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.
It may not feel much like winter out there, but the groundhog's convinced more is on its way. Whether you're looking for an escape or indulging the denial mentality that January's 40-degree days are the gateway to balmy glory, you have every excuse to sit back, relax and enjoy some warm-weather drinking.
Even though Wisconsin is bogged down in winter, there are still some local "hot"-spots that radiate warmth year-round and they're more than willing to rescue you from the doldrums. Just don't try to use the outdoor seating. That's taking things too far.
520 E. Center St., (414) 265-7000
Technically, Timbuktu is in West Africa. But, you won't have to travel nearly that far to experience a taste of it. Riverwest's Club Timbuktu offers an authentic little piece of Africa right here in Milwaukee.
The club channels the Mali town through sights, sounds and flavors and comes complete with its own inspired, welcoming manifesto. Newly remodeled, the space sports colors and patterns that draw from its namesake, like the animal print-painted beams and other vibrant touches. The decorative baskets and other accents that line the walls are straight from Africa, too. Club Timbuktu also serves a minimal menu of dishes straight from Mali. The bar isn't anything special, but they do offer a mean – and cheap – rum punch.
Club Timbuktu's main attraction, though, is its music. While it does offer family-friendly shows on occasion, the club typically caters to the 21-and-up set. It regularly hosts live music on its built-in stage, and the open space doubles as a dance floor.
Club Timbuktu has become known for its African music, but they've devoted a fair share of stage time – and decorative space – to Jamaican influences (hello, giant Bob Marley wall cloth). Every Friday features reggae music, and Saturdays often bring live bands – both African- and reggae-style – to the stage, as well.
Foundation Tiki Bar
2718 N. Bremen St., (414) 374-2587
Not too far from Club Timbuktu is yet another exotic oasis. The famed Foundation Tiki Bar is a well-known drinking destination, yet it keeps a decidedly low profile among the row of houses along Bremen. Only a few lines of Christmas lights and two windows emblazoned with glowing "Foundation" and "Tiki Bar" neons are the only things that draw bargoers in from the street during dark winter months. Closer up, visitors have a better inclination of what they're about to experience when they walk up to the bamboo-stick door, but even this is not nearly indicative enough of the Pacific island paradise it's concealing.
The bar itself is rather narrow, but deep, and is fully decked out in tiki statuettes, palms and nautical décor. Simply lit by ambience lights around the bar and embellished with genuine puffer fish lanterns and table candles, the dimly lit interior feels as though the surf is just on the other side of the emergency exit.
While the visuals are an experience in themselves, the drink menu is the big kahuna here. Many of the drinks are appropriately based with one of the bar's impressive array of international rums, including the legendary Mai Tai. A number of the concoctions also come in their own special novelty glasses, which bargoers can take home as a souvenir. It's best to check when ordering whether yours is a take-home or not, though, since even the mightiest drinker might not even remember his or her name after finding the bottom of one of Foundation's deliciously potent mixes.
8028 W. National Ave., West Allis (414) 257-1012
A Caribbean beach cabana just west of Milwaukee, Painted Parrot specializes in good food, fun drinks and a relaxed atmosphere.
Depending on the night you stop by, the Parrot might be lightly buzzing or packed to capacity. Most of this is determined by whether or not it's Friday, since the Friday fish fry draws huge crowds who often sit through hour to hour-and-a-half wait times to grab a table or booth and dig in.
The "off" days are far from off, though. Painted Parrot's regular menu boast a range of American and Caribbean dishes, featuring everything from coconut shrimp and Caribbean jerk specialties to the "Big Ass Nachos," one of the many menu items served in a (clean) garbage can lid.
Along with the standards that come with a full bar, the Parrot also mixes up fruity 'tinis, 'ritas and other "umbrella drinks." There's nothing elaborate about the drinks, but they're tasty, well-boozed and perfect for leisured sipping with good company.
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.