Think “fine dining” in south eastern Wisconsin and the name Bartolotta is more than likely generated as the first association, but what about “beer bar”? With a bar on nearly every block of Milwaukee and a generous helping in the surrounding areas, The Rumpus Room might not be the first thing that jumps out but, it should be. Named after Joe Bartolotta’s father’s bar, The Rumpus Room which opened on October 11th, 2011, set out to feature first and foremost, craft beer. The concept behind The Rumpus Room was to offer quality food both on par with the Bartolotta name and the caliber of beer served, and as they say, “great beer deserves great food.”
Line ‘em up!
Count ‘em; 24 taps, one beer engine; selection aplenty. The draught list runs the gamut of styles and contains one nitro tap, one mead, and Sprecher’s famous root beer as well as keeping it local with (currently) nine great Wisconsin craft beers. Bill Browne, the beer buyer for The Rumpus Room, is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server and all around beer-loving fiend. Passion for beer and The Rumpus Room exudes from Browne as he does everything within his power to bring in specialty imports, new releases, and unheard of beers to the guests “I’m like a kid in a candy store” Browne laughs, stating that The Rumpus Room occasionally takes a profit loss to make exceptional beers available.
A place for play and parties; that is exactly what The Barolottas’ Rumpus Room features for their guests. Upon entering the gastropub a grand bar greets patrons with lush leather stools to relax on while pub tables flank the window wall of Water Street. Dark, rustic reclaimed fence posts are now works of art as are the floorboards throughout the gastropub. With it’s warmth and character, the wood creates a natural backdrop for the masculine leather seating and tables within all while subtle architectural details are tucked in throughout with every glance of the space. Millwork diving walls adorn glass windows to allow the light from Water Street to flow deep within the space. The walls feature crown moldings that showcase the antiqued bronze light fixtures from an 18th Century Cathedral in Chicago. Simple beauty continues as your eye flows up to the ceiling with the tin tiles adding a slight sparkle in the evening hours. The entire space is a perfect blend of new and old European flair that is perfect for the casual craft beer indulgence night out or romantic dinner for two, all designed by Joe Bartolotta himself.
Dress to Unimpress
As stated before, Bartolotta name carries with it a sense of elegance and class, in part due to their exceptional fine dining restaurants but The Rumpus Room is as far from “stuffy” as it gets. After all, beer geeks have never been a group to associate themselves with the stereotype of suit-wearing, uptight wine-snobbery. During their since retired Sunday brunch, the Rumpus Room’s servers dressed in PJ’s and encourage guests to do the same, offering a free Bloody Mary with entree purchase to those in sleepwear. In fact “I wish people would come in wearing a cut-off and jean shorts!” Bergemann laughed. So while the decor remains classy Bergemann insists, “we’re a place where everyone should feel comfortable.” It couldn’t be close to the truth as this couple has no qualms with showing up in t-shirts and jeans.
Expand the Reach
It’s not just the beer geeks taking to The Rumpus Room, in fact, it’s the casual beer drinker. Once again, the Bartolotta name and it’s reputation for exceptional food and service carried with it is what draws people in, not the rare beers they constantly have on tap. “I hope we’re expanding the reach of craft beer in Milwaukee to people who would have otherwise never had it,” Bergemann stated. Browne and Bergemann are committed to serving and expanding beer knowledge and excellence even if The Rumpus Room isn’t the first hot spot to roll off a beer geek’s tongue as they hosts beer dinners with regularity.
Craft Food for Craft Beer
Head chef Matt Kerley is no stranger to craft beer. He hails from Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery in San Francisco where their focus is the same; craft beer and high-quality food. Kerley is a beer geek like the rest of ‘em, giving him a great base of knowledge for creating dishes that naturally pair well with food, though you won’t find suggestions outlined in the menu. When asked about potentially suggesting pairings Bergemann reflected, “we tossed the idea around but in the end it just seemed to scream Applebee’s.” Browne and Bergemann are confident that their combined selection of menu items and available beers will work for any number of pairings, even if they’re not forcefully suggested. And when in doubt, ask; “the majority of the staff would stylistically know what beer to pair with any given dish”, said Bergemann. Milwaukee is a city where you can lob a rock in any direction and hit a world-class burger joint, and this gastropub is no exception. If you crave the irresistible marriage of beef and bun, stop in to The Rumpus Room for a burger you wont soon forget (and the crinkle-cut fries are to die for). They make every attempt at buying locally, going from farm to table as often as possible, especially with their meat.
The Bartolotta Experience
When everyone generally has the same selection of distributors to draw from it can, at times, be difficult to really separate yourself from the pack but, The Rumpus Room has always been able to wow it’s guests. So the über beer geek might not drool over Browne’s beer list with every visit but it’s hard to find a place that treats you more like royalty than The Rumpus Room, cut-off and jean shorts or not. Above all else, the Bartolotta’s have a service focus about creating an experience which makes the reason for their success crystal clear. I dare anyone to visit The Rumpus Room and not want to tip above and beyond.
Even this beer geek could use a break every now and again, so rest assured, The Rumpus Room isn’t just beer focused; they’re, according to beverage director Bergemann, “malt experts”. The list of spirits is jaw-dropping, as they try to keep on hand a bottle of every whiskey, bourbon, scotch (and more) they can find. And if straight hard stuff isn’t your thing, flip the pages to their craft cocktail menu where plenty of enticing concoctions await your eyes. There’s something here for everyone and the prices are affordable, begging the question, “why wait”? Enjoy a night at The Rumpus Room, enjoy some exceptional food and wash it down with a craft beer or three.
Andy and Tricia Guy
The Rumpus Room – A Bartolotta Gastropub • 1030 N Water St • Milwaukee, WI 53202