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Gibraltar Gives Jazz Fans Another Destination in Walker’s Point

Jan. 24, 2017
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It’s a sign of the rising fortunes of Milwaukee jazz scene that, after a long dry stretch, two jazz venues opened up within a matter of months. Following a period of uncertainty, the East Side’s venerable Jazz Estate reopened under new ownership in November, with a well-received makeover. And just a month later, musician Evan Christian realized his dream of running a venue of his own, opening Gibraltar at 538 W. National Ave. in Walker’s Point.

Like many players in the local scene, Christian has ties to The Jazz Estate. He played an off-and-on residency there for the better part of 10 years, and looks back fondly at the considerable time he spent there. “It was just great,” he says. “That was probably my favorite place that I've ever played. It's always going to be special to me because I got a chance to try so much of my material there, and I’ve had so many good times and so many memories there.”

For Gibraltar, though, he created a club with a feel very distinct from the waiting-room coziness of The Jazz Estate or the retro, “how old is this carpet?” appeal of Caroline’s Jazz Club. It’s a relatively large, open space, with the customary trappings of so many Walker’s Point establishments: high ceilings, exposed cream city brick and a very lengthy bar. Like its name, the venue’s décor draws from Spain, where Christian lived for a time to study flamenco guitar.

The space used to be a lively corner bar called Felipe’s Place, though it’ll be borderline unrecognizable to any former regulars who might pop in. Christian and his landlord have repositioned the bar, replaced the floors, torn down a dropped ceiling, redone the bathrooms, installed new windows overlooking National Avenue, added chandeliers and gotten rid of the sticky Keno machines. 

Gibraltar is now open seven nights a week, most of which feature live music. Currently the bar hosts a flamenco night on Wednesday and a blues night on Thursday, while the weekends are reserved for jazz. The bar is also debuting an unplugged series on Tuesday nights, which kicks off on Jan. 31 with a performance from multi-instrumentalist Isaiah Joshua. 

If the crowd on a recent Thursday night was any indication, the venue has already become a destination for many music lovers. “I’m really fortunate in that regard,” Christian says of the early crowds the bar has drawn. “I’ve received so much support from the community and I’m very grateful that people have made it a point to come out.”

Christian says his long background in the service industry prepared him to make the leap from being the guy who plays at a bar to the person running it.  Many nights you can find him clearing drinks off of cocktail tables between his sets on stage. “Those are two different hats,” he says. “When you’re just the hired musician you definitely have less to worry about, I suppose. But it’s also really nice to run a place and see people have a good experience and leave happy.”

He’s also thankful to do his part to support what’s looking more and more like it might be a Milwaukee jazz renaissance. “We’re fortunate to have a ton of really good musicians in this city right now, and these musicians deserve a forum where they can showcase their craft,” Christian says.

“In my view, the more places we have for art, the better,” he continues. “I think Milwaukee is coming really close to becoming a destination city for music. Right now there’s any number of places where you can go to hear really good live music, and I think that trend is only going to continue.”

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