By Alissa Lawton Special to Published Oct 28, 2010 at 10:49 AM

This past weekend a group of friends and I went out to celebrate my birthday. While I'm not 30 yet, I just haven't enjoyed getting older the past few years (who does?) -- so it was great to have the day and night filled with close friends, great food and great drink. I'd stopped in the Third Ward earlier that afternoon to try and find something cute and new for the evening, but was unsuccessful this time around and mostly window shopped.

A friend from Chicago and her husband showed up Saturday afternoon with their puppy and a beautiful bouquet of flowers she'd designed herself (she's a professional landscape architect, by the way). I'm wondering what a personalized bouquet says about the person that receives it. She knows me well, so I'm guessing my personality is somewhere in those flowers. After watching the Badgers eke one out over the Hawkeyes, we piled in a cab down to Water Buffalo, 249 N. Water St.

I'd only been there once before for a surprise birthday party in the lower level. We had to wait a bit for our table, but since college football was on in the bar it didn't much matter. They have at least three TVs in the upstairs bar area, but even though the place was packed, neither the televisions nor the crowd noise overwhelmed the space, which was nice for talking and catching up. The decor is great, dark and modern but not pretentious, and we got a spot with a river view and some very interesting art on the walls.

Not surprisingly, the guys in the group went for the meat and potatoes entree. I had a bite of the potatoes and some asparagus. Delish! I opted for the grilled eggplant sandwich; just the right size, since it turned out my friends had pre-delivered a carrot cake for us to all split.

After dinner we stopped in at Spin, 233 E. Chicago St., the newer hot spot known best for its celeb investor, Susan Sarandon. It was the first time any of us had ventured in and, I have to say, from the first time I'd heard about it, I had my doubts. However, I'm happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised. The tables were booked for an hour so we had a drink and enjoyed some great people watching.

Spin creates a very interesting crowd. People in gym shorts downing water and playing ping pong like they're competing for the world championships. (Some of them had literally brought gym bags with their own towels and paddles.) Girls all glammed up out at a bachelorette party. A group of well dressed middle aged couples. Quite the melting pot with ping pong balls everywhere (so watch your step).

A ping pong bar sounds like a fairly dorky hangout, but the atmosphere is fun and chill and combined with a great music selection. I will definitely be back to take in more of this bar and will hopefully get to play rather than be a spectator, though I may leave my sneakers and sports bra at home since I fit a more amateur description when it comes to ping pong. I snuck a peek at the VIP rooms on the way out; pretty swanky.

From there we strolled over to The Irish Pub, 124 N. Water St., to meet up with some more pals. Always a great stop, this night it was packed to the gills. It was relatively warm outside so, considering the time of year, it felt wrong to sit inside and miss the unseasonably beautiful night. Half hour later we were fleeing inside the greenhouse section of the bar to avoid the downpour. The comfort food (and my one and a half pieces of cake) began to take its hold on us and it was time to head home. We're not as young as we used to be.

My birthday parties have definitely changed in the past couple of years. I'm not all that OK with getting older, but, as our lives change and get busier, it's great to have the perfect excuse to get your friends together and celebrate another year of life.

Plus, you're expected to eat cake so, I'm in.

Alissa Lawton Special to

Alissa grew up on the near west side of Madison and had childhood dreams of being a veterinarian. Instead she moved to Milwaukee to attend college and attained a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from UW-Milwaukee. Previously an advertising copywriter and a marketing specialist, Alissa always preferred the writing aspect of her career.

An animal lover, a shoe lover and a white wine lover, she now resides on the much beloved East Side of Milwaukee in what she describes as an ancient apartment building full of character, but lacking sufficient electrical outlets and the convenience of an elevator.

To some she comes across as a shy wall flower, to those that know her much better she is a social butterfly, usually overdressed and wearing inappropriately uncomfortable shoes for nearly every occasion. Either way you choose to see her, Alissa has a strong desire to bring awareness to the social issues in our city while maintaining a sense of humor about herself and surroundings.