Honoring history while designing for today

Miss Lizzie’s at Miller High Life Theatre

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Its name has changed, its purpose has varied, but one thing has stood the test of time: it's an integral place at the core of arts and culture in downtown Milwaukee. Having opened in 1908 as the Milwaukee Auditorium, the historical architectural elements and murals are as captivating as the events of the past 110 years, to include the campaign speech by Theodore Roosevelt minutes after having been shot in an assassination attempt.

Today, Miss Lizzie’s is a 4,087-seat venue at the Miller High Life Theatre with two sloped tiers of seats providing excellent sightlines and comfort, back-of-house amenities to match, and built-in flexibility to reduce capacity to more intimate settings of 1,291 seats. Two attached side halls, Kilbourn and Plankinton, offer fantastic ancillary space for rehearsals, crew catering, meet and greets, press rooms, vendor expos, and small shows seating up to 700. A huge rotunda lobby completes the fan experience with spectacular space for concessions, merchandise sales, receptions, and general patron circulation.

Marty Brooks, CEO of the Wisconsin Center District, which manages the Miller High Life Theatre, engaged Kahler Slater to create a "grand bar" near the entrance to the theater to enhance the guest experience. Brooks believes that adding the new bar concept will continue to raise the venue's local and regional profile. The Kahler Slater design team felt it was critical to design something compelling and consistent with the theater’s historic charm, ensure that customers have a great experience and want to return, and achieve the business goals of the Wisconsin Center District.

Inspired by classic Milwaukee pubs, the projects aims to make a big impact in the existing space, while appearing like it could have been there for years. Wisconsin Center District was looking for a showpiece that could set their venue apart in a competitive market. Living proudly between two existing 1940’s murals, the bar has the comforts of a classic Milwaukee pub including a walnut bar top, wood trim details at the front of the bar and back of the bar, and classic wood corbels. There are also some special elements, including brass inlays, antique mirror, and special branding moments that are expected to be discovered over time during multiple visits to the bar. A completely restored historic terrazzo floor not only reveals a beautiful history of the space but provides a bright and dramatic base for the entire project. The timelessness of the design should allow the bar to age well, and keep people coming back for years to come.

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