The owners of the Kiesling in Milwaukee Junction are preparing to open a new coffee bar this fall. Owner Carlo Liburdi and partner Ashley Davidson are in the process of building out a compact espresso counter called Milwaukee Caffe next door their hit cocktail lounge.
Milwaukee Caffe is the latest step in Liburdi’s multi-year redevelopment of a property at the corner of Beaubien Street and East Milwaukee Avenue. It started with the renovation of lofts and was followed up by the opening of Kiesling in 2018. Like the Kiesling, which gets its name from a circa 1920s saloon that was once located on the site, Liburdi and Davidson are also drawing on the history of the building for their coffee shop. “We have an old photo of the building that has a storefront called Milwaukee Cafe,” Liburdi says of the inspiration for the name. From there, the pair decided to build on their mutual appreciation for Italy’s coffee culture (Liburdi’s family is from Italy) by using the Italian spelling for “caffe.”
The space for Milwaukee Caffe is located along the East Milwaukee side of the brick property. While it has its own entrance from the street, the coffee bar will also have access to Kiesling through two different doors — leaving open the possibility for some sort of coffee tie-ins to the cocktail lounge down the road. Working within a very limited footprint, Davidson and Liburdi are aiming to bring a urban, standing room-only format to the space similar to Italian espresso bars.
The shop will feature a small coffee bar with an curved counter where customers can walk-up, place their orders, and take their coffee to-go. Two large windows look out on the sidewalk with one that will swing open during warm weather and allow Milwaukee Caffe to add a small amount of outdoor seating along the window sill.
“We wanted it to be open to the street, especially because one of the goals for us for being a neighborhood bar — and now a coffee shop — is you want to see that traffic out there,” Davidson says. “You want street life to come back in an a really healthy way, and I think one of the ways that that happens is when you have inside, outside access.” The bright interior of the space is also designed as a counter balance to the darker interior at Kiesling. “It should feel very light and airy, but super welcoming,” she says.
The shop is expected to offer the standard drinks including pour-overs and espresso drinks. Davidson and Liburdi are still in the process of determining what coffee they’ll use, but say it’s likely to be a mix of different beans sourced from around the country. “I think one of the unique things about what’s going on in coffee right now is there is such a local approach and everybody’s like doing something a little differently,” Davidson says.
Milwaukee Caffe is aiming to open by late summer or early fall. Meanwhile, Liburdi and Davidson are working on an expansion at Kiesling including adding a kitchen and a new seating area. Stay tuned for more updates on the progress.