sec mixed with Somersby Hard Apple Cider
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.