If owners Dustin Bowie and Rob Settecase have anything to say about it, their latest business venture, Ugly’s Pub, will be ... well, anything but ugly.
The duo has been working tirelessly to renovate the space previously occupied by the Asian Food Mart, which closed in 2012. Bowie and Settecase have actually been involved in this project since October 2011, and they’re finally ready to unveil Ugly’s Pub, 1125 N. Old World 3rd St., to the world in the next week or two.
"We plan to be open in early May," Bowie told OnMilwaukee.com. "Things are going extremely well. It’s been a very, very long process, but a big part of that is because we are really, like, ‘pub’ people. We love it and this is kind of our flagship project, and it has to be exceptional. We’re not going to let people come in until we know they’re going to get the experience we want."
The owners hope that that experience will be an updated version of the traditional pub – a classic marriage of old and new. The building dates to 1924 and was home to the Asian Food Mart for 38 years. Bowie and Settecase are employing the talents of 360 Interiors to transform the space, infusing the original vintage feel of the structure with timbers, beams, masonry accents and reclaimed wood, brick and metal.
"We wanted to pay homage to traditional pubs (with the atmosphere)," Bowie said. "The history of pubs in the U.S. is pretty unbelievable. I mean, they’re community centers; the United States Postal Service has roots in taverns, and polling stations, too ... we love that kind of history and we work really hard to update that tradition to 2013, the way we socialize now, the types of environments we feel comfortable in, the way we interact with each other, the drinks we like, the food we eat."
Ugly’s hopes to offer both a unique dining and drinking experience. The menu, designed by executive chef Jordan Short, will focus on the re-imagining of classic fare.
"Expect to see a lot of salads, tacos, burgers, pizzas," said Bowie. "What we wanted to do was take traditional foods and represent them very creatively."
He calls the menu "approachable" both in content and price point.
Short claims that Ugly’s will offer "the best burger in Milwaukee, by far."
"We’ll have eight or nine burgers, but the Ugly’s Burger is just gonna be killer," he said, referring to the menu’s signature dish which features a sour cream patty, smoked cheese, bacon, his secret seasoning and a lettuce giardiniera mix.
"I think just the fact that ... it’s scratch-made, and we really are going to be targeting what everybody really loves: to go out and eat," he said. Short has previously worked in the kitchens of the Whole Foods Market, Eddie Martini’s, Mo’s Irish Pub and Coast.
Bowie and Settecase have also brought master mixologist John Malik on board. If you can believe it, Malik’s bartending career started when he was just 10 years old and manned the bar at his father’s house parties. His career has taken him to Las Vegas, where he’s seen to it that the patrons of famous hotels like the Bellagio are well-lubricated.
Now that Malik is back in his hometown, Bowie says he’s going to show the folks of Milwaukee what the different between a mixologist and a master mixologist is.
"It’s the level of knowledge they have," explained Bowie. "This guy, it’s really interesting to hear him talk to Jordan – they talk back and forth about temperature and flavors and you can see how they’re blending and meshing ideas together. They understand a lot of the same concepts. The same things that go into creating awesome foods go into creating awesome drinks. And on top of the drinks, it’s the way that it’s presented - the entertainment value. It’s extremely rare for a guy like (Malik) to pop up anywhere in the Midwest, and we’re extremely lucky to be able to have him here with us."
Malik says that the Ugly’s Burger will be best paired with his handcrafted cocktail known as "The Wrath of Jordan," made from a unique blend of herbs and liquors.
Ugly’s Facebook page already has over 650 "likes" and Bowie says the buzz for the business is growing.
"It’s weird because we haven’t done a lot of marketing. Everyone just started asking our team questions and we just have the Facebook page," he said. "I’ve been in the industry since 2000 and I’ve never seen – the interest has just been unbelievable.
"This is truly our life’s work ... (we are using) all the knowledge we’ve obtained and our passion for serving people," he said. "We can’t wait for you to come in."
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.