Krause uncorks new Art Bar in Riverwest
Don Krause finally has a plan for his garbage bag-sized collection of wine corks. After years of saving them -- even writing on each one where the bottle was consumed and by whom -- he will use them to decorate the chair rail of the oval-shaped bar inside his new Riverwest lounge, The Art Bar (722 E. Burleigh St.).
The wine corks are only one of numerous collections in the soon-to-open drinkery. Vintage soda bottle caps cover pillars, a wall is plastered with paint-by-number paintings ranging in composition from horses to Jesus, and another wall is decorated with 600 Barbie dolls.
"I enjoy creating absurd visual content," says Krause, who has spent the last eight years working as an award-winning interior designer for Ethan Allen and knows there's a fine line between what he calls "kitsch and crap."
"It definitely won't look like an Applebee's or a Friday's, where every inch of the walls are covered in crap," says Krause. "Sometimes it's better to have 100 of one thing rather than a million."
The Art Bar will open this March in the split-level, 2,000-sq.-ft. space that has a reputation of housing unsuccessful ventures, including Lava Java, Sage and most recently, the suspiciously coffee-scarce Sweet Black Coffee. But Krause is confident The Art Bar will succeed despite the perceived jinx on the location.
"There seems to be a plague in the building," jokes Krause, who purchased the property two Januarys ago after coveting it for years. "I don't think they (the business owners of the previous businesses) went into it with enough energy or resources.
"I want to help revitalize this part of Riverwest," says the 43-year-old Milwaukee native. "There are too many boarded-up storefronts around here. I think I could make a difference ... This is my way of giving back."
Aside from a vibrant-yet-relaxing environment, the Art Bar will feature live music, a game room with a pool table and dartboard and eventually, a café that serves both coffee and food. But for now, Krause is focusing on composing his drink menu.
"I'm not looking to reinvent the cocktail," he says. "A martini is a martini. It's more about what kind of people the bar attracts ... $10 glasses of wine are not what this neighborhood wants."
Krause hopes his place will attract an eclectic crowd, roughly between the ages of 28 and 48. He describes his future patrons as, "young or young at heart," and hopes to create an atmosphere that's, among other things, cozy, playful, soothing, recycled, jazzy, hip, romantic, offbeat, organic and absurd.
As for the smoking issue, Krause is still on the fence. Although he doesn't smoke -- and says cigarettes were responsible for his father's death -- most of his friends smoke and he "knows people enjoy smoking while drinking."
In attempt to appeal to both camps, Krause threw down $20,000 into an air and heating system. "I'll see what the air exchange rate is like and decide from there," he says, leaning toward allowing patrons to puff. "I find environments without smoking to be a little sterile, and I know people like to layer their buzzes.
"I don't know if Milwaukee is ready for non-smoking bars, even though I know it's happening in California and New York. But you're never going to appease both sides."
Although Krause plans to feature live music on some nights he doesn't want the music to compromise conversation. He will also feature a regularly changing gallery of work by local artists.
"I'm really looking for the starving artists," he says. "Someone who hasn't had a lot of exposure and who hasn't completely found their niche. I like that crudeness in art ... That rawness is important."
Many people have questioned Krause's decision to leave a lucrative, creative job for the crazy, unknown world of business owning, but he's certain that he's made the right choice.
"9/11 was a wake-up call for me ... It's given me this 'I could die today' kind of feeling," says Krause. "It's so energizing to try something you've never done before. I can't wait to turn it on and see what it can do."
The Art Bar will be open Sunday-Thursday from 4 p.m. until midnight and Friday and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
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