After roughly three decades of vacancy, Milwaukee Junction’s longstanding neighborhood bar Kiesling will make its way back into the spotlight this spring with a tight menu of classic and original cocktails, beers, and wine.
Over the last several years, building owner Carlo Liburdi and managing partner Rich Perry undertook a painstaking restoration of the 64-seat bar at the corner of East Milwaukee and Beaubien that included stripping away three layers of old paint and dust to reveal an four-panel, hand-painted canvas mural of a woodsy nature scene. “It was pretty exciting,” Perry says of the discovery. “We were like Christmas morning.” With the assistance of a local expert in paint restoration, Theresa DeRoo, Kiesling now retains some of that original early 20th century saloon character.
While the owners aren’t certain of the complete history of the space, throughout the building process they were able to uncover scattered details about the bar’s life. The Kieslings, a German family living in Detroit, opened Kiesling Saloon sometime during the 1920s. During that period it shared space with Milwaukee Cafe and a general store. Then, sometime around the 1970s the bar changed hands and became Edith’s Hideaway, a bar that was frequented by cops up until its eventual closure sometime in the 1990s. Paintings and photographs of Edith’s now hang on the walls of the renovated the space.
By the time Liburdi acquired the building, which includes several lofts, the ceiling had caved in places throughout the bar, leaving it exposed to the elements. “It took about two years to get all this place cleaned out,” says bar manager Rob Wilson (previously Selden Standard).
The revived interior now features both old and new elements including the original wood wainscoting and polished terrazzo floors. Perry and Liburdi brought in local woodworkers to build the light brown leather upholstered banquettes and walnut doors. Along the back wall of the space, the partners installed an antique back bar salvaged from an shuttered watering hole in Southwest Detroit. The 14-seat bartop is made from oak and quartzite and fitted with copper rails from the Lord Fox in Ann Arbor. Handmade wallpaper from Pittsburgh-based company Printsburgh adds accents to the ceilings and walls.
In addition to the main bar area, Kiesling also includes a small private bar space down a short hallway. It seats between five and eight people and is outfitted with a refurbished and Bluetooth-capable antique radio. The bar hopes to rent the room and offer a special bottle service while possibly bringing in outside food.
This spring, the owners plan to finish building out a secluded 30-seat patio along Beaubien Street. Kiesling also has room to grow thanks to a large raw space behind the bar. The owners intend to eventually model that space after a historic ladies’ lounge with a slightly softer aesthetic to the saloon-style interior of the main room. That buildout might eventually include a small kitchen as well.
Alongside Wilson, Kiesling has recruited several seasoned Detroit bartenders including Kaytee Querro (formerly Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails) and Amanda Mentzer (formerly La Rondinella). Customers can expect four riffs on classic cocktails alongside four original drinks plus a seasonally rotating frozen cocktail starting with a vanilla caramel cream and bourbon cocktail drink, according to Wilson. Additionally the bar will also offer 12 canned and bottled beer options and seven on draft (the eighth tap handle will be devoted to a draft cocktail) plus seven wines. Once the bar opens its doors, Wilson plans to organize guest bartending events, DJs, and restaurant pop-ups throughout the year.
Kiesling is awaiting one final inspection and aims to open before the end of March. Photographers Chris and Michelle Gerard took an early tour of the finished space ahead of the anticipated debut. Take a peek around the bar in the gallery below.
Kiesling is located at 449 East Milwaukee Ave. in Detroit; once open the bar will have hours Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.