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."
The past two weeks have taken the Goldilocks tour to some very "beer and a shot"-type places. As great as these bars are in their own right, things were starting to get a little too beer-centric.
And, while you (and I, for that matter) can argue that's never a bad thing, we decided it was high time to fancy things back up. So this time around we said a temporary goodbye to beer and put on our classy pants for an evening of vino.
Vino 100 Milwaukee, 219 E. Erie St.
A franchise chain that includes both this and the Tosa locale, Vino 100 has opened a couple dozen wine shops across the U.S. with the goal of making every customer feel like a wine expert. Instead of making wine newbies feel awkward about asking a million questions in their search for a decent wine, they've come up with something they call the Wine Barometer, which rates each of their wines on two scales: flavor (fruity to dry) and body (light to full).
This is great if you're stopping by to pick up a bottle for dinner, but a little less useful if you're stopping in for a glass after work. All the wines served at the bar are also for sale in the store, so you can do your research on the wall, but having a working knowledge of what you like helps.
The bartender working when we stopped in was nice and knew her way around the wine, but seemed a little lost on some their finer details. It's easy to understand, though, since the shop has over 100 selections to choose from.
The wine by the glass list is decent, and you can also buy a bottle off the wall to drink in-store for a $5 corking fee. The wine bar standard, the cheese plate, is also on the menu if you're in the mood for a snack to complement your drinks. They even have a cooler of bottled beer, if for some reason you decided to visit a wine shop but weren't in a wine kind of mood.
Thief Wine Shop & Bar, 400 N. Water St. (in the Milwaukee Public Market)
Nestled right in the center of the Public Market, Thief Wine Shop & Bar is a unique alternative to the often mellow and more formal wine bar aesthetic. Those not willing to part with their milder atmosphere can still enjoy the Thief experience at their new-ish second location in Shorewood.
Customers at the Milwaukee Public Market location can pick from over 30 wines by the glass at the bar, or venture over to the shop to pick one of the more than 500 reasonably priced bottle selections to take home or drink there (a $10 corkage fee applies – unless it's Thursday and your bottle's $20 or more.). Yes, there's beer here, too.
Thief has assembled a light menu of fare from the other artisans in the market, but they also welcome people to eat their own lunch or dinner at the bar. Of course, you can always stop by just for a drink – the bar is even stays open late Thursday through Saturday after the market closes.
The staff is engaging and knows their stuff, and they're more than willing to help you pick something out on both the bar and shop side. Because of where Thief is situated, the staff is also particularly well versed on wine-and-dinner pairings.
The Hamilton, 823 E. Hamilton St.
The Hamilton is one of the East Side's newest additions, having opened in its quiet neighborhood setting just north of Brady Street early this year. The space used to house a car garage, but now resembles more of a lush hotel lobby. The old garage feel is nowhere to be found now, but you can still see remnants of it in the open-space lounge concept and high ceilings.
With a menu that divides its space between wine and cocktails (and even a few micro brews), The Hamilton is a good destination for people looking for a swanky night out without feeling like they have to get wine. The specialty house cocktails are intriguing on their own, with a separate menu split up into "Prologue," "Dialogue" and "Epilogue" cocktails made with varied unique and house-made ingredients.
The wine comes with its own variety of selection and price range. There are a few by-the-glass standbys available, but those wanting to make it a wine night should bring friends to help split a bottle or two.
Getting a group together shouldn't be too hard, though. The open lounge area still feels plenty intimate; it can accommodate large groups in the richly upholstered corner booths, or couples in smaller sofa-and-chair setups. Plus, with the option of also ordering cheese and charcuterie plates courtesy of Glorioso's, it would be more than easy to lose a few hours enjoying the wine and company in this elegant-yet-comfortable space.
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 other fun stuff. 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.