Jeramey Jannene

Pabst Theater Group Opening New Venue, Closing Colectivo Back Room

Pabst will buy Farwell Avenue building once targeted for event venue.

By - May 22nd, 2023 06:00 am
1818 N. Farwell Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

1818 N. Farwell Ave. in March 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Pabst Theater Group (PTG) is moving its intimate East Side concert venue.

The organization announced Monday morning it will shutter its The Back Room venue at Colectivo’s Prospect Avenue cafe by year’s end and build out an entirely new venue in a building it will acquire on N. Farwell Ave.

“We’re extremely appreciative of the long and productive relationship we’ve had with Colectivo Coffee, partnering with them in various capacities for over 20 years,” said PTG CEO Gary Witt in a statement. “The Back Room itself happened as a bit of a happy accident, when we and our friends at Colectivo identified the need to bring more smaller bands into the market and offer them a space that nurtured their growth potential. In the nearly eight years since we’ve opened The Back Room, we’ve discovered how much it’s helped grow the Milwaukee club scene and support similar venues like it.”

PTG books acts in The Back Room, which has a max capacity of 300, that couldn’t fill its larger venues or are deliberately playing small shows. Performers include a mix of local artists, emerging artists and smaller touring acts. Its website lists more than 55 shows scheduled through mid-November.

By 2024, it plans to be hosting shows in its new venue.

The company is buying the single-story commercial building at 1816-1828 N. Farwell Ave. and will occupy the vacant, 4,500-square-foot stall at the south end of the building. The three restaurants in the building, Ethiopian Cottage Restaurant, Domino’s Pizza and Chopstix, will remain and are intended to be able to serve concertgoers directly.

“We’re excited to keep this momentum and vitality going with a space that we can curate to better meet the needs of our audience and community and be part of the tremendous growth that Farwell Avenue is experiencing, including a new hotel,” said Witt.

PTG is working with The Kubala Washatko Architects on the venue’s design and improvements to the exterior of the property. The existing venue, once Colectivo’s roastery, is adorned with string lights and hanging plants. It’s located in a side room off the coffee company’s Prospect cafe, 2211 N. Prospect Ave.

The proposed new concert venue was planned to become an event venue before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. “It is architecturally and aesthetically very compelling,” said New Land Enterprises managing director Tim Gokhman in highlighting the exposed brick walls and steel trusses during a March 5, 2020 tour. New Land’s plans were quickly put on hold as COVID-19 swept the country the next week.

New Land purchased the property in 2016 and used the space for its temporary office as it redeveloped its previous home into the Urbanite apartment tower. It’s since moved into a new office in the 13-story building, located next door, and gutted the temporary space, exposing its potential as a venue.

PTG will now purchase the property and build out a “highly customizable venue” that serves all-age crowds with the “highest standards for hospitality.” It intends to build on what it established with The Back Room, but add “better artist accommodations.”

“The Back Room @ Colectivo offered us the chance to show that we can put on a concert rather than just a gig, an important step towards legitimacy in the music industry for our band. There is something extraordinary about working with venues who have the willingness and eagerness to nurture local talent and treat us with the same importance as national acts on tour,” said the members of local band Scam Likely in a PTG press release.

PTG is expected to apply for a liquor license and may need other zoning approvals.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed. The property is currently assessed for $2.43 million.

PTG, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, also books shows and events at the Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater, Turner Hall, The Fitzgerald and the Miller High Life Theatre. It purchased the Villa Filomena mansion-turned-event-venue last year and recently rebranded it as The Fitzgerald. It has leases to exclusively book shows in the other venues and also books shows in additional Milwaukee venues. PTG is also part of a proposal to develop a concert hall in the proposed Iron District, but those plans were recently significantly downsized to a smaller venue more akin to the Back Room or this newly proposed space on Farwell.

2020 Photos

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