Draft & Vessel Owner Plans Cafe at Vel R. Phillips Plaza

Entrepreneur Nat Davauer has big plans for key downtown space.

By - May 1st, 2024 01:16 pm
Vel R. Phillips Plaza. Rendering by TKWA.

Vel R. Phillips Plaza. Rendering by TKWA.

The City of Milwaukee has found a new vendor to operate in the soon-to-open Vel R. Phillips Plaza.

Nathaniel Davauer, owner of Draft & Vessel, will open a cafe in the building on the western edge of the plaza. Davauer told Urban Milwaukee his conceptual plans could include bringing back Soup Bros., which closed in 2022.

“The concept is to bring Draft & Vessel, but with the kitchen, some food,” said Davauer in an interview. “It could be a lot of things: coffee, beer, burgers, pretzels, soup, ice cream are all possibilities.”

The 30,000-square-foot, $17 million plaza will fill the south side of W. Wisconsin Avenue between N. Vel R. Phillips Avenue and N. 5th Street. Directly across from the Baird Center, the plaza will include an art piece honoring late civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips and a 2,900-square-foot building.

Davauer’s proposal comes after restaurant and bar owner Mike Eitel canceled his plans in February. following public opposition and the revelation that he had unpaid property taxes. Eitel’s plans had been lauded by Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Department of City Development officials. Under the proposal from Eitel’s Caravan Hospitality Group, an early morning coffee bar was to transition to a place to grab a lunch and ultimately a fun place for a happy hour.

The latest proposal is subject to approval from the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee and the Common Council. Its first public review is expected to occur on May 16.

Draft & Vessel started as a tavern in Shorewood and expanded to include a Wauwatosa bar and an outdoor location at the Milwaukee Public Market. Davauer is also preparing to open a beer garden, known as Giving Tree Garage, in Walker’s Point. In February he revealed plans to open a new tavern near the beer garden in a vacant building at 723 S. 2nd St. Giving Tree is expected to open in June and the 2nd Street bar would follow shortly thereafter.

The formal plan for the plaza cafe is still being developed.

“We want to go a little beyond our typical operations, which is a pretty specific beer bar. Now, we’re going to do our beer thing, but I’m currently working with Crave Cafe and I will be hopefully bringing back, in the winter, Soup Bros,” said Davauer.

The entrepreneur said the location would benefit not only from the expanded convention center, but the new corporate office tenants nearby, including Milwaukee Tool and Fiserv, and adjoining hotels like the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

The plaza is expected to open this summer, but the new cafe would follow at a later date. Davauer said he hopes to open a pop-up location during the Republican National Convention in July.

The city funded the plaza project through a variety of tax incremental financing contributions. A final selection for the Vel Phillips art piece has yet to be announced. Additional features include public restrooms, a manicured garden, flexible space for farmers markets and other events, an informational kiosk and a station on Milwaukee County’s Connect bus-rapid-transit line.

The city initially issued a request for proposals for an operator but did not receive any bids. Eitel was attracted to the site after talking with building architect Chris Socha of The Kubala Washatko Architects. Davauer, on Wednesday, also credited Socha with supporting his vision.

As part of the plaza financing plan, any prospective tenant was to be eligible for a $750,000 grant to renovate the interior of the building. The lease Eitel negotiated was for a base payment of $5,000 per month for three months, with an additional payment owed if 6% of the sales exceeded the base amount. Terms of Davaour’s lease have not yet been disclosed.

The plaza is being built atop a city-owned parking lot, 401-441 W. Wisconsin Ave. The remaining 55,000 square feet of space, large enough to accommodate most of the new buildings constructed in Downtown in recent years, is being marketed for redevelopment. Space would be reserved through the plaza for a future streetcar line north from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station to Fiserv Forum and Bronzeville. The plaza was first proposed in 2019 as part of a much larger proposal to extend the streetcar, but the council did not advance that proposal.

A partnership of The Kubala Washatko ArchitectsHNTB and landscape architecture firm Saiki Design is designing the plaza. Selzer-Ornst Construction Company is listed as the project general contractor on a building permit. Walbec Group is partnering with the company on the project.

Vel R. Phillips Plaza Renderings

April Construction Photo


Construction of Vel R. Phillips Plaza on April 30. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Construction of Vel R. Phillips Plaza on April 30. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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2 thoughts on “Draft & Vessel Owner Plans Cafe at Vel R. Phillips Plaza”

  1. lobk says:

    So glad to hear this news and that it involves Nathaniel Davauer, a solid entrepreneur and successful hospitality business person. While it’s too bad the attractive location won’t be ready for the big convention, it is exciting to imagine what will be. Yes, to the pop-up and maybe food truck location in time for the RNC. The city must expedite approval.

    If nothing came about with a new replacement proposal soon, I was about to suggest a partnership between the successful Milwaukee County Parks Beer Gardens and the city plaza. That would definitely be a win-win.

    But I do miss Soup Bros! In addition to honoring a great woman, Vel Phillips Plaza will be an excellent addition to the revitalized downtown area.

  2. Joseph Wiesner says:

    Great news. Have visited both D&V locations and both are winners.

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