By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Dec 13, 2019 at 11:35 AM Photography: Royal Brevvaxling

For the month of December, OnMilwaukee will shake up the popular Hidden Gem series by showcasing bars and restaurants that literally put the sparkle in the holidays with extravagent decorations. This series is brought to you in partnership with Miller Brewing Company. Merry Miller Time to all!

Balistreri's Bluemound Inn is a welcoming spot that's worth a stop any time of year, but it's particularly wonderful during the month of December. The Italian-American bar and restaurant is festooned with Christmas lights and decorations, including full-sized trees, garland, ornaments, nutcrackers, angels, stars, candy canes and kid-sized Santas.

The patio is a decked out (pun intended?) in thousands of colorful lights creating a mini Christmas wonderland worth walking into. But many of the visitors come this time of year just to sit at the bar to enjoy the yuletide milieu while sipping a glass of wine or an Old Fashioned, and maybe nibbling on a pizza like the gourmet thick-crusted, truffle-oil topped, four-cheese "white pizza" or the coveted Melanzane Fritte (fried eggplant) appetizer or a fish fry on Fridays. (Balistreri's has six varieties of fish plates!)

"Those people right over there came in just to see the decorations, have a drink and an appetizer, and feel the spirit," says Balistreri's bartender Dave Mikolajek. 

The original Balistreri's restaurant – which is also heavily adorned with holiday flourishes – is located nearby on 68th Street in Wauwatosa. The owner of the restaurants, Jim Balistreri, started working for his uncles at Bella Food Service on 35th Street and Clybourn in the 1950s. Bella was Milwaukee’s first pizza business to deliver.

Balistreri went on to work at the Caradaro Club when it was located on East Erie Street and opened his first restaurant in 1966 on 58th Street and Villard Avenue. "I cooked, served and managed the business," says Balistreri.

In 1968, he opened Balistreri’s Italian/American Ristorante and Balistreri’s Bluemound Inn in April 1996. Balistreri has always had a penchant for people, food and celebration.

Balistreri's decorations, which are put up by general manager Tom Siever along with employees Gina, Barb and Denise, will be up for a few more weeks. But then, it's on to the next holiday.

"We decorate for all of the holidays – Valentine's Day is up next – but Christmastime is everyone's favorite. It's a tradition around here. An Italian thing. Very over the top; very fun," says Mikolajek.

Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.

As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.

She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that. 

Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.

Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.

In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!

When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.