Sophie Bolich

Pufferfish Tiki Bar To Open Permanently at Hotel Metro

Grand opening for rooftop bar is May 5.

By - Apr 25th, 2023 02:25 pm
Site of Pufferfish, 411 E. Mason St. Photo taken July, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Site of Pufferfish, 411 E. Mason St. Photo taken July, 2022 by Sophie Bolich.

Pufferfish, a traveling tiki concept created by cocktail aficionado JC Cunningham, has found a permanent home atop Hotel Metro, in East Town.

The tiki bar got its start amid the COVID-19 pandemic, operating as a pop-up at Lost Whale as a way to keep the bar afloat and support staff on the payroll.

After 18 months — including enduring a full Wisconsin winter — Pufferfish left its outdoor patio space and embarked on a series of pop-ups throughout the city, the last of which took place in June 2022 at Hotel Metro, 411 E. Mason St.

More than 400 guests descended upon the bar during its initial appearance at the hotel, forming a line that extended out the door and down two flights of stairs for five hours straight.

The overwhelming enthusiasm from both patrons and hotel staff were the deciding factors for Cunningham, he said.

“We knew immediately that we had found our home.”

The one-day pop-up turned into a summer residency, which has now evolved into a permanent partnership with the hotel.

At its May 5 grand opening, the tiki bar will unveil its newly-renovated rooftop space, along with a lineup of classic tropical cocktails and a concise food menu created in partnership with chef Aaron Miles.

Renovations to the bar began in late December. Designed by Three Sixty Milwaukee, the rooftop space provides a laid-back, beachy counterpart to the art moderne-style hotel.

“It’s a throwback to a time forgotten, where the drinks flow easy and time stops,” said Ian Starkey, general manager of Pufferfish.

The finished bar features two indoor spaces which will run year-round, as well as two outdoor decks that overlook the city and run seasonally. A private room, called The Fish Tank, can be reserved for private events.

Pufferfish will also host a monthly class, Flight School, for those who are interested in the intricacies of cocktail making to learn more about spirits and mixology.

Cunningham himself is well-versed in the art, especially when it comes to tiki drinks; his world travels and patronage at tiki bars all over the world have made him an authority.

The menu at Pufferfish will feature a variety of cocktails that riff on classic tiki drinks, incorporating fresh flavor profiles and local ingredients, and toning down the cloying sweetness of the fruit-forward drinks.

Guests who are familiar with the bar can expect to see old favorites including the Frozen Pain Killer, which features Plantation O.F.T.D. dark rum, Bounty Dark rum, pineapple, tangerine, cream of coconut and a dash of nutmeg.

“The Bar was birthed out of necessity in a real wild time as an excuse to get our whole staff rehired,” Cunningham said. “I’m thankful and grateful for everyone who has supported us over the years, and can’t wait to show them what this thing can look like as a fully functioning bar.”

Starting May 5, Pufferfish will be open Wednesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight and Friday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.


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