Sophie Bolich

Inside The Harbor District’s Newest Restaurant

Bridgewater Modern Grill, site of 'longest riverfront patio,' opens Tuesday.

By - Oct 20th, 2022 08:21 am
Bridgewater Modern Grill, 2011 S. 1st St. Photo taken Oct. 19, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Bridgewater Modern Grill, 2011 S. 1st St. Photo taken Oct. 19, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Bridgewater Modern Grill is just days away from welcoming its first guests. The riverfront restaurant is awash in a flurry of activity as staff implement finishing touches throughout the dining room, bar and outdoor patio in preparation for the Tuesday, Oct. 25 grand opening.

The 11,000-square-foot restaurant, 2011 S. 1st St., seats up to 400 diners at once — key for keeping up with an influx of reservations for opening week. The restaurant received nearly 300 reservations within 24 hours of launching the online booking system according to Rik Acken, general manager.

The 6,000-square-foot main dining room seats 165, including a 30-person private dining room and booths with a view of the restaurant’s open kitchen.

“We really wanted to have the design feel like a very coastal, very California-casual,” said Chris Adams, executive vice president of the Marcus family-owned Benson’s Restaurant Group, during a tour of the space. “And I think the designers that we use with RINKA really portrayed a lot of that.”

The spacious dining area features a mix of hardwood and tile flooring, with green accents, plants and an abundance of natural light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.

Local photographer John Grant provided a triptych of the Hoan Bridge, which hangs on the southern wall of the dining room, infusing the space with a pop of color and a touch of Milwaukee pride.

The outdoor, 80-seat patio is visible from indoors and stretches 245 feet along the riverwalk. Even as colder temperatures descend on the city, the three-season heated patio will allow guests to dine al fresco for at least another month after its opening. Plus, each reservation during the opening week includes a complimentary Bridgewater lap blanket, while supplies last.

An area overlooking the new riverwalk segment includes 1,300 square feet of turf-covered ground and can hold up to 100 people for outdoor activities and private events including lawn games, DJs and more.

The restaurant has several TVs above the bar and on the outdoor patio, as well as an AV system in the private dining area and on the lawn, which will be useful for game days, movie nights, wedding anniversary slideshows and everything in between, Adams explained.

Bridgewater’s menu centers on the restaurant’s custom, oak-fed Jade Grill and incorporates locally-sourced ingredients from more than a dozen local purveyors. The chefs at Bridgewater, led by Executive Chef Steve Gustafson and Benson’s Corporate Executive Chef Alex Sazamawill emphasize wood-fired flavor in each of their dishes, including fork-and-knife ribs, fresh fish and steaks, chicken rotisserie and hearty salads.

The restaurant’s alcohol program is equally vibrant, and includes wine, craft cocktails, beer and an exclusive collection of hard-to-find bourbons. Acken said the wine list is progressive, offering between 40 and 50 choices in an approachable format. “If you’re not a big wine drinker, you can kind of see where you fit in and what your tastes are,” he said.

Each of the wine bottles, which are exhibited in a temperature-controlled display case, are sourced from estate and family-owned brands.

“There will be a couple in there that people will come in and will have never heard of them before, which is what we want — to kind of open people’s eyes to some different wines,” Acken said. “We’ve got some really great wines with some amazing stories behind them, so we’ll be able to tell those stories,” he added.

The fully-stocked bar features several bottles sporting familiar, Great Lakes Distillery labels. A cocktail list includes a gin spritz and espresso martini, among other hand-crafted drinks. The bar’s crown jewel, according to Acken, is a collection of rare bourbons, which the group has worked for nearly two years to assemble, he said.

The restaurant will also offer a wide variety of beer styles to appease every palate.

Adams said he hopes the restaurant will be a welcoming space for all, whether for special occasions, private events or a casual lunch. Although it has an upscale feel, he said Bridgewater strives to offer an affordable menu, so a visit won’t break the bank.

“We wanted to be approachable for everyone, every day,” Adams said.

The grand opening week will see the patio transform into a “fall fest,” featuring lawn games and live music. A professionally-carved pumpkin display in the shape of an anchor will be the centerpiece of the outdoor space.

The restaurant will also partner with local nonprofits during opening week. Bay View Community Center‘s food pantry will receive 10% of proceeds from opening day, Oct. 25. The following day, Oct. 26, the restaurant will donate 10% of proceeds to United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).

Bridgewater offers valet parking in an enclosed, heated parking structure.

Following the grand opening, guests can expect to see additional changes and updates throughout the coming months. The private dining room, which is not at all private at the moment, will soon receive a dividing wall that closes off the room. The indoor-outdoor bar will eventually be outfitted with a retractable window and marble countertops. After the winter, 10 boat slips will be installed adjacent to the patio and offer direct service.

Bridgewater is located at the ground level of the new Tribute Apartments building in the River One development along the Kinnickinnic River. The restaurant has been in the works since January and is part of a $100 million redevelopment project led by Michels Corp. in the northwest corner of the Bay View neighborhood. The project has seen the rise of an eight-story office building and the five-story, 95-unit Tribute Apartments. Retail stores, an additional office building and a hotel are also planned for the six-acre site.

Bridgewater will be open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

To book a reservation for Give Back Night or grand opening festivities, or to apply for a position, visit the Bridgewater Modern Grill website.

Other Benson restaurants include AJ Bombers, Blue Bat Kitchen, Smoke Shack and Onesto.

October Photos

August Photos

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.

Categories: Food & Drink

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us