The story of Goldilocks is pretty well known. A little blond girl breaks into a house owned by a family of anthropomorphic bears and proceeds to jack up their chairs, porridge and beds while they're out doing, I don't know, bear stuff. But what if, instead of being a cute little fairy tale girl with no respect for property, Goldilocks had some sense and happened to be just a little bit of a lush? Well, that'd be me.
I've decided to explore every bar, pub, lounge and dive Milwaukee has to offer – in sets of three, just to be cute. Check back often as I embark on regular bar tours with my self-proclaimed "magical sidekick," Jessie. And don't worry – I'm too much of a taste chameleon to ever find one that's "just right."
Tackling the bars of Milwaukee in trios is a near-perfect project. I get to explore new places, I get to drink, and it allows for a pun-tastic title.
It works great for me, but there are a few bars in this city that don't want to comply. I'm talking about those with two locations. What am I supposed to do with those? Group them in their neighborhoods? By type? Pretend like they're completely separate?
Of course not. That would be boring. Instead, I'm going to pit them against each other in a trio of head-to-head bar battles – starting with ...
Location and parking
Mo's Downtown is located on the corner of Wisconsin and Plankinton Avenues. It's easy to find, but parking (street or structure) can be a beast, and can also cost you. Mo's in Tosa, on the other hand, has its own free parking lot just off Bluemound Road, plus two extra lots for overflow and street parking.
Timing is everything when it comes to either spot, though. The downtown location gives its customers a hand with free valet parking after 10 p.m. Judging from the small dinner crowd, this seems to be its niche. It's a different story in Tosa, however, whose normally spacious lots were filled to the very last spot accommodating its hefty dinnertime customer base.
Winner: Tosa. Parking is off-street 90 percent of the time and free 100 percent of the time.
Atmosphere and layout
Being a pub, people should be able to enjoy each other's company as much as they enjoy their food and booze. At both the downtown and Tosa locations, the many tables are great for this, and both are welcoming spots for families around lunch and dinnertime.
My pet peeve with the Tosa spot is its main dining area. The setup, with its high ceilings and uniform tables, makes for a decent live music venue, but as a dining room it falls short. When it's crowded with a lunch or dinner rush it feels a lot like a cafeteria. There are couple side rooms and seats closer to the bar, but the noise carries.
Downtown, the bar takes precedence in the center of the main floor. Even if you're sitting at a table, the bar and the space's layout give you a much more insular feel, despite being in a more or less singular common room.
Winner: Downtown. The space is comfortable and transitions well between family-friendly pub and late night bar time.
Mo's Downtown has tables lined up along Wisconsin Avenue, but no real outdoor seating area. The Tosa location does, though: a nicely sized patio just off the main room. It's perfectly situated for nights with live music, and since it's lower than street level, it's nicely insulated from a lot of the sights and sounds of Bluemound Road traffic.
Winner: Tosa. Obviously.
You'd think with two of the "same" bar you'd get pretty much the same style. While customers get the same basic experience and can expect the same type of food and drink specials and live music, the two Mo's still have their own unique vibes.
Atmosphere contributes a lot, but each bar's presentation does, too. Tosa's Mo's feels more sprawling and rustic, with a lot more subtle design and dark wood and stone. Downtown is brighter, relying on a lot of green and orange/red and colorful mismatched seats and embellishments.
Unfortunately, the Tosa bar is cheapened by an advertising overload. It's a beautiful place, but everywhere you look there's a featured liquor banner, specials posters or something else distracting and commercial. I couldn't put my finger on why it seemed so kitchy at first, but after Jessie pointed out the ads it's all I could see.
Where Tosa overloads in promotion, the downtown Mo's accents more authentically. There are bookshelves and knick-knacks and other (good) kitschy odds and ends that make it homey and really seal the "pub" feel. They have their own promo wear for sale, but it's on display high on the top wall and out of immediate view.
Winner: Downtown. All of Tosa's advertising cheapens the classic Irish pub effect.
Mo's aren't cookie-cutter bars, which makes both worth a visit. They're both worth seeing in their dining and bar elements, too. Frequent specials, live music and late night menu service are great draws for both, but that's about where the similarities end.
It's a close one (the counts are tied for amenities), but Mo's Downtown wins out. I'd give the Tosa location an edge come summer simply for the patio, but since that's such a short window of opportunity in Wisconsin, the downtown bar has more of the complete package and comes out on top.
Interested in future Goldilocks and the Three Bars adventures? Stay tuned here, or follow me on Twitter @Eenergee for real-time bar tour commentary. And if you want me to drink at your favorite bar, that's what Talkbacks and @Mentions are for.
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.