Craft cocktail lounge with in-home feel opens as companion to Grampa’s Pizzeria
Walk past the two-story frame house at 1380 Williamson Street and one might think they missed an invite to a house party, but you haven’t, because everyone is invited. Tonight (April 18) is the grand opening of Gib’s Bar, a companion cocktail lounge to Grampa’s Pizzeria next door.
Cast aside your visions of sweaty college kids and gallons of Busch Light, and instead imagine a typical home in the Marquette neighborhood with several of your friends before a dinner party; relaxing on carefully considered furniture on top of wood floors and trim that home buyers dream about.
Thursday night Gib’s, a shared nickname for Owner Gilbert Altschul and his late grandfather, held a soft opening and approximately 100 people over four hours, sampled both the atmosphere and the drink selections, which will be heavy on intricately styled craft cocktails. Snap assessment: Get to Gib’s before it gets really popular because it will, quick.
Co-owners Gilbert Altschul and Marissa Johnson were looking to create a new experience for their patrons at Grampa’s who often had to go elsewhere while waiting for a table at their popular pizzeria. The cocktail lounge features a drink menu driven by noted drink designer Hastings Cameron, who is focusing on house-made ingredients from local sources, sometimes spontaneously.
“We just want to bring something new to the neighborhood, to the city, really, and push forward the food scene, the drink scene.
“I’m already seeing the benefits of having the businesses side-by-side, whether it’s people having a few drinks and getting hungry and going next door or me having an excess of parmesan rind and bringing it over here and saying ‘guys, I want to make a drink with this’.”
The updating and redesign of the house was led by Marissa Johnson, who also designed Grampa’s decor. After some back and forth with the City of Madison about how many windows must be seen to match neighborhood historic standards; the exterior was updated with new siding, new porch and the front door was moved to the center. To enhance the historic feel, Altschul added a bronze-like sign tacked to the front of the house.
“We initially wanted to leave the house as it was and just put a bar in the corner, but it doesn’t work out that way. But couldn’t be happier with the way it’s turned out.” Altschul said.
Once inside, each room alternates between multiple living room and parlor set pieces to wall benches and large standing areas. The foyer is roomy and features a small furniture set. Deeper into the first floor is a large room with benches along the large windows that bump out from house’s sideline.
The centerpiece to the first floor is the bar, which features a neck-high bar faced with white barnwood planks.
Like with Star Bar, I was particularly impressed with the hanging light fixtures that had a vintage Sputnik feel. Behind the bar is a large menu sign surrounded by an ornate gold frame and features a quote from Henry Ford:
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long at it’s black”.
Off the foyer is a glorious oak staircase built by Gilbert’s father Dan Altschul and carries patrons up two flights to the second floor, which at one time was likely an attic, typical for the tall-gabled homes in this area. The staircase delivers you to a seating area off to your left and two other seating areas surrounding the bar at the back of the second floor.
This second floor bar features stools on both sides and a repurposed vintage 1970s or ’80s black and white TV that displays the available selections.
Each seating area is a mix of tables, chairs and couches which Gilbert says come from his and Marissa’s house.
“We have no furniture left in the house,” he said.
Of those who came out to sample the offerings, one likely repeat patron says that Madison is lacking low-capacity hangouts that people can enjoy.
“Just the layout and the atmosphere of this place is kind of the antithesis of the loud, crazy bar and I think that is something that Madison just needs,” said Andrew, a self-titled cocktail hobbyist who enjoys crafting cocktails. “I feel like this place could be something really special for Madison.”
In my past conversations with Hastings Cameron, he has had a lot of ideas about bar drink menus, and his plans for Gib’s should be exciting. I sampled a Coconut Daiquiri that featured house-made Malibu, which suggests that while some ingredients will be off-the-shelf, most of drinks will be made with care and panache.
“It’s fun to watch this bar kitchen come together; I see them (Hastings Cameron and Bar Manager Ed Hong) build a pantry, they do it differently. Where I stock spices, they vac spices into Everclear and make liquid spices”.
Gilbert Alstchul adds that some last-minute items in the bar need to be finished, and the kitchen will be open tonight, including Wagyu beef jerky, sea urchin ice cream and caviar offerings.
“I want to work on some more elaborate edible garnishes for the drinks Hastings makes. All I really want to do is elevate what Hastings and Ed do here,” he said.
Gib’s is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 30 minutes prior to bar time.
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