Sisters Brooke Boomer and Sarah Smith find Wauwatosa a gem of a city to live their dream as co-owners of a coffeehouse-style wine bar, The Ruby Tap.
The Ruby Tap was the latest business to take up residence in the former Drew’s Variety store space, with its entrance at 1341 Wauwatosa Ave. just around the corner from Root Common Park.
The wine bar opened in the village a little more than three months ago, with news of the endeavor spread primarily by word of mouth and Facebook. The Ruby Tap Facebook page tracks nearly every aspect of a year-long journey, from early construction to convert the space to its rough-hewn decor, through to the finishing touches two months before posting the “We’re Open!“ album.
Although pre-opening advertising consisted of little more than sharing The Ruby Tap story face-to-face and via social media, the casual buzz generated huge results.
“We got our permit (to open) on a Thursday, and opened on Friday ... and we were slammed,” Boomer said.
There is much spirited debate about measuring the value and return on investment of “likes.” For The Ruby Tap, an average of eight “likes” a day since its opening translate into a formidable ROI: generating enough revenue to cover costs, a feat the sisters didn’t expect to accomplish until after a year in business.
“We are packed every night except Sunday,” Boomer said.
Another factor in their favor: The Ruby Tap is unique as the only wine bar of its kind in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and the state – with, as the name implies, wines actually on tap from bottles and barrels.
Windy City denizens embrace Wisconsin
Boomer, 32, Smith, 27, and Boomer’s husband, Jordan, 31, came to Wauwatosa via Chicago. The Boomers were the first to settle in the area in May 2010, when Jordan took a job with the Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. The Boomers first lived in and loved Shorewood and Walker’s Point, but their interests and activities kept taking them west, and they often found themselves in Tosa’s Village, dining at its mix of eateries.
With a baby on the way, the Boomers decided to settle in Wauwatosa in early 2011, finding it a comfortable community where life is within walking distance. Around Thanksgiving time a year ago, a few months after their son Liam was born, a five-year long conversation about a dream of opening a wine bar turned serious.
Within a year, Smith left the Windy City to join the Boomers in Tosa; the trio invested $300,000 to renovate, equip and furnish the space that would house their dream; and, on Aug. 3, a day after Liam's first birthday, The Ruby Tap became a reality.
The Ruby Tap offers 32 wines on tap from bottles, and four on tap from kegs. The bottle taps are self-serve, and patrons can choose to sip and sample wine selections in doses of 1.5, 3 or 6 ounces.
The Ruby Tap also serves beer, by the bottle only, all from Wisconsin breweries.
“We love all the local beers,” Brooke Boomer said. “There is no need to go elsewhere when there are so many options here.”
Jordan is the beer connoisseur of the trio, with the sisters sampling wines daily to determine which to feature among the wine bottle taps or wine kegs.
“Everything we put (on tap), we have tried,” Brooke Boomer said, with the goal of “trying to find unique, fun and different new wines.”
The Ruby Tap relies on nine local wine distributors, and the wine bottle tap selections vary daily. All the wines and beers are available for take-home purchases, at prices Brooke Boomer said are competitive with retail liquor and grocery stores. Of the wine selections, she said, bottle prices range from $10 to nearly $90 a bottle, with patrons able to test before they invest. Favorite beers can be purchased as a mix-and-match six pack.
The Ruby Tap complements its spirits with create-your-own platters of local cheeses and meats, as well as desserts to pair with dessert wines. Simma’s Bakery is the local source for the desserts. The featured Wisconsin cheeses are from Carr Valley Cheese, based in La Valle, Cedar Grove Cheese of Plain, and Milwaukee’s Clock Shadow Creamery. The meats are from the Underground Food Collective in Madison and Bolzano Artisan Meats in Milwaukee.
Some of the favorite munchies to accompany the spirits are roasted almonds, marinated olives and truffle popcorn, flavored and spiced with their own homegrown herbs. And if patrons need a bit more substance, they are free to have take-out meals delivered while sipping and sampling at The Ruby Tap, Brooke Boomer said.
New venture ties to past generations
Although The Ruby Tap’s early success springs from 21st century technology, its name and its interior décor link to prior generations. The chairs that nestle at handcrafted wooden tables were culled from antique shops. Reclaimed wood and glass panels make up the ceiling, walls and a divider between the main bar area and a cozy lounge with fireplace. The bar is made from wood from the old Pabst Brewery.
The lounge, with retro and retro-style chairs and couches, features a wall of black-and-white photos from decades past. They are photos from the life of the wine bar’s namesake, Gramma Ruby Young, with her husband, Gramps Frank.
Brooke Boomer said the three wanted The Ruby Tap to be personal, for them as owners, as well as for their customers. The personal touches begin with its name, and carry through in the type of service they seek to provide patrons.
“We have tons of regulars, and we love that,” she said. “We love knowing the wine that people like to drink.”
The support from the village and Tosa residents, Brooke Boomer said, has been “way more than expected,” helping to make living the dream “fun, exciting.”