Brew City Bar Tab takes a patron's-eye look at the Milwaukee area's diverse selection of bars, clubs, pubs, taverns, lounges and more. Stay tuned each week for bar reports, reviews and other content to help you explore and discover the city's bar scene.
January's plodding right along, and likely so are your earnest attempts at bettering yourself via a New Year's resolution or two. It's still early in the new year, but some of you may be wavering on your willpower.
I'm not, of course, but I'm a good person and naturally I want to help you out. So do yourself a favor and visit one of these holistic-sounding bars to re-connect with yourself and the bottom of a glass.
Aura, 1011 N. Astor St., (414) 272-1011
Aura has a little something for everybody, which makes sense since it has to cater to both local clientele and Milwaukee visitors making a temporary home out of the adjoining Comfort Inn.
As a restaurant, Aura serves a surprisingly extensive menu of appetizers, burgers and sandwiches, soups, salads and pizzas, as well as higher-end entrees like ahi tuna and filet mignon. As a lounge, the ample, retro-inspired bar serves a decent selection of beer and mixers and features nightly drink specials, plus a collection of big screens and team trivia on Wednesdays.
And as a club, Aura livens up their quiet Milwaukee corner every Friday and Saturday night with DJ tunes and a vibrant scene, complete with the standard club-issue dancing pole.
Depending on when you visit Aura you'll encounter a wide range of bar crowds and early evening is actually very mellow. The only thing Aura really keeps consistent is its décor – a mix of '70s elegance and modern trendy. And pink. Aura is very, very pink. Sometimes green or blue, since the lighted bar does fade through a color array. Prepare yourself for a much less vibrant outside world before you head home from this one.
Karma Bar & Grill, 600 E. Ogden Ave., (414) 220-4118
I never thought I'd throw these words together, but it seems I didn't get enough of a sports fix after last week's barventure. Open at 11 a.m. daily, Karma Bar and Grill is not a typical sports bar. Yes, they cover all the bases as a sports bar (more on that in a second), but they also combine it with a trendy ambience befitting its middle-ground location between the Water Street and East Side bar districts.
A lot of Karma's unique atmosphere is borrowed from the chalet-style building, a carryover from the iconic John Ernst Café. The original fireplace has been preserved, too. Karma has definitely made the space their own, though, from the main bar space's big screens and novelty scoreboard to the relaxing, chilled-out vibe of the lower-level Sutra Lounge.
The food and drink menus are a far cry from the old café's traditional German fare as well, but different can be good (and entertaining, if you pick the right special). Karma's become known for its pub food, bloodies and burgers. They're also no slouches in the gameday deals, either. Everything from pitcher specials for beer and wings – yes, a pitcher of wings – to happy hour specials are up for grabs. Happy hours for the night owls, plus quirky discounts like half-off flip night on Tuesday and free shots for belting out a song at Sunday karaoke, add to the fun at this edgy sports bar.
Zenden, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., (414) 978-2161
The InterContinental's darker, more mysterious sister bar, Zenden opens late Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to accommodate guests looking to experience other continents besides North America without undergoing the pesky business of actually leaving.
Luckily, stepping into Zenden – with its deep orange, illuminated bar, paper lanterns and sleek furniture – is a pretty close second. The bar is on the small side, but enhances its square footage by devoting a huge percentage of its wall space to mirrors. It also strives to be trendier than the simple-yet-classy Clear bar across the lobby, featuring regular DJs Friday and Saturday nights.
Zenden's specialty drink menu also takes a cue from the other side of the Pacific. Boasting elaborate concoctions like the White Lotus and Asian Pear, their featured selections are delicious and not unreasonable at $10-$11. The bar also stocks an eclectic selection of liquor and employs the same creative drink mixers found at Clear, so don't be shy to let them mix up something on the fly if nothing strikes your fancy.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.