The Hotel Foster celebrates one year with a new bar
I love the tasty Sazerac cocktail at The Hotel Foster on Milwaukee’s East Side, but it’s the mix of Parisian and classic Americana decor that always keeps me coming back.
Owners Doug Williams (spirits and cocktail program), Mike “Bear” Kempka (beer program) and John Revord (event coordination, booking, and social media) dug through antique shops and stores across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois to curate the elegant, sensually lit bar on E. North Avenue. Formerly The Globe in the 1980s and more recently as Live, the venue known as The Hotel Foster has made significant changes to the space and its transformation is cause for celebration.
This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the bar’s opening so, naturally, there will be a Birthday Party. DJs Why B and Asher Diamonds will be spinning records, Weekend Natives will provide the photo booth fun and expect a fabulous drink special or two.
I spoke with Doug Williams about year one of running their own bar during a visit to the owners’ new space, Boone & Crockett, which is set to open in mid-May in the Bay View area.
“[Hotel Foster] is our livelihood and our contribution, so we want it to be the best experience we can provide,” Williams says.
During the first six months at the bar, they were still working on timing and organizational items.
“We were adapting the cocktail portion of the bar to the amount of volume we were really doing, so we had to catch up to that expectation,” Williams says.
Once they got their drink slinging in order, they were able to fine tune and focus on the cocktails.
“I do the broad strokes of the menu,” Williams says, “I’ll choose 12-16 that I think are appropriate to use and then all three of us will sit down and try them.”
Since their second menu, they’ve been holding employee competitions for cocktail creations. The winner gets their drink on the menu and the last lucky champ got $250 to boot. A few favorites of the past and present include the Sazerac, Gin Bramble, Violet Bounce and William’s own creation, Fall Punch (port wine, pear liquer, apple juice/pear cider).
The cocktails take careful craftsmanship and that same care was put into building out and designing the space. The bar top, for example, was made from salvaged bowling alley lanes. The areas of the bar with the dots on them were from Landmark when they re-did their lanes.
“I was up on the bar with a floor sander for two days trying to get it level,” Williams laughs.
Williams also gives props to his former MIAD studio-mate, Joe Wagner, for customizing and designing most of the church-like pieces behind the bar.
“Without everything he did, I don’t think the bar would be the same,” Williams says.
The most prized possession in The Hotel Foster, however, would have to be the buffalo head. “We’ve been looking for it for eight months and found it in some random strip mall between Eau Claire and Appleton,” Williams says.
Happy Birthday, Hotel Foster, here’s a buffalo head.
After all the hard work put into creating a successful new hotspot on the East Side, this trio is just getting started. They hope to open Boone & Crockett in Bay View by mid-May.
“I think it will have a similar feel as Hotel Foster,” Williams says, “It’ll just look a bit different.”
The space is considerably smaller but features a large outdoor patio in the back. They’re hoping to have a few cooking events outside including pig roasts and other “whole animal” cookouts.
Additional events will include acoustic performances and possibly some general education about spirits and cocktails—a class with guaranteed high attendance.
Head over to The Hotel Foster (2028 E. North Avenue) Saturday night and try to top the best Birthday gift of all: “Doug” the Buffalo Head. And keep your eye out for Boone & Crockett (2151 S. Kinnickinic) in May. We have more photos from the new space being renovated below.