The Tonic’s Musical Ambience
Run by a longtime musician with the 5 Card Studs, The Tonic is always in-tune.
There’s the guts from inside a piano displayed on the wall, a microphone-shaped bar and specialty drinks named after local bands, all providing a musical theme for The Tonic Tavern (2335 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue).
“It makes more sense when you’re a musician,” says owner and Bay View resident Paul Jonas. He named the bar Tonic, not for the drink, but after the musical term tonic which means the central tone of a key.
Jonas admits the concept is a bit abstract and may be missed by some patrons. However, those who visit often or play music will get the reference and see the influence within the space.
As a musician and member of the 5 Card Studs since the mid-1990s, Jonas plays about 100 times a year. His passion for music was what encouraged him to open up a bar. “I was creating a day job for myself so I could play music at night,” Jonas notes. He found the current location in October 2008 but didn’t officially open the doors until June 2009.
The T-shaped space that became the The Tonic was previously used for storage, and before that was a shop owned by sign painter Ray Koenig which opened after World War II. As far back as the late 1800’s, it was a carriage barn for a doctor that lived next door.
In January 2009, Jonas began a six-month renovation to create various different seating arrangements made up of several cozy little nooks and crannies for people to congregate. “There are lots of little places where groups can come in and have their space but still be involved in the whole social scene,” says Jonas.
Jonas has been in the bar business as a manager and bartender since 1991, has acquired several college degrees and more recently added roughly seven years experience cabinet making and remodeling homes—all skills transferable to Tonic.
The space he chose to renovate was more or less an empty shell. The previous owner had a toilet and a sink and that was pretty much it, says Jonas.
He had contractors sandblast walls, install plumbing and put in electrical wiring. He designed and made the tables and cabinets behind the bar. His friend and “wood guy”, Bill Backes from Backes Fine Carpentry, LLC helped him build the bar top and some of the tables using the 100-year-old pine wood beams from the ceiling (once part of the hayloft). Backes also framed all the doors, put up the fences and pergola on the patio and constructed the stage.
Stephanie Quinn from Modern Edge Design, LLC did the rest of the decorating and painting and her use of color and design later won her the “Mayor’s Design Award” in 2010 for “Design That Grabs You.”
This year, however, Jonas did an interior makeover in time for the bar’s 4th anniversary on August 11. Working with Quinn and others, Jonas modernized the fireplace with wood panels and repainted the lounge, going from a bright, retro orange to a sleek gray, re-stained the wood on the patio with a darker hue and updated the patio furniture.
This space will forever be transforming with the times, Jonas says, just as the art on the walls changes month to month. Jeff Redmon, Tonic’s exhibition curator for the last two years, is responsible for maintaining the monthly displays in the fireplace lounge (aka the three season room). In addition to the room’s art, Redmon does some graphic design work as well as social media marketing for Tonic through his company Snowfall Creative Group.
To display work in Tonic, artists may either be invited or are chosen after making a proposal says Redmon. Some of the most recent artists’ exhibits were from Daniel Fleming, John Kowalczyk, Todd Peiper and Sara Bott.
“I like the art to add to the overall Tonic vibe,” says Redmon, who is also a regular patron. The idea is to display visually pleasing work that also fits the tavern’s ambience.
Currently on display are playful images by Milrawkee Alt—a collaboration between Amanda Iglinski (painter) and Ryan Laessig (photographer)—portraying common Milwaukee scenes with creatures like Godzilla or King Kong.
The anniversary party, Jonas says, “will feature drink specials and all the swag that goes with it.” Going from open to close, there will be a pig roast and live music. The 5 Card Studs, along with other featured performers, will be on stage.
Jonas wants to celebrate the past four years in a classier way because Tonic is not a corner bar but “more of a downtown place not downtown.” With a little bit of Bay View cool as well.