Is Kimpton Hotel “Project of the Decade”?
Kimpton Journeyman Hotel opens in Third Ward, to cheers of city and civic officials.
After an interval of something like a century or so, hotel living has returned to the Historic Third Ward with the opening of the Kimpton Journeyman, one of 65 boutique hotels in 34 cities run by the San Francisco-based hospitality group.
The hotel was announced in 2013, with a groundbreaking in 2014, gaining considerable coverage, but the project was actually planned some years in advance, said Ron Vlasic, Vice President of Hotel Operations for the firm. Vlasic is based in Chicago, so it was easy for him to scout out Milwaukee for a hotel location.
“It’s a great town — a natural conduit for business and pleasure travellers” from the Chicago area, he said. The 168-room hotel will “make the Third Ward even more a destination than it is.”
Vlasic acknowledged Executive Chef Heather Terhune, who he said is “excited by this phenomenal hotel and partnership with the owners of the hotel.”
Vlasic spoke from an acrylic podium set up on the E. Chicago St. entrance to the hotel to an outdoor audience that included civic and government leaders, hospitality industry folks, and a scrum of television reporters. Behind and above them rose the nine-story hotel, an infill project constructed on a long-vacant site with considerable frontage on N. Broadway, the main street of the Third Ward.
Mayor Tom Barrett took the podium to offer a few words of encouragement. “This building was absolutely meant to be here,” the mayor said. “This city is on a tear — a positive tear of growth,” he added. In recognition of the auspicious occasion, the mayor said, “we’re holding an 11-day party for you just three blocks east of here.”
As he spoke, red-shirted youths headed toward their second long day of work at Summerfest, the “World’s Largest Music Festival,” that special party the mayor — what a kidder — was referring to.
Despite the 10 a.m. hour, the event was celebrated, and the hotel christened, with a keg of beer. This was accomplished in dramatic fashion, when Kevin Wright, the co-founder and brewmaster at the soon-to-open Third Space Brewing Co., did the honors by pounding a tap into the barrel with a large mallet.
In lieu of a ribbon to be cut, the mayor was able to hack his way through a plastic hop vine, furthering the brewing theme. Beers were distributed to the crowd, and a cheer was given to the occasion.
Among those enjoying a toast, if not actually consuming the accompanying beer during working hours on the public payroll, was Ghassan Korban, the Commissioner of Public Works, who stood by Beth Weirick, the head of Downtown Milwaukee.
Nancy O’Keefe, director of the Historic Third Ward Association, showed her sentimental side by snipping off a piece of the ersatz hops to save as a memento for her office. Rocky Marcoux, the Commissioner of City Development, who appears likely to be reconfirmed in that post, was also beaming at the event. Ald. Bob Bauman, in whose district the hotel is located, was not at the event, but his colleagues Jim Bohl and Michael Murphy were.
Once the ceremonies had been attended to, the group was invited inside for a tour of the new facility. The lobby affects a somewhat studied modernist version of shabby chic. The hotel lobby itself, which will be sure to see salty and snowy footprints before long, anticipated that eventuality with a floor surfaced with might be called a stained grey covering.
It rather resembles my formerly white kitchen floor at home, but is not nearly as sticky. A lounge to the east of the Kimpton lobby is filled with places to sit, and was amply stocked with appetizers and beers to which the guests were free to help themselves.
Two large oriental rugs, which looked as if they had been laid upside down, were in fact artfully designed to look old and faded.
To the west of the lobby a lovely new pool table, with felt of black, sat awaiting its first game. That game will have to wait, since although the table is properly equipped with balls, a rack and straight cues, there was no chalk in evidence.
Upon being informed of this shortcoming, Vlasic said, “we will have to get some chalk.” No detail is too small for those in the hospitality business.
The Tre Rivali restaurant in the lobby along the N. Broadway facade is open for breakfasts and dinners, while luncheon service is contemplated for some time in the future. The counter featured to-go items, as well as foodstuffs for consumption on the spot.
Beyond is a bar, then a dining room, with a see-through kitchen and even further beyond, a private dining room with a sliding wall to insure privacy when you celebrate your latest Big Deal. Laid upon the private table were stacks and stacks of linen napkins, still in their wrappings, and never yet used. The configuration of this space is somewhat reminiscent of the Mason Street Grill, although the flooring here owes an apparent debt to Benelux Cafe.
Inside the Journeyman
But the interest on this lovely morning was above this space, in the 9th floor rooftop deck. Who wants to be inside on such a summer day?
There in the sky, the aptly-named Outsider bar fills an indoor-outdoor space complete with a shuffleboard and numerous gas firetables surrounded by seating benches and freshly planted herbs and flowers. The views of the Third Ward and downtown are commanding, and you can see why Robert Joseph built his rooftop aerie kitty corner from this site which you can also see from here.
Chef Terhune was speaking to some visitors about the glory of Wisconsin artisanal cheeses, with particular emphasis on Roth Kase Gruyere Surchoix, which I have been unable to find in the stores since it won the World Cheese Championship earlier this year.
Ald. Murphy mentioned with pride that Wisconsin leads the nation in organic farming. He mentioned a beef producer who keeps an eye on his livestock from insemination shed to slaughterhouse to ensure the highest quality grass-fed beef. Yes the farm-to-table talk was flowing.
Among the folks on the roof was Greg Patin of the Department of City Development. Patin is also a member of the Architectural Review Board which assesses building plans for conformance with the Third Ward’s historic preservation guidelines.
In this case, the board insisted on a building that would fit in with the scale, height, materials, massing, and fenestration of its neighbors, which were largely built as warehouses and commercial structures within a few years of each other toward the end of the 19th century after a great fire devastated the neighborhood.
Of particular interest to the ARB are the subtle details providing depth, rhythm, contrast and other particulars to a building’s facade, which is the only part most people will experience. Patin feels the Kimpton Journeyman is up to the task.
“You talk about a ‘best project of the year,'” Patin said. “This is a ‘best project of the decade.'”
Where is the Marker?
For many years, the only item of note on the site of this property was a historical marker commemorating the Great Fire of 1892. The marker was installed in 1991 and was removed for construction of the hotel. It is soon to be relocated down the block to the building at 159 N. Broadway, according to information from the Historic Third Ward Association.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.