Finks Tavern Adds Patio
Backyard patio is not high style, but "high-sensory, high design."
A bleak parking lot is being transformed into a 700-square-foot outdoor patio with a capacity of 40 people at Finks, 1875 N. Humboldt Ave. An additional 800 square feet of the 2,950-square-foot property will be used for ramps, stairs, and a trash enclosure, leaving about 500 square feet for a landscape buffer to the south of the 1,100 square foot tavern located at the busy intersection just south of the Humboldt Bridge, and at the very northern end of N. Water St., where it transforms into E. Kane Pl.
The work began earlier in the month when the site was roughly graded, and forms were set to encase a simple pole structure in concrete. A deck will be laid, and the patio will be equipped with six four-top tables, eight sidewalk tables and five lounge chairs casually arranged around a gas fire pit.
The work is being done according to plans drawn in July, 2016 by Matt Rinka, who founded Rinka Chung Architecture in 2006. The firm is best known for The Moderne and the upcoming Milwaukee Bucks Live Block on the west side, and Rinka will be quite busy over the next few months as the 44-story Couture and Lakefront Gateway Plaza begin construction.
But the firm has not overlooked its Milwaukee roots, and has been involved in small but significant commissions in the food and beverage industry. The firm has designed two Pizza Man restaurants, Benelux Cafe, and work at the Nomad World Pub, the Pub Club and Good City Brewery, where a rooftop expansion, similar to that of Benelux, is now underway.
The thing these diverse projects have in common — it certainly is not scale, or budget — is “placemaking.” According to the firm’s website:
Whether a small office renovation, a 65 acre master plan, or a prominent high-rise, placemaking is always at the heart of our design.
No work is proposed for the existing tavern, which lies across from Bel Air Cantina, which, like Finks is operated by a group including Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro. The duo has used Rinka Chung for its expansions in Oak Creek, Brookfield and Madison.
The partners bought the pre-1894 Finks building in September 2014 for $250,000. The copper-clad frame structure, where the facade is only now patinating, had been renovated in 2001 by Scott Genke for a previous owner. After a period when the building was vacant, the partners opened Finks, in part as a waiting room for the busy Bel Air across the street.
Regrettably, the architect’s renderings do not show a new location for Fixit, but the remainder of the project is quite enticing, including the string lights that will define the steel frame, which mimics the scale and proportions of the humble tavern building.
It will further enliven the street with its seating component, and the structure will help fill out the block’s appearance. For years a crumbling concrete block wall was the defining feature of the landscape.
In a 1970s inspection, the assessor called this building “the worst” in the entire Brady Street neighborhood, when that area was in decline, if not decay. In fact there were those who marveled in 2001 when the structure was remodeled rather than razed.
The Architect’s Take
In an interview at his downtown office Tuesday, Rinka, with associate Adam Gerhard said Montemurro and Johnson had called him about Finks’ disused back yard a little over a year ago. His solution was to create what he called a “ghosted form of the original building” as an extension of Finks. The original structure was “so simple” that it would have not been a good idea to dress up the back with an elaborate structure. Instead, the addition “blurs the lines between exterior and interior.”
He also took advantage of the limited outdoor space in the neighborhood, feeling that even a seasonal draw would produce enough revenue to be profitable.
Rinka says the Milwaukee area is fortunate to have a number of hospitality industry operators with good taste and a willingness to invest in quality improvements. He cited Hospitality Democracy (Onesto, Smoke Shack, Water Buffalo), Pizza Man, The Lowlands Group, MKE Brewing Company and the current clients as being particularly well-versed in design.
“For one thing, these are all highly educated people,” Rinka said. “These groups understand that good architecture sets them apart from other restaurants. It’s not “High Style,” it’s high-sensory, high design … interactive.”