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It’s been just two years since Neighborhood Draft opened at 5921 W. Vliet St. But in that short period of time, the friendly bar and restaurant has swiftly become a Washington Heights fixture. And it shines particularly bright on busier nights when neighbors gather at the bar to watch a game or catch up after a long week.
But the holiday season brings out something more. Step over the threshold on a brisk December evening and you’ll find an inviting space where the warmth inside not only casts a glow onto the sidewalk, but gives the old picture windows a frosty haze.
This year, you'll also find a nice collection of well-appointed holiday decor, from twinkling garlands on the back bar and metallic gold bows affixed to pendant lighting.
Fresh cedar garlands strung with holiday lights hang over the top of the communal bar-height seating area toward the back of the restaurant.
And a wreath encircles the old wall mounted Schlitz globe light complete with its Baroque beer lady motif.
Even the the sticker-clad "Elton Felten," a repurposed soda machine stocked with a grab bag of random domestic cans and select specialty brews (sold for just $2) is topped with twinkling garland and a set of metallic reindeer.
A festive turn
Owner Brian Felten says he didn't start off making holiday decor a priority; but, year by year things have gotten more and more festive.
“I love Thanksgiving because of all the great food, but Christmas….” Felten pauses, noting that he loves it for very different reasons. “You see the joy that children get, and you watch them circle the things they want in magazines and make lists of what they hope to get from Santa. That’s what makes me love Christmas.”
He says he kept the festive decor scant during his first year in business. But one item became the focal point; a retro 1970s vintage string art Santa Claus that he found years ago at a rummage sale and bought for a quarter.
“I saw it and thought it was pretty cool,” he says. “And I thought maybe someday if I ever opened a bar, I’d hang it up. It definitely took some work to put it together, and I was just shocked by the detail. For years, it just sat in storage, but I dragged it out the first year we were open, and hung it behind the bar. It’s definitely a conversation starter.”
The second year, he says, he added green and red light bulbs to the sconces on the Eastern wall and put out a bit of garland.
‘The more I started decorating, the more comments we got from customers,” he says, noting that one of his staff in particular, Noel, encouraged him to add more holiday decor. “After a while, it got to be a fun thing. And now there’s a certain pride behind it.”
Holiday inspired fare
Felten also brings a little bit of holiday spirit to the Neighborhood Draft menu with festive cocktails like their hand-muddled Wisconsin-style old fashioned, which features brandy infused with ginger and orange zest and a holiday mule featuring vodka, lime and ginger beer enhanced by muddled fresh cranberries and orange.
He also creates two special wing sauces for the bar’s popular wings: the Don Ho Christmas Special featuring a Buffalo-based sauce enhanced with pineapple, coconut, hot peppers and ginger; and Wing in the New Year, a barbeque-style sauce enhanced by brut sparkling wine and grapes. Wings are $14 for ten, accompanied by one sauce plus a choice of ranch, blue cheese or lemon pepper ranch for dipping.
Guests can also indulge in Felten’s brie bites featuring brie baked in puff pastry and served with a drizzle of housemade ginger caramel sauce and pecan pralines ($7).
The kitchen at Neighborhood Draft is open Tuesday through Thursday from 3 to 9 p.m. (bar open until 10 p.m.); Friday from noon to 9 p.m. (bar open until midnight); Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m. (bar open until midnight) and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The bar will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Jan. 2, but open on Dec. 26 and Dec. 31 for New Year’s Eve.
Guests are also invited to the Third Annual "Hangover at the Draft" on Jan. 1, 2022 from noon to 6 p.m. This year, the event will feature a hangover-worthy brunch menu, a selection of mystery Third Space brews inside the Elton Felten and a special tapping of Third Space Barrel Aged German Chocolate Imperial Stout.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.