The new underground: Basement bars provide top-notch fun
"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun bars and club articles -- including guides, bartender profiles, drink recipes and even a little Brew City bar history. Cheers!
Back in the day, a "rec room" basement meant paneled walls, shag carpeting, a fat television and maybe a ping-pong table. Now, people refine their basement space to create funky, family-friendly entertainment spots, often with a big emphasis on the bar.
When Lisa and Jim Dutcher bought a ranch-style house on the Southwest Side, the basement was unfinished.
"We always dreamed of having a tropical paradise getaway, especially because of Wisconsin's cold winters," says Jim.
Hence, the couple created a Polynesian Hawaiian Tiki Bar they call "Dutch's Lost Hideaway." The Dutchers hired an electrician to help with the wiring, but otherwise they did all of the work themselves.
Decorating the basement was fun and easy for the Dutchers because they own Tip Top Atomic Shop, 2343 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. The store specializes in household items from the '40s, '50s and '60s, including a huge selection of Hawaiian antiques.
The Hideaway's main wall is covered in three different types of matting and bamboo, and more than 100 masks from islands like Hawaii, Fiji, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Samoa. Also, they have scores of vintage '50s Hawaiian pieces, such as a life preserver from the Lurline, a savage print and rare tiki mugs from tropical establishments like Trader Vic's, Mainlander, Judges Beyond the Reef and Tiki Bob's.
"We have many coconut monkeys, puffer fish and glass floats hanging from the ceiling, so watch your head if you're tall," says Jim.
The Dutchers spend a lot of time in their Lost Hideaway, entertaining friends, listening to vinyl albums and mixing exotic libations. Lisa's favorite drink is the Zombie (crafted from the original recipe of Chicago's Pago Pago), and Jim's favorites are the Royal Hawaiian, Old Style Mai Tai and his personal variation of Agent Orange.
"We love serving hot appetizers of fried won tons and fondue. People never leave Dutch's Lost Hideaway thirsty or hungry," he says. "The basement is like a second family room for us."
Spouses Mary Eggert and Tom Rekoske have a basement tiki bar, too.
"There's a whole subculture of people doing this," says Eggert. "We know other people with incredible tiki bars in their basements."
The Eggert / Rekoske basement lounge was inspired by tiki bars in San Francisco -- among other places -- and took two years to complete. Officially, it was unveiled to friends and family members on New Year's Eve 2005 / 2006. Eggert says the 24 hours leading up to the party were the most intense part of the construction process.
"It all came together right before the party, thanks to some help from Tom's sister and brother-in-law," says Eggert.
Like the Dutchers, the Oak Creek couple did most of the work themselves.
"I was really proud of Tom. He did so much of the work ," says Eggert. "And it inspired me to do things I never had done. It all turned out way better than expected."
Eggert and Rekoske lucked out when friends donated a grass-roofed tiki bar and bamboo stools. Most of the furniture and tchotchkes are from antique shops, rummage sales and Target.
"If we find an original tiki mask while rummaging it's like we've found the Holy Grail," says Eggert.
Rekoske bought a few tiki drink books and likes to let his guests pick their drink of choice from one of the printed recipes.
"We try to get down there every weekend," says Eggert.
In 1998, when Rick Brandtjen and his wife, Janel, built their house in Menomonee Falls, they included a bar and theater in their basement plans.
"The basement was built as a place to go out to without actually leaving the house," says Brandtjen. "We had a newborn when we built the house and knew it would be more difficult just to go out for a drink or a movie at the drop of the hat."
The Brandtjens designed the bar to reflect a "nice upscale establishment, with a vintage '40s feel."
They named the bar "Vintage" to reflect their love of wine, classic movies, jazz and vintage autographed memorabilia -- from Babe Ruth to jazz entertainer Fats Waller. The entire basement has an open floor plan and includes the bar (which seats eight people), theater and poker table. There is also a full bath and workout room.
"We're down in the basement at least four or five times a week, now as a family. Mainly to watch television and movies and sports events," says Brandtjen. "We have people over a few times a month for a couple of cocktails, Packers games or large parties. There's also a monthly poker game."
Brandtjen says they keep a well-stocked bar in their basement.
"Our primary focus is to know what our friends drink and have their favorites on hand at all times. I like to get people to try single malt scotches -- we usually have over 15 different available -- cognacs and bourbons," says Brandtjen.
"But the most popular is usually vodka, and everyone has their preference, so we keep quite a few different vodka brands on hand. And, of course, plenty of red wines -- mainly California cabs and blends."
No wonder why the public bars are sooo darn DEAD, these days!! KUDOS, for a great idea/theme, and for "avoiding" drinking and driving too:)
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