By Maureen Post Special to Published Mar 07, 2009 at 3:35 PM

Downtown vs. the suburbs.

It's an age-old dilemma between sprawling homes and stacked condos, yards and terraces, family life and nightlife.

But when it comes to dining, entertainment or nightlife, Downtown historically has always been the go-to. Home to dozens of theaters, neighborhoods of restaurants and recognized bar districts; suburbanites have been graciously coping with the 20-minute drive Downtown for years.

But, as plenty of newly opened suburban bars prove, the flow occasionally switches and there's reason for city dwellers to venture west, north or south for a sip of something different.

In Wauwatosa, places like Maxie's, Firefly Urban Bar and Grill and JoJo's Martini Bar are changing suburban expectations. Offering specialized drink menus in spaces following Downtown trends, these spots bring a new look to West Side drinking.

Firefly Urban Bar and Grill, 7754 Harwood Ave.,  which previously operated as both Jolly's and Bjonda, found a niche with a chic interior bar and swanky bar food options. Happy hour packs the back bar -- hidden from street view -- covered with lush draping and low level lighting. The drink menu includes twists on several favorites, including the "Firefly" Mojito with a splash of X-Rated liquor or a margarita mixing lychee juice.

Head to JoJo's Martini Bar, 418 N. Mayfair Rd., on Friday or Saturday night and you'll wonder if Highway 100 suddenly intersects Water Street. Overflowing with young professionals and medical students from surrounding neighborhoods, 31 kinds of vodka fuel a boundless list of martini combinations.

Further out, places like Piano Blu in Pewaukee or Mojo's Steakhouse in Menomonee Falls bypass customary Wisconsin corner bar tradition to offer long martini lists, live piano blues and innovative menus.

In downtown Pewaukee, Piano Blu, 179 W. Wisconsin Ave., exposes the western suburbs to the sounds of Chicago jazz. To complete the city setting, the intimate bar offers an extensive wine list, wine flights, iced-glass martinis and small plate specials.

On the more casual side, places like the Village Pub, Silver Spring House, Leff's Luckytown and Club Paragon draw Downtown-size crowds and big city buzz.

Overall, the divide is a matter of proximity and association more than anything else. Whereas technically Shorewood and Wauwatosa are suburbs of Milwaukee, perceptions abound that they are more a part of Milwaukee than say New Berlin or Glendale. These perceptions are likely due to places like The Rosebud Theatre, Il Mito Enoteca and the BritInn.

To some extent, Downtown simply fits the bill for a night on the town. Densely populated streets and a littering of nightlife regulars set the scene for cocktail parties and A-list entertainment.

Thus, it's perhaps unfair to wage a straight out comparison between Downtown and suburban nightlife.

Anyway, the argument blurs as Eastsiders become West Side residents and Brookfield empty nesters make the move back Downtown.

Maureen Post Special to staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.

After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.

Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.