By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 03, 2007 at 5:29 AM
Style. Progress. Intrigue.

Those are the three themes that the InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel staff wants people to keep in mind when they step into Marcus Corporation’s Downtown property.

The facility, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and transformation from the Wyndham to the InterContinental, blends a sense of European style with Las Vegas trendy and New York chic, wrapping all three into one package in the heart of Downtown Milwaukee.

“The concept of the hotel itself, first and foremost, is to turn the Milwaukee hospitality community on its ear,” General Manager Tim Smith says. “We want to do something a little bit different, a little more edgy.”

Smith says that much of the design was inspired by the hotel’s location in the city’s entertainment district. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts is located just down Water Street, while the Pabst Theater is a block south.

“When you stay at this hotel, we want you to automatically feel like you’re a part of the community and a part of the neighborhood,” Smith says. “Everything you see in the lobby when you walk in lends itself to the location we’re in; right in the heart of Milwaukee’s Arts and Entertainment District.”

The hotel looks and feels nothing like its predecessor. Gone are the industry-standard design elements; drab, neutral carpeting and wall décor has been replaced with an artsy look. Modern paintings adorn the walls, with warm accenting colors selected by designer Mark Knauer.

Knauer has won awards for his design work across the country and is also the man behind the style at Milwaukee restaurant Bacchus, other Bartolotta restaurants, and the recent renovation of The Pfister Hotel.

The 221 guest rooms have an upscale, Euro vibe. Think of the furnishings as a high-class, Fifth Avenue form of Ikea. Straight, functional lines and low-profile furniture fill the rooms and give a contemporary and sophisticated feel.

“The rooms really offer a modern feel,” says Smith.” “The bathrooms are outfitted with very European amenities. What we really wanted to create was, when a guest stays here they walk into a room, look and something and say, 'I need one of those in my own home.'”

While the hotel is only 10 stories tall, the corner rooms have an interesting view of City Hall, Water Street and the Marcus Center that are surprisingly appealing at night.

The dining and entertainment options lend credence to InterContinental’s desire to be a destination in and of its own. C L E A R, the lobby bar is an open-concept lounge that includes part of the lobby, as opposed to the standard concept of a separate enclave.

Guests and visitors can enjoy breakfast and lunch there, as well as cocktails throughout the day. Downtown workers looking to ditch out for a quick bite or a Happy Hour meeting spot can stay connected to the office with complimentary wireless Internet access.

Kil@wat is the hotel’s restaurant. Already, it’s received favorable reviews and builds on the hotel’s three main themes. It was designed to be classy enough for a formal dinner, laid-back enough to be a post-show dining option and sophisticated enough for a meal with friends.

The hotel has carried its progressive theme onto the Kil@wat menu. Culinary director Marc Bianchini and Executive Chef Robert Ash have created dining options that Bianchini, who owns and runs Cubanitas and Osteria del Mondo, wanted to bring something different to Downtown dining.

Instead of the usual salad, followed by entrée, with dessert to wrap things up, Ash and Bianchini have strived to make dining at the InterContinental an experience.

“It’s not your typical 1-2-3 courses; you can bounce around and it was meant to be fun,” Ash explains. “We want to create multiple courses and tastings, almost like a tapas restaurant. The portions are smaller so you can sample different courses and not feel stuffed.”

While the menu tries to bring the sophisticated tastes of New York and Las Vegas to Milwaukee, Ash points out that incorporating the community into the menu is an important part of the plan.

“We’re trying to get as many local purveyors as we can,” Ash says. “With summer coming up in a couple weeks, we’re trying to tie up with a lot of local farmers. We want to showcase what the local market can grow and produce.”

To cap off the experience, the Zenden nightclub brings the atmosphere of a Vegas club to Water Street. The club will feature local and national DJ’s in an upscale setting that also hopes to draw the casual residents hitting the town on a weekend.

The InterContinental Milwaukee is one of just 22 InterContinental properties in the United States, allowing the city to join the ranks of Chicago, Miami, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco as well as international locales like Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Cannes, France.