By Renee Lorenz Special to Published Dec 23, 2011 at 5:26 AM

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 themed bar reports, bar reviews and bartender profiles to help you explore and discover the city's bar scene.

The phrase "the good old days" exists for a reason. Things were – at least according to the older, wiser people I talk to – classier, quality-made and more refined.

Unfortunately, the bygone days are just that, and time machines are still in the idea stage. But, Milwaukee is a magical and industrious land of alcohol, and it hosts some very fine establishments inspired by these simpler times. Here are three of them for your future drinking pleasure – which is made even better by the lack of time machine butterfly effect guilt.

The Hotel Foster
2028 E. North Ave.

You can't book a room at The Hotel Foster, but it's definitely worth an extended stay.

Stepping into the hotel lobby-themed bar is like stepping into the Roaring '20s hub tavern of a hopping old Hollywood or Paris hotspot. It's ornate and elegant and perfect for a candlelit evening out or a bustling night of live music and strong drinks.

Hotel Foster's ambience is thanks to a gorgeous and ample collection of antique furnishings, including chandeliers, stained glass, Oriental rugs and other unique pieces. Not showy or over-styled, it truly conjures up the image of the time over its roomy first floor and lofty second level and patio.

Taking a cue from the richly appointed bar, the drink menu is just as elaborate and just as well done. For starters, there's the cocktail menu. The classics – the Sazerac, the Brandy Alexander, among others – are of course represented, but the list also includes a few featured and wholly original creations, which change seasonally. These keep with old-style traditions of complex recipes, so it's common to find everything from fresh fruit and spices to whole eggs behind the bar. Fleshing out the liquor list is a healthy selection of scotches and bourbons.

A modest wine list and offerings of Valentine coffee and Rishi teas add diversity, but the best part of this pre-Prohibition bar is its surprisingly elaborate beer list, which encompasses literally dozens of big- and small-name bottle and can selections from around the world, plus a couple handfuls of established and rotating taps.

722 N. Milwaukee St.

Keeping things close to home, Distil channels the best of modern Wisconsin's booze and food into its classic, artisanal bar of old.

Once you find this unassuming spot (from the outside, anyway), it becomes clear why this indulgent Milwaukee Street spot was just named one of the 50 Best Bars in America by Food & Wine magazine. The bar is without a doubt the center of attention in the cavernous, minimalist space. Bottles of vintage spirits and Wisconsin-made liquors line shelf upon shelf along the back. The display is impressive, but the intoxicating concoctions they help create are the stars.

Moscow Mules. Aviations. Daquiris, Mai Tais and Old Fashioneds are all part of the mixologists' repertoires, as well as more than 20 different classic and craft cocktails (and probably any other boozy combination you can think up). For a real treat, veer toward the craft cocktails and experience some local spirits and in-house ingenuity. The Wisconsin Pumpkin Pie, pictured in all of its decadent glory above, is just one of them.

While the drink menu alone is enough to keep visitors happy, Distil goes the extra mile with its straightforward food menu. Gathering many of its ingredients from our own state's backyard, the bar's list of offerings – simple sandwiches, soups, charcuterie platters, etc. – also get the artisanal treatment, making for a nicely familiar yet satisfying complement.

Belmont Tavern
784 N. Jefferson St.

Belmont Tavern hasn't been around very long, but it's already taken a unique angle – more than one, in fact – on the old-fashioned bar scene.

First, it takes a complete 180 on the 1920s concept. Rather than crowding into the intricate, decorative aesthetic, Belmont's vibe is big, bold art deco infused with bright lights and vivid color. Similarly, the bar itself is a 90-degree difference from a typical bar setup, choosing to spread out lengthwise along its Jefferson Street facade. It makes for a fun space, like drinking in widescreen.

Aside from bar seating and the small, high booths that line the two walls that run perpendicular to the bar, Belmont Tavern is filled mostly with high-top tables that lend themselves to a standing crowd on busy nights. The after-five crowd finds its way here quickly, but the space is deceptively accommodating.

As for drinks, the list of classic and signature cocktails is not shabby in the least. Martinis, sparkling cocktails and fresh, fruity house-made drinks are all on the menu. What's especially refreshing, however, is the dedicated effort Belmont Tavern put into including a list of "mocktails." Virgin mixers are nothing new, but taking the time and menu space to include the non-drinkers adds a bonus touch of class to this vintage bar.

Renee Lorenz Special to

Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with, 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.