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Hotel Bars are the New Hip with a Whole New Vibe

By Kathy Flanigan, Milwaukee Journal SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 14, 2011--When Kimberly Floyd opened The Hamilton in February, she had visions of 19th-century French salons where excited parties discussed philosophy, culture and science.

She saw her lounge as a sort of hotel lobby with comfortable seats and a prominent wine list but without actually having a hotel attached. The Hamilton, at 823 E. Hamilton St. north of Brady St., is a former garage for executives of the Gallun Tannery, or as Floyd likes to call it, "a hotel for cars."

"I wanted to have a wine salon, and that segued into the hotel lobby thing," said Floyd. "For one thing, it was called The Hamilton, which sounds like a hotel."

The Hamilton opened Feb. 2 (in the middle of a blizzard, Floyd explained). Big padded seats at the bar encourage patrons to linger, and friendly bartenders further the cause. Cream City brick walls are accented with high ceilings crowned with impressive skylights and 12-foot blue velvet drapes. Instead of tables and chairs spread out, there are conversation areas, much as one might find in a hotel lobby.

Floyd sells wine and champagne, as expected, since her previous businesses were wine bars -- The Flying Hicca in Washington Heights and Cuvee in the Historic Third Ward. She supplemented the bar menu with artisan beers and craft cocktails and live music on the weekends. Floyd is planning an event space in the backroom and this spring will add a 38-by-18-foot deck outside.

Mike "Bear" Kempka, Doug Williams and John Revord wanted something similar and at the same time different when they came up with The Hotel Foster, scheduled to open this month at 2028 E. North Ave. They are planning a "bar Americain"-style cafe, which is essentially a French-styled American bar. They added hotel to the name to signal European times when only the hotels could serve alcohol.

The trio is shooting for a look they call "shabby chic regal," and they have the Oriental carpets, collection of chandeliers, leather Chesterfields and velvet Victorian sofas to prove it. Plans include Wi-Fi for patrons, a rotating art gallery of works by up-and-coming artists and, on occasion, live music.

One of those occasions is the grand opening scheduled for April 30. The Wild Birds will headline.

The idea that hotels are the new hip sent us on a search of real hotel bars. County Clare gets points for its cozy bar, where you're as likely to speak to someone with a Milwaukee accent as you are someone with an Irish lilt. The Pfister has Blu on the top floor, but raves go to the main floor lounge with its live piano soundtrack and classic Bloody Marys.

And don't get us started on the InterContinental Milwaukee. The hotel bar Clear has indoor bocce ball on Tuesdays; wine tastings on Wednesdays appropriately called "Wine Craze"; and live music on Fridays. The second bar, ZenDen, is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, so it gets a little crazier than your average hotel bar. For one thing, there's a cocktail on the menu that combines tequila and Chardonnay. It's not your father's hotel.

We checked into a smattering of other impressive hotel bars:

Hotel Metro's Zen on Seven

You might be familiar with the $5 martinis served on Fridays at Metro Lounge in the Hotel Metro, 411 E. Mason St. It's all well and good for people watching from the big windows facing Milwaukee St.

Now elevate that ambition just a little bit. In fact, head to the rooftop to Zen on Seven -- the kind of rooftop bar you thought existed only in Los Angeles. Most people don't know Zen on Seven is open year-round for private parties, but admittedly it's better in the summer when the public can take in the view or the waterfall. The outside should be ready when the weather is. There are green details, from the teak benches and comfortable couches to the bamboo flooring and recycled glass tile inside.

Wake-up call: Opening times for Zen on Seven are a little tricky, because it is booked for private parties first and open to the public when there isn't such an event. It closes at 10 p.m. on weeknights and "turns into a pumpkin at midnight" on weekends, said general manager Sue Kinas.

Amenities: Zen on Seven stretches from the south side of the roof around past the indoor saltwater pool.

When to book: To find out when the rooftop is open to the public, check or the hotel's Facebook page.


Hilton Garden Inn

The bar at Allgauer's in the Park wasn't quite open for business, but on a recent Tuesday morning, a thirsty traveler in need of a bloody Mary got one 15 minutes ahead of the 11 a.m. start time. The hotel, 11600 W. Park Place, looks as institutional as the business park where it's located on Milwaukee's northwest side. That hasn't stopped locals from embracing it.

Allgauer's offered a spread of snacks for the Rose Bowl game and recently started a mug club for regular guests, happy hour patrons from the office park and some locals who have begun checking out the place for its fish fry, said restaurant manager John Neitzke.

Wake-up call: The bar opens at 11 a.m. daily.

Amenities: Friday's drink menu includes chef-created craft cocktails for $5.

When to book: Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The bar is centered in the dining room, so ordering food isn't a problem.

See their website and Facebook page.

The Aloft Hotel Milwaukee

The front door really should face Juneau St. and the Milwaukee River, but it doesn't. The entry, 1230 N. Old World 3rd St., is angled away from the street. Still, you can't hold a grudge against a place with bartenders as lively as the ones they have at oddly named w xyz bar. We asked one if she could make a margarita -- a good margarita. Her response: "I'm Mexican. Of course." She was good for her word. That was a fine margarita.

Wake-up call: The bar opens at 5 p.m. daily (a little earlier on summer weekends)

Amenities: Well, there are the margaritas. The Aloft is part of a chain of hotels, so the layout is perfected. The colorful bar is centered in the lobby and flanked by a pool table on one side, couches and chairs in the center, and the morning snack bar on the other side. Spicy nuts are complimentary, and there's also a small bites menu that includes pretzels, sliders and cheesecake.

When to book: Although the Aloft caters to business travelers, "The shirt and tie comes off on the weekends," said general manager Ryan Miyamoto.


The Delafield Hotel

The decor is colonial, but not the vibe when Love Monkeys' guitarist Keith Pulvermacher performs in the hotel's Andrew's Bar & Restaurant. It's a switch from the sleepy-time jazz they used to have, said manager Kim Fintel. "Sigmund Snopek does real well here."

The hotel, 415 Genesee St. in Delafield, receives a lot of overseas business travelers, and Fintel seeks the perfect mix of guests and locals for the room. "It's nice to watch them interact and mingle a bit."

Wake-up call: The bar opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. Sunday.

Amenities: The bar serves pub-style food, and there is live music every weekend.

When to book: Andrews offers four different wine flights on Friday nights and a cheese plate sampler. On Saturdays you might find a scotch flight or tasting.


The Iron Horse

Branded is the bar just to the right of the lobby of the Iron Horse Hotel, 500 W. Florida St. The Yard is the fancy outdoor patio. But for today, we're talking about Branded and the comfortable sofas and chairs inside the front door.

It's not unusual for the lobby to fill up on Wednesday nights, when the hotel offers World Wide Wednesdays, a free wine tasting (it includes a selection of cheeses). In the bar, high-top tables across from the bar allow patrons -- locals and visitors alike -- to mingle. Conversations start over the game that might be on the many televisions or the fact that the martinis are made with locally produced Rehorst vodka.

"That's the vibe and culture we created," said food and beverage manager Shane Farzad.

Wake-up call: The bar opens at 11 a.m. daily.

Amenities: Branded pours local spirits such as liquors from Great Lakes Distillery across the street or Lakefront and Sprecher beers. Craft cocktail recipes often feature fresh ingredients and are suited to those in season locally.

When to book: World Wine Wednesdays are from 6 to 8 p.m. The bar serves calorie- and carb-conscious drinks from 5 p.m. to close on Social Lite Thursdays. Iron Horse will host an adult Easter egg hunt with free drinks and appetizers on April 22.



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