After an extremely long renovation process, Ugly’s Pub, 1125 N. Old World 3rd St., finally opened.
Co-owner Dustin Bowie first told OnMilwaukee.com that the pub would open in April, but the project was too massive to complete on time.
"It was very, very challenging to figure it all out, but we’re really, really thrilled with the product," says co-owner Dustin Bowie, who formerly owned Decibel Lounge.
The 1924 building – which was the no-frills, low-ceilinged Asian Mart for 38 years – underwent a complete transformation. It’s hard to even believe it’s the same structure.
The size of the building – and the fact it was built so long ago – made it difficult to bring up to code. Plus, Bowie and co-owner Rob Settecase had an ambitious vision for the massive space which now includes a full bar, dining area, private party space (which will be available for rentals soon) and a rooftop patio.
The owners hired 360 Interiors for the design work. The team created an overall look and feel that’s congruous with a rustic, upscale warehouse.
Much of the materials were reclaimed from other projects, including wood, brick and metal. The leather used to cover the seating was made from hides that were discarded because they were branded. This is unnoticeable now because Ugly’s logo is stamped into the leather to cover / camouflage the "imperfections."
According to Bowie, this is why the space was given the moniker Ugly’s.
"We named it Ugly’s because this space is made from reclaimed products. Things someone threw away or didn’t want anymore and we took them, used them in a new way, and now they turned out really cool," says Bowie. "There’s something so real and authentic about material that isn’t painted over. Just letting something be whatever it is naturally."
Other decorative choices really make the space. Large east-facing garage doors add a lot of natural light. A surplus of candles provide warmth and coziness and large velvet curtains soften the look (and also reminded us of the now-defunct Velvet Room which was also on Old World Third Street years ago).
The restrooms are top notch, too, with great lighting and lots of space.
Originally, Bowie says Ugly’s was envisioned as more of a bar than a restaurant, but Chef Jordan Short, formerly of Whole Foods and Coast Restaurant, took the menu to a new level.
"The food here goes way beyond bar food," says Bowie.
Starters include tempura-battered asparagus, truffled fries, Kobe sliders, homemade guacamole and chips and more.
The main courses are comprised of salads (warm goat cheese, gorgonzola pear, Thai steak), sandwiches (BBQ pulled pork, chicken and avocado), tacos (lobster, pork, shrimp, steak or ahi) pizza (veggie and meat) and burgers.
The Ugly Burger is one of the house specialties, featuring smoked gouda, bacon, caramelized onions, sour cream, giardiniera, lettuce and arugula.
Nothing on the menu is over $14.95, with most items ranging between $8.95 and $12.95.
During a recent visit, we sampled the veggie pizza and battered asparagus sticks. The pizza was one of the best we’d sampled in ages with its crackery thin crust, loads of "meaty" veggies, generous sprinkling of goat cheese and incredibly rich and flavorful balsamic reduction.
Ugly’s currently serves food during lunch, happy hour / dinner and into the evening, and will eventually offer brunch. There’s also a full bar with about 20 beers on tap.
A DJ spins every Saturday night and the space is already a popular destination for sporting events.
"We have the NFL package," says Bowie.
Bowie grew up in Milwaukee, attended college at Valparaiso University in Indiana, moved to Atlanta for a few years and then returned to Brew City.
"Came back here because I wanted to do cool stuff in Milwaukee," says Bowie. "The people here are so friendly. This city is going to just keep growing and growing. And this is home."
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.