By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jul 13, 2007 at 5:28 AM

From the outside, Cudahy's City Lounge doesn't specifically stand out among the other bars, restaurants and small retails business near the Kinnickinic / Layton intersection. Rather, the tall brick building complements the working class, industrial look of the South Side city.

But there is something about City Lounge that makes it very different from the other bars in Cudahy -- and just about every bar in the Milwaukee area; it's smoke-free.

Open now just shy of four months at 3455 E. Layton Ave., co-owner Joe Halser is well aware of the stigma attached to some of the areas neighboring General Mitchell International Airport.

"It's definitely not known for being an entertainment destination," he says. "Nobody is going to drive down to Cudahy to go to another corner tavern, especially when it's east of the airport. That's why I had to make this place different."

Aside from the abundant "Old Milwaukee" artifacts decorating the large, airy space -- everything from a length of wrought iron fencing, a police call box, antique chandeliers and stretches of cream city brick in the floor -- what stands out the most is the fresh, clean feel of the place, thanks in large part to the lack of cigarette smoke and ash coating the walls, floor and tables.

"We're not anti-smoking, I just think bar owners should have a choice, and we just wanted to offer a clean, progressive environment that everyone can enjoy," says Halser, mentioning there is a covered outdoor beer garden with heat lamps in back where smokers are welcome to light up.

"Eighty percent of the population doesn't smoke. It's no different than going to a party at someone's house and they ask you to smoke out in the garage. It should really be a non-issue."

After working 22 years at the family business -- Landmark 1850 Inn, known as Milwaukee's oldest tavern -- Halser had all but given up on the industry. That is, until he realized there was a way to do things his way.

Having completely renovated the abandoned, fire-damaged building into a workable bar space in the mid-'90s with his father, Halser returned to the space -- which wasn't being used for anything -- with a vision. He sought to create a lounge with a big city feel, and, despite countless bars adopting the "lounge" label and morphing its traditional description -- food, cocktails and entertainment -- into something that feels no different from any other place to drink, Halser claims City Lounge lives up to its name.

Karaoke reigns every Sunday night from 7 to 11 p.m. -- although Halser says it's been kicking until close lately. Mondays features the $5 martini and piano extraordinaire Marcel on his baby grand and Tuesdays have been dubbed as "Blues, Brews and BBQs," with down-home and Delta blues musicians playing to a crowd noshing on JT Bones BBQ.

Other nights, the snacks are plentiful and Halser even encourages his customers to order delivery from neighborhood restaurants -- such as La Salsa and Papa Luigi's -- straight to their tables.

The choice of libations here are also worth mentioning.

Using his three dachshund dogs as inspiration, Halser -- a self-described "ideas guy" -- birthed his own III Dachshunds Beer Co., which is brewed and bottled at Appleton's Stone Cellar Brewpub. Today you can find his Ankle Bitter Ale, Otto's Oatmeal Stout and Howling Hounds Honey Wheat on tap at City Lounge, as well as a bottles of his III Dachshunds Old fashioned Root Beer and four flavors of hard cider.

Halser set out to make City Lunge something different, and with the clean, café feel, the friendly atmosphere -- someone greets you at the door -- and the charming details of Milwaukee's history, he's definitely succeeded.




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.”