By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jun 17, 2008 at 5:20 AM

As Potawatomi Bingo Casino officially unveils the results of its $240 million expansion Thursday, June 19, Potawatomi Food and Beverage Director Michael Tsuchihashi expects the dazzling new Bar 360 to be a highlight.

Centrally located on a raised platform in the new gaming area, the bar is definitely a focal point. Nearly everything that isn't made from wood or metal glows and the entire bar area is canopied by a LCD screen that displays colorful light patterns changing gradually from cool, mystic blues to fiery reds and oranges. Four cylindrical tables round off the corners of the bar, adding to its smooth, sleek 360-degree shape. Tsuchihashi calls them "conversation corners."

"One thing we tried to do with this casino is make it crisper looking," he says. "We have much cleaner lines and the theme is 'light,' which carries throughout all the new developments. The old casino showed what 'Up North' would be like -- a lot of leaves, trees and branches. Once we're finished with the new casino, we're going to go back into the old one and make it look like this."

Although the Memphis-based Hnedak Bobo Group, who designed the new interior, moved away from the former casino's circle of life concept and went with something more modern, it did not completely stray from the prominent Native American heritage Potawatomi celebrates. Three massive steel structures representing dream catchers stretch across the ceiling, casting beams of animated light onto the crowds below.

"We wanted something to reflect our culture and our theme here at the casino, but also that gave us the practicality of doing something so big," explains Tsuchihashi.

In addition to Bar 360, there are new restaurants -- including Wild Earth, a high-energy, open-kitchen restaurant and RuYi, a casual pan-Asian option -- and a newly designed gaming area. The three-story expansion is about 500,000 sq. ft., raising the Menomonee Valley casino's total to 750,000 sq. ft.

Like many aspects of the casino's expansion, Bar 360 bills itself as "high energy." During the week, vibrant music pumps through the speakers and on weekends, the bar hosts live music. Although he says this will translate to mostly small, acoustic cover bands, Tsuchihashi tells us there was a Barbara Streisand impersonator strolling during the casino's soft opening on June 11.

With additional high-top tables for two and an adjacent plush-chair lounge area, the bar seats 125. It offers eight beers on tap -- three Miller products and a rotating cast of imports and seasonal crafts, such as Stella, New Glarus's Spotted Cow and Sprecher brews. As a full-service bar, Tsuchihashi sees it as a destination in and of itself.

"We're a casino so we obviously want people to come down here an enjoy the gaming, but we've also learned throughout the years that entertainment has really become a great part of casinos. Whether is the theater, or the various new restaurants we opened, we want to make this a full experience. We got our liquor license last year and now we're going all out."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”