By Maureen Post Special to Published Dec 12, 2008 at 10:30 AM

Last Friday, I tried to jam as many things into one night as possible. Starting at the United Community Center for the Ramiro Rodriguez exhibit followed by dinner at Botanas Mexican, we then toured The Great Lake's Distillery newly located in Historic Walker's Point. I finally ended up at the Iron Horse Hotel and despite the prior three hours of constant shuffling, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Put simply, I love this place. But, more importantly, I can't believe it's in Milwaukee.

Walking inside, there is a warm, almost smokey scent; not a tobacco filled smoker's plume but rather hints of antique leather and wood burning fireplaces.  In fact, taking a nod from the New York City smoking ban, the entire bar is smoke free.

From the indescribable and meticulous interior design to the exotic drink menu utilizing house infused Door County cherry brandy and French ginger liquor, the hotel's lobby and connected bar combine New York trend with Montana austerity.

Friday night, the first floor was packed. From the Rehorst vodka and gin tasting in the library and the cozy couch filled lobby to the packed bar named Branded, people filled every available seat. And even though the bar was packed, maybe two or three deep the entire length of the bar, service was incredible. Hurriedly going from one customer to the next, bartenders were surprisingly focused yet friendly.

The ability to capture both urban chic and Western weathered doesn't mean they've missed the mark on motorcycles. Intentionally complimenting the neighboring Harley Davidson museum, the wrought iron moldings, leather covered chairs and biker inspired push button booths all render images of bikes out on the road. And if you don't pick up on these hints, there's the full size custom Harley Davidson parked in the lobby.

So, I guess in a way the Iron Horse Hotel is precisely Milwaukee; just a new Milwaukee. And one I arguably like a lot better.

With this in mind, I got to thinking about those places that really transformed Milwaukee's downtown night life; places that love ‘em or hate em' recently brought things to a grander scale and pushed us inches or flew us miles closer to hailed metropolises like New York, London and Los Angeles.

Soho 7 brought us New York's high-end, urban trend lounge. Roots brought us Portland's organic mixers, homemade bitters and house-infused vodkas. Hotel Metro reinvented the British boutique hotel lounge for stiff martinis and classic cocktails. And Cuvee dedicated an entire menu to a selection of Parisian champagne and sparkling Dom Perignon himself would appreciate.

Clearly, these aren't your neighborhood hang outs or typical corner bars. But they most definitely could be your happy hour stop or weekend venture out on the town. And more importantly, they keep things in Milwaukee a bit more fresh and exciting.

Think I've missed some? Use the Talkback feature and weigh in on those establishments transforming the perception of Milwaukee.

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.