The Explorium Brewpub is opening a new location, and this time, it’s about as far from a suburban mall as you can get.
The 3-year-old brewery and restaurant that was perhaps best known for its Southridge Mall location – until it became clear it was making some pretty great beer – is targeting an early July opening in the historic Pritzlaff Building on the west edge of the Third Ward.
The Explorium space – owner Mike Doble signed the lease on Wednesday – faces St. Paul Avenue, just steps from a streetcar stop and two blocks across the Milwaukee River from the Milwaukee Public Market.
The 4,800 square feet of customer space are bright and airy, with large windows, soaring ceilings and massive columns cut from the heartwood of old-growth Michigan pines more than a century ago. The space has been vacant for years, but Doble said building owner Kendall Bruenig has been preparing it for a service industry use, including cleaning it up, preparing a kitchen space and updating bathrooms with high-end finishes including vanities made of timbers salvaged from other parts of the building.
On Tuesday morning it was easy to see the shape of a brewpub, thanks in part to a jumble of salvaged booths, tables and chairs around the edge of the soon-to-be dining room. “I came down here the first time I looked at it and I told Ken, ‘I can’t see a downside to this space,’” Doble says.
Today’s Pritzlaff Building is actually a series of buildings built from 1875 to 1922, part of a sprawling complex of what became the largest hardware wholesaler in the region. It’s currently home to multiple event spaces, the Ward 4 co-working space, Miss Ruby bridal shop and apartments.
The Pritzlaff’s historic urbanity seems less at odds with the original Explorium’s mall spot as Doble explains the three critical amenities he was looking for in both locations: Parking, ample patio space and foot traffic.
The former is delivered by a few street parking spots in front of his storefront at 143 W. St. Paul Ave. and more around the corner on Plankinton Avenue. The Historic Third Ward Association owns a parking lot under a freeway bridge across St. Paul Avenue, and Doble says that will also become available for Explorium patrons.
The brewpub will have an outdoor patio in a breezeway-type passage between two buildings that served as a rail spur during the Pritzlaff warehouse years. The space is already replete with ambiance courtesy the adjacent upscale event space. There’ll also be another fully outdoor patio space with firepits and the like; a full bar will serve both spaces.
And while pedestrian activity on the west side of the river is not as robust as the main portion of the Third Ward, Doble notes that the Hop stops just steps from his front door and there is ample foot traffic between the Intermodal Station (a block-plus west) and the rest of the Ward, especially during Summerfest. A riverfront connection north to the rest of Downtown, including the new Cambria hotel, is coming this summer, too, Doble says.
With the intermittent nature of the existing businesses in the Pritzlaff Building, it’s also easy to see The Exporium here as the first true destination to regularly attract people and carry the bustle of the rest of the Third Ward across the river. “I think it’ll be a great addition to the downtown fabric and community that’s building down here,” Doble says. “This feels like it’ll be enough to be a magnet to really complete the (Third Ward) boundary.”
Inside, the new brewery will be nearly a carbon copy of the Southridge setup, with a 10-barrel system and fermenters in a corner adjacent to the dining space. The new location will have its own head brewer – Doble has that person and a general manager identified but not yet hired – with Kyle Ciske continuing to lead the brewing at Southridge. “I’m excited to have two brewers,” Doble says. “That’s two guys with creative ideas, two guys collaborating.”
He envisions mainstays like Captain Kidd IPA, Cream City Crusher cream ale and Crocus Polish-style lager being brewed at both locations but one-offs brewed at either location being shared with the other.
The buildout schedule could be seen as ambitious considering there’s no brewing equipment in the Pritzlaff Building yet, but the brewery doesn’t need to be ready for the new Explorium to open. Doble says production at Southridge will ramp up to fill the taps at the new location until that brewery is ready to make its own beer.
The Explorium produced about 1,000 barrels of beer last year, and Doble expects to do about 1,200 at Southridge this year with a few extra tanks coming online next month.
Soon after Doble opened the Explorium in early 2017, he began scouting for a second location. He wasn’t focusing Downtown – or anywhere else, really. He was looking at any viable location outside of a 5-mile radius from Southridge – Brookfield, Mequon, Downtown Milwaukee, Oak Creek. He says he designed layouts for close to a dozen different locations, and was the closest to closing a deal for a spot in west Wauwatosa but couldn’t make the parking work with the city.
He’d like to do a third Explorium at some point, but for now he’s focused on the ample work ahead to get the Pritzlaff location open. “I’m super stoked about this,” Doble says. “I couldn’t think of a better spot to put No. 2.”
Mike Doble and Jim McCabe, then president of Milwaukee Brewing Co., sat down in fall 2018 for a chat about the beer industry in our last Conversations issue. Read the full version here.