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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Bars & Clubs Commentary

Branded is The Iron Horse's main cocktail lounge.

In Bars & Clubs Commentary

Branded doesn't have any beers on tap but they have plenty of local and specialty bottles.

Leaving Milwaukee for the Iron Horse Hotel


Last Friday, I tried to jam as many things into one night as possible. Starting at the United Community Center for the Ramiro Rodriguez exhibit followed by dinner at Botanas Mexican, we then toured The Great Lake's Distillery newly located in Historic Walker's Point. I finally ended up at the Iron Horse Hotel and despite the prior three hours of constant shuffling, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Put simply, I love this place. But, more importantly, I can't believe it's in Milwaukee.

Walking inside, there is a warm, almost smokey scent; not a tobacco filled smoker's plume but rather hints of antique leather and wood burning fireplaces. In fact, taking a nod from the New York City smoking ban, the entire bar is smoke free.

From the indescribable and meticulous interior design to the exotic drink menu utilizing house infused Door County cherry brandy and French ginger liquor, the hotel's lobby and connected bar combine New York trend with Montana austerity.

Friday night, the first floor was packed. From the Rehorst vodka and gin tasting in the library and the cozy couch filled lobby to the packed bar named Branded, people filled every available seat. And even though the bar was packed, maybe two or three deep the entire length of the bar, service was incredible. Hurriedly going from one customer to the next, bartenders were surprisingly focused yet friendly.

The ability to capture both urban chic and Western weathered doesn't mean they've missed the mark on motorcycles. Intentionally complimenting the neighboring Harley Davidson museum, the wrought iron moldings, leather covered chairs and biker inspired push button booths all render images of bikes out on the road. And if you don't pick up on these hints, there's the full size custom Harley Davidson parked in the lobby.

So, I guess in a way the Iron Horse Hotel is precisely Milwaukee; just a new Milwaukee. And one I arguably like a lot better.

With this in mind, I got to thinking about those places that really transformed Milwaukee's downtown night life; places that love 'em or hate em' recently brought things to a grander scale and pushed us inches or flew us miles closer to hailed metropolises like New York, London and Los Angeles.

Soho 7 brought us New York's high-end, urban trend lounge. Roots brought us Portland's organic mixers, homemade bitters and house-infused vodkas. Hotel Metro reinvented the British boutique hotel lounge for stiff martinis and classic cocktails. And Cuvee dedicated an entire menu to a selection of Parisian champagne and sparkling Dom Perignon himself would appreciate.

Clearly, these aren't your neighborhood hang outs or typical corner bars. But they most definitely could be your happy hour stop or weekend venture out on the town. And more importantly, they keep things in Milwaukee a bit more fresh and exciting.

Think I've missed some? Use the Talkback feature and weigh in on those establishments transforming the perception of Milwaukee.

Talkbacks

Harold12 | Jan. 5, 2009 at 12:30 p.m. (report)

We went Saturday night. All the tables were taken by 8:00 and the lobby was bustling. The drink prices were just about right, too. The DJ played great music, and the place had a very upscale urban feel. Glad to see a place like this in Milwaukee.

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kob | Dec. 15, 2008 at 9:10 p.m. (report)

No hate or disrespect intended towards any of the cities mentioned. I happen to love them all for different reasons. Why can't a hotel with a biker/western/tannery type theme be representative of Milwaukee? We shouldn't have to reference a different town to convey the message. Why can't people understand that there is a really cool vibe / thing going on here. No need to constantly use other cities as a measure of whether we've made it. Just enjoy it and keep it going and it can be our thing.

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nycfan | Dec. 15, 2008 at 2:57 p.m. (report)

For Kob: There is an obvious reason that New York and other cities whose populations surpass 10 million people are constantly mentioned whenever innovation or fashion or architecture are brought up - it is because they not only lead in innovative restaurants, architecture and fashion (as well as literature, film, theater, world-class classical, opera and ballet), but they also SUPPORT these leaders financially. They actually reward people who take a chance, whereas people in Milwaukee tend to do nothing but hate.

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Fashionista | Dec. 15, 2008 at 2:01 p.m. (report)

I think the post was quite appropriate (and both complimentary and complementary) in an article that discusses how these new venues are redefining Milwaukee. I don't see anything wrong with saying something had a "Manhattan feel" when NYC hosts a rather famous Fashion Week. So what's with the hate?

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kob | Dec. 15, 2008 at 1:53 p.m. (report)

It was so New York (gag!). I do not understand why so many people insist on comparing every new / cool thing in our city to L.A. or Chicago or New York. Why can't everyone believe that innovative things are happening here. Until you realize that we'll be stuck in the shadows. Just say it's cool and why you liked it.

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