Center Court jumps into the sports bar arena
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There was a period last year when Rick Kohen spent a fair amount of his free time visiting sports bars in the Milwaukee area, particularly those near the Bradley Center, and dedicated himself to sampling as many beers, appetizers, sandwiches and side dishes as possible.
For some, that may sound like a mini-vacation. For others, it would be a dream. For Kohen, it was research.
He was checking out every aspect of the businesses, from prices on the menu to pennants and pictures on the wall to presentation on the plates.
"I'm a sports fan," Kohen said last week. "I think I have a pretty good idea what the average fan is looking for when he goes to a sports bar."
Kohen is putting that knowledge to use as he operates Center Court Pub & Grille, the new sports bar located a bounce pass from the Bradley Center at 1118 N. 4th St. Although two previous sports bars -- Legends and GameTime -- failed to earn consistent business at the location, Kohen thinks that can change.
"I'm an optimistic person," he said. "I like the challenge."
Kohen, who owns Connections Ticket Service, took over the location along with co-owner Brian James, who operates Rosie's Water Works, 1111 N. Water St.
In addition purchasing much of the existing equipment at a deep discount, the two partners -- who also work in real estate -- received a favorable seven-year lease from the City of Milwaukee, which owns the building and the parking structure above.
According to published reports, Center Court will pay a little more than $4,000 per month in rent this year with the fee jumping to just less than $7,000 per month in 2011 and increasing to $11,000 in 2016. Center Court must pay the city 5 percent of gross sales exceeding $1.25 million and 7 percent on sales exceeding $2 million.
As is the case with neighboring establishments like Turner Hall, Buck Bradley's and Major Goolsby's, Center Court expects to see increased traffic on days when the Bucks, Marquette, Admirals or a concert or event is booked in the Bradley Center.
It's the non-event days that will make the difference between survival, success and failure. Kohen plans to offer karaoke on Wednesday nights and occasional live music to help boost traffic when the Bradley Center is dark.
On the surface, the sports bar businesses doesn't seem particularly complex. If you have some decent TVs, cold drinks, reasonably good food and a prime location, people will generally give your establishment a try.
During his research, Kohen came to the conclusion that service and quality will be key in creating repeat business.
Center Court's beer list features 50 selections, including Anchor Steam, Blue Moon, Eastside Dark, Fat Squirrel, Fat Tire, Franzikaner, Guinness, Horny Goat Exposed, Monkey Wheat, Riverwest Stein, Schlitz, Smithwicks and Stella Artois.
"We are still a sports bar," said Kohen. "We're still in the Brew City. You have to have a good beer selection."
There are 25 vodkas and 20 whiskeys, but drinks are just part of the equation. Kohen and James want their food to stand out, so they conferred with local restaurant owners and hired Tony Mandella as their executive chef.
Mandella, who once owned Vinifera on Brady Street and Café Siciliano in Fox Point, is focusing on fresh ingredients and using local suppliers like Peter Sciortino's Bakery and others.
"We have a great full sandwich and appetizer menu," Kohen said. "It works in the front of the house and the back of the house. It's nothing too complicated. We didn't want it confused with something you might find on Milwaukee Street, but we still tried to do something higher end.
"If you come Downtown and spend the time and effort and energy and money to eat an hour before the game, why not have a nice fresh sandwich or appetizer rather than get something at one of the other places that's frozen?
"To me, there is nothing worse than spending six or seven or eight dollars for something on wax paper in a plastic basket and you can't really differentiate all of the fried components of the appetizer that you just ordered."
To illustrate his point, Kohen talked about what passes for nachos at some establishments. "If you don't make the chips in house, you're getting them out of the bag. (Customers) are thinking 'Wow, I could have gotten that at the store.' Once you rip off the top layer of cheese and toppings, all you're left with is a plate of soggy chips. We put toppings on every layer."
Center Court offers its cod fish fry daily ("only because I love fish," Kohen said) and also offers something called "hobo fries" ($4.50), which is a serving of French fries topped with cheese and gravy and extras like turkey ($1.50), bacon ($1.95), grilled chicken ($2.95) or grilled rib eye steak ($4.95).
"The hobo fries are an interesting creation," Kohen said. "Brian James was in New Orleans and noticed they were pouring gravy and all sorts of neat things over the fries."
Center Court is a non-smoking establishment, which has been a hit with customers.
"I'm not a smoker and Brian (James) is not a smoker," Kohen said. "We realized that in July, the whole state is going non-smoking, so we decided to go non-smoking right away. We didn't realize how important that is to a lot of people. It's nice to come home and not smell like a bar."
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I was in Milwaukee fo Bucks game. Had dinner at Center Court, good food, great service and I loved the look of the place, fun time. Great addition to downtown Milwaukee. I would go ther again when in town.
I was there on the night when the bulls were in town and I had a great dining experience... the food was great, the service was friendly and fast. The place was very clean and the best part was I was in and out in time to catch the game right across the street!!! I will definitely be going back!!!
Stopped in after a MU win ...................nice place with really hot looking Bartenders ----> with personalities!
@boozehound - That's what you get when you use Yahoo! SiteBuilder and use all the little widgets available.
As a season ticket holder of the Bucks I was more than happy to see a new choice of food and drink in the area of the Bradley Center. Several of us stopped by prior to a game and will be going back often. The food and drink was very good and the prices reasonable. I was most impressed with the staff who were efficient and friendly. Hope Centercourt keeps it up!!
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