The trend of new and exciting venues in Milwaukee is not slowing down. In what is becoming the “decade of the venue” in Milwaukee, Ivy House stands out with its own unique voice and space. The vision is that of Ramsey Renno, a long-time veteran of the Milwaukee DJ scene and founder of Milwaukee Airwaves. After conquering music and lighting, a space of their own was the next logical step. We had a chance to sit down with Ramsey and hear more about his story and that of Ivy House.
For more information about Ivy House, please check out their website.
Adult Beverage of Choice? Whiskey. And highlife. Not together.
Junk food of choice? What’s your guilty pleasure? Pizza’s pretty standard, isn’t it? French fries? A Kopps burger! That’s a guilty pleasure – so good, but so wrong.
Do you have a favorite animal? Dog. Although I do like owls for some reason, they might be my spirit animal.
Best trip you’ve ever been on? I’d say the best trip I’ve ever been on was my now wife and I went to Spain for a wedding. Obviously weddings are great but this one was phenomenal. Since she speaks Spanish and lived there for a little bit, we went to a lot of cities. We went to Barcelona and rented a car and had to learn stick on the fly! Because we were in a city where I couldn’t read anything, that was a challenge. Then we went to this wedding that was a baller party! Dinner ended at midnight, which I guess they do there, and we danced until the sun came up and then the after-party was like, breakfast. It was nuts. In addition, we got to spend an entire month gallivanting around, eating our weight and drinking!
What music makes up your favorite playlist? I love singer-songwriters like Josh Ritter and Tallest Man. Thus that kind of indie-folk, that is my world. Then you get into things like, Chromeo and Two Doors Cinema Club, that are kind of funky but retro 80s with synth and pop but they’re kind of not EDM but I don’t know. Neo? Neo-funk? It’s like a balance between the two and yes, back in the day I was a Phishhead. Maybe. On the inside.
Best concert you’ve ever been to? Tom Petty. I’ve always loved Tom Petty, he comes to Summerfest every year. I always want to go and I’d always miss it for some reason, probably because it’s a Saturday. He’d play and I would be at a wedding, DJing or something like that. Then I finally got to see him and then he died. Because I almost missed him, that was nice. He put on a phenomenal show. We also saw, back in the day, Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were phenomenal and it rained the whole time. So it was kind of like a Woodstock, mud pit experience. But you didn’t care cause it just was, everything working.
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Ivy House?
Ivy House used to be a nightclub called Club Rain. Recently, the patio turned into that Sangria Bar and there was the Point. They tried an event space, but it had the nightclub shell on it. We renovated everything – even a brand new roof with the skylights. It was a nightclub so there was zero daylight. We punched in all the windows, we were able to bring a lot of light in and brought back the cream city brick.
We burnished and ground down the floors to bring back the stone aggregate for that warehouse look. Being an old space, bringing in new elements didn’t make sense. We covered the whole bar face with steel, the pergolas up overhead to create a focal point. To finish it and soften up the space, we brought in many of living plants. We wanted to make that transition a little more seamless from the patio so we carried the Ivy theme inside.
Why are companies drawn to Ivy House?
I think, because of this last year, I think everyone is drawn to the space. It’s true! We have more bookings here than I’ve ever seen before – which is great. We see people that are coming through the space that are also touring iconic Milwaukee spaces, but more or less on the high end of the hospitality spectrum. They’re still coming here, they’re still booking here. So I do think they’re looking for something more unique which this space lends itself to. Since it’s an open concept it’s flexible, but you have those raw finishes like high beams, the concrete floors, the steel bar top. Because we have been in the industry for 20 years, when they ask questions we have the right answers. Being direct and forward and honest, they’re very appreciative of that. Whether or not it’s the right or wrong answer, they’re still getting the real answer.
So would you describe Ivy House as modern-industrial?
That’s what we’re calling it. Whether we made that up or not, we’re calling it a modern-industrial space located in an urban warehouse. That’s kind of the tag phrase that we decided we’re going to move forward with to give it some sort of label. But then there’s also the patio, so a lot of people are latching onto that. It’s even bigger patio-garden-bar, they can do ceremonies out there, cocktail hour, it’s strung up with lights and sound and plants so it’s kind of charming.
Are you only a venue or do you have a bar for the public?
We mainly do private events and corporate events. If we’re going to do a public event, it’s most likely going to be a concert. We do live music here and we’re gearing up to do a lot more this year. We do have a sound stage, a sound tech, we have a soundboard and have all the things you’d need to put on a live performance. When we do have private events, we’re totally amped up to do live music as well. As far as a public space, as a normal bar, last year Fernway which is the outdoor garden bar was open to the public when we didn’t have private events. But now that we’re so heavily booked, we might not even open the bar up again. We might do one day a week but If we’re not consistent, no one’s going to grab onto it.
What services does Ivy House offer in-house?
We include tables and chairs and DJ services. We also help coordinate things. I mean, we’re not a day of coordinator or planners, but we’ll coordinate with the vendors, make sure we receive them, make sure they know what’s going on. We’re sort of the keepers of time between room flips, breaking stuff down, emcee work with the DJ, so we do a lot of that stuff. We do have coat check if needed.
Can companies bring their own caterers?
Right! Yeah, have at it. We do have a preferred list. It’s about a dozen caterers. We prefer to work with those caterers since caterers can make or break a party. We’ve seen it first-hand. Whether they botch the meal or run out of food or it can be the whole timing of how stuff comes out. We definitely have opinions but as long as you have a license and are insured, we built out a prep kitchen for caterers to come in. As long as we can taste the food, haha.
What’s your favorite thing about events in Ivy House?
There are so many things. I like seeing the staff come together and work. I like seeing the energy of the space when it’s filled with bodies, ‘cause we’ve spent so much time here alone ramping up the space. We just were with each other and contractors, some good, some bad. Seeing people come in and enjoy the space is I think what is the best. Seeing it work, not just lie dormant. That’s why we’re doing this – I mean, obviously, we like to keep busy but seeing the space filled with people having a good time is rewarding.
What question do companies forget to ask you?
What about parking? Parking doesn’t make this an ace in the hole. We’re working on it though. We have a 15 car lot to the south, we have a 25-30 car lot to the north and a roundabout for about 10 cars. There’s also street parking. But once we’re able to get our own full-time 60 car lot, which we’re in the works of, that’ll be fixed.
Favorite trends this year?
Ohhh trends – everyone wants to know about trends! We’re at the forefront of trends so this is the question to be asking us. So we just did a Q&A about upcoming trends this year and some of the things that I had thought were trends, or I believe, are neon, industrial type filament style bulbs, those are the trends. And based on us working in the lighting industry for the past 20 years, to see the crazy mushroom dancefloor lights and then you have the uplights and strobe lights and now it’s more filament and even into neon. I’m sure things will cycle back around like they always do. Moody, dark, harsher tones, deeper colors are also a trend. Previously it used to be light, airy, woody, but everyone’s really leaning towards a much more almost masculine wedding décor.
Before picking a venue, what would you suggest?
I would suggest looking at all of them! But really, that’s exhausting. Pick the top ten and see which one you end up comparing all other venues to – that’s clearly the one that you want. You’re putting everything against it. So gather the facts, cross-reference the details – what’s included, what’s not, where the costs lie, what team do you want to work with? Those are components that I think are important. Logistics are half the battle. One place might not be able to hold everyone – you love it, the aesthetics are great, the price is right but it can’t hold your 300 people. Or it’s too big and you only have a 100 people – you’ve got to weigh those options. Make sure you’re comfortable with the person you’re working with and feel like they’re taking care of you.
What do corporate clients forget to ask you?
Logistics of setting up and what their team does as opposed to what our team does. So yes, we’ll come, we’ll make sure that the place is maintained before and run throughout and after. But if they have specific décor that they want to bring in, their team is going to have to do that. We don’t do anything table top related so linens or certain glassware on the tables, that’s something they have to be conscious of depending on the type of experience they want to provide.
Do you suggest hiring a planner for a local event?
Absolutely. 100%. I’m always going to say bring a planner. They’re going to take care of you, they’re going to look out for some of those other nuances that you just don’t have time to. Let them do the job and then you can coast through and take the credit and look like the big shot. But we do a lot! We manage your sound, the timeline and we receive different vendors and expedite things to make sure you don’t have to worry about it. In the lead up to the day, we have a comprehensive meeting where we talk logistics and timeline. We do take the brunt out of that with our team. If you have a planner, great. It’s one less thing you have to worry about.