Through its ardent support of independent local radio stations and by way of my scant exposure to its sister restaurant (Bay View’s LuLu Café), I’ve been aware of Wauwatosa bar and restaurant Juniper 61 (6030 W. North Ave.) almost as long as the nearly-five-year-old establishment has stood at the corner of 61st and North. However, I rarely visit Milwaukee’s northwest neighborhood, making an unpremeditated drop-in impossible until recently. But one too many “… brought to you by Juniper 61”s on the radio, combined with an especially idle Wednesday afternoon found me trudging to the heart of ‘Tosa to get a long-overdue firsthand account of this well-known eatery and watering hole.
After I passed customers taking advantage of a gorgeous May day on the restaurant’s front patio, I passed through a stained glass door which immediately gives way to Juniper 61’s bar on the right side, and its dining room to the left. Choosing my own adventure, I sauntered right and plopped down on a bar stool, the section’s lone lunch hour occupant.
A server, tending to a soda refill upon our entrance, quickly welcomed me. He presented me with both a food menu and drink list and informed me a bartender would return in moments. As promised, the bartender quickly came back from serving a patron out front and busied himself as I agonized over my first drink selection.
I finally decided to see how Juniper 61 handled a Wisconsin staple, an Old Fashioned. A “classic” version ($7) of the muddled whiskey-or-brandy mainstay is available, but I chose to drop an additional 50 cents for a whiskey old fashioned accented with wild cherry bark, cocoa and Madagascar vanilla-flavored bitters. Three other flavor options are offered, bitters in flavors like allspice, ginger, black pepper, hibiscus, caramelized orange, coriander, grapefruit and “island spices,” among others.
My particular version was a delightfully strong, hand-muddled chest-burner that was chased with the sweet undertones of the cherry, cocoa and vanilla. It was an identifiable supper club-caliber old fashioned, but the bitters help take the tasty concoction to the next level.
If I weren’t driving, I would’ve liked to try the other three bitters varieties on for size. If old fashioneds aren’t your bag, you’re living in the wrong region. But, luckily for you, Juniper 61 can accommodate your Sconnie sacrilege with a host of other specialty cocktails, mojitos, elaborate in-house martinis, a staggering 29 types of vodka, and extensive wine options – including its popular sangria.
Instead of more liquor, I munched on some of the restaurant’s famed in-house chips with bleu cheese dip and listened to the bar’s unique iPod playlist—not often do you hear Bjork at a bar at 1 p.m.— while my eyes darted down the beer list. Not finding much of anything out of the ordinary along the quintet of draught options (Bell’s Two Hearted, Guinness and Lakefront Wheat Monkey the most appealing among them), I scanned their 30 bottled/canned beer and cider choices. Of them, the prices are fair, especially for a place whose food selection and swanky décor implies refinement. A PBR or Point sets you back a mere $3, while popular imports Delirium Tremens and Hacker Pschorr run $7 and $6, respectively.
Befitting my location, I opted for a bottle of Rogue Juniper Ale ($4), a microbrew no doubt stocked because of its name, and among the minority of beers in 61’s coolers I’d never had before. It’s hard to register a complaint with a five-time World Beer Championship-winning pale ale, so I sipped the Oregon brew and talked Brewers and playlist oddities with the bartender.
Before I left, I took note of a particularly delicious looking sandwich being hoisted out from the kitchen. Next time I’ll eat more than chips. And it won’t take four-plus years and hundreds of radio plugs to get me out to Wauwatosa again.
Old Fashioned image by Tyler Maas; patio image courtesy of Juniper 61.