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Milwaukee's Rumpus Room rolls out the barrel: an operator offers innovative brews with rowdy style.

Craft beer, an inspiring selection of brown spirits, barrel-aged cocktails and a blast of punk style make Milwaukee's Rumpus Room a destination for downtown dining and drinks. Launched in less than six months in the prime Water Street location that was formerly occupied by Eagan's, the Rumpus Room represents the Bartolotta's Restaurants group's first foray into craft beer.

Walk into the Rumpus Room and you'll find a long bar to the left, with counter-to-ceiling wood shelves filled with softly back-lit brown spirits, and to the right, a charming charcuterie bar, with six bar stools and sofa seating and cozy chairs tucked in a 350-sq.ft. alcove. Dark wood flooring made from refurbished pasture fencing, deep purple walls, Victorian chandeliers and sconces taken from a 19th century church add to the ambiance. The decor incorporates both modern and refurbished fixtures. For example, the 24 fonts for draft beer do not feature brewery-supplied branded handles; instead antique kitchen utensils have been pressed into service, giving the back bar a vintage vibe.

The 750-square foot bar includes 10 high-top tables and 26 seats at the bar. The full dining menu is available at the bar, as well as charcuterie and specialty cheeses, hand cut to order. The 1,600 square-foot dining room offers an additional 25 tables and booths with seating for 86 guests.

A LOOK AT THE HEART OF THE BAR

Despite its multitude of offerings, the heart of the Rumpus Room is the bar and its extensive library of spirits and custom, barrel-aged cocktail program. President and owner Joe Bartolotta says, "We began with a barrel aged "Blonde Manhattan," a blend of Death's Door White Whiskey, vermouth and Bittercube Lemon Tree bitters, aged for 10 weeks in charred American oak casks. "Recently we acquired rye casks from Tuthilltown Distillery to age our own maple syrup to serve at brunch." Rumpus Room is currently aging two barrel aged cocktails, priced at $10 for three-ounce pours. The options include a Tuthilltown Rye Barrel now holds a blend of Tariquet Armagnac, Benedictine, Averna Amaro and Fernet Branca that can age up to ten weeks; and a Tuthilltown Single Malt Whiskey barrel featuring a mix of Ransom Old Tom Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, Rabarbaro Zucca and Rhubarb Bitters.

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Featured spirits include Tuthiltown Distillery whiskey and Bourbon, Don Q Rum, Aberlour Scotch, Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, Death's Door Vodka, Chinaco Tequila, Lion's Pride Organic Whiskeys, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project and Brucchladich's Octomore.

The craft beer program includes limited-release beer allocations such as a barrel of Black Note from Bell's Brewery, Bell's Hopslam, New Glarus Barleywine, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Goose Island's Nightstalker. Lesser-known wines are featured as well, such as L'Aventure wines, Liqueur D' Cassis from Mouton (which is not even on the market and was given to the Bartolotta's by the Moutons themselves).

Rumpus Room features a flexible pricing structure. "Due to the volume of product we sell," says general manager Omar Andrietsch, "We can offer higher-cost items at a lower retail price. Additionally, we offer two portion sizes on our spirits menu, allowing guests to sample a broad range of products without putting a substantial dent in their pocket book." Prices range from $6 to $22.50 for a 1.25-ounce pour. Craft beers sell from $5 to $19 per glass, with flights of four samples sold in groups. The Badger State flight of Wisconsin beers is just $7; the Golden State, $8; and the World Tour, priced at $12.

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Large-format bottles of craft beer make up a full three pages in the extensive beer list. Top sellers for 750-ml.bottles include The Bruery's Autumn Maple ($23), Nebraska Brewing Co.'s Apricot au Poivre ($35), Jolly Pumpkin Biere du Mars ($25), Westmalle Dubbel ($13) and Boon Framboise ($23). Joe Bartolotta says, "We expect to see significant growth in this sector over the next year and look forward to introducing our guests to some rare [and delicious] products, which are only available in large-format bottles."

Key to merchandising the large-format bottles are events featuring guest brewers and distillers. At the Bell's Brewery Hopslam event, a full firkin sold out in just over a half hour. Guest visits in early 2012 include Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, (Capitol Brewery of Middleton, Central Waters Brewing Co. of Amherst, WI, plus Three Floyds of Munson, IN, and Heaven Hill Distillery.

Signature dishes feature house-made charcuterie and rillettes ($5 to $7), cured meats from La Quercia ($3 to $12) and Wisconsin cheese selection ($3 to $8 each), snacks including marinated olives ($3), House-Pickled Veggies ($3) and a Scotch Egg ($6), entrees including Pub Steak with Bread Pudding ($19), Bangers and Sauerkraut ($16), as well as seasonal soups, sandwiches and salads.

All told, it's turning out to be a recipe for success for the Rumpus Room. Due to demand, the restaurant has added brunch service within just eight weeks of opening. "We're really excited to bring a large selection of craft beer and creative pub food to Milwaukee," says Bartolotta.

By Lucy Saunders, Milwaukee-based food writer and author, THE BEST OF AMERICAN BEER & FOOD.
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Title Annotation:SCENE
Author:Saunders, Lucy
Publication:Cheers
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:May 1, 2012
Words:854
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