By Alissa Lawton Special to Published Feb 07, 2011 at 11:08 AM

Last Friday night was a much deserved date night.

It had been a crazy week and I needed some wine and one on one time. We headed to Thirst and Vine in Shorewood, a favorite spot that's relatively new to the area. They have a great wine selection for any palette and price range. I should've saved room for dessert because they have amazingly decadent options but, alas, I stuffed myself long before the final course was even a thought. I'm full just thinking about it.

Stopping at home was a mistake because I had just enough time to think about pajamas when my boyfriend decided "we" were getting our second wind. Alright, we're not that old yet. We cabbed down to McCarthy's to find a pack of my boyfriend's college friends up from Chicago for the weekend. They had been out much longer than we had so although the conversation was fun, it was a bit ... all over the place. In that situation I like to just sit back and enjoy the scenes.

Saturday I got my haircut. I haven't had a cut in a long time so I was pretty excited. After the trim I ran over to Flirt, my favorite boutique, to find a cute little coat to wear. Instead I found a new skirt, not as appropriate for winter, but hey, retail therapy works even if you don't come home with what you ventured out for.

I went straight from Flirt to The Harp for a little Marquette basketball pre-gaming. I didn't hang out at the Harp much during college, but I've realized in recent years that it's definitely on my list of great Milwaukee bars. It's small enough to be cozy, but big enough that you're not stepping on people to get to the bar. And I cannot wait to get back on the patio there in six months when all this snow is finally melted.

The Golden Eagles pulled off an amazing win over Syracuse. I'm a UWM Panther so the win didn't matter as much to me as my fellow game goers, but I figure what's good for Wisconsin college sports is good for all of us, so, Go MU!

After the game we headed straight back to The Harp. I hadn't eaten all day and knew I'd be regretting it if I stayed out much longer without something of substance in my stomach. I got the grilled cheese with tomato, a traditional favorite, which totally hit the spot. I don't know if it was a mistake by our waitress or not, but she gave me a side of barbecue sauce, this is going to sound a little gross, but I had to give it a try and believe it or not, it was really good! Try it sometime.

After that we marched over to Trinity. Typically on Saturday nights Trinity can be miserably busy. I'm sure the bartenders weren't thrilled but I was pretty happy that the place wasn't swarming with college kids. I need a little breathing room at bars now that I'm not twenty-one anymore.

And on that note, I was exhausted by 10:30. It was time to cab home.

Sunday was my second annual trip to the Chili Bowl at the Harley Museum. It was awesome last year, better this year.

For those that don't know, this event features local restaurants and bars that pride themselves on some creative, spicy, or very traditional chili recipes. You walk in thinking you can try every option in the room. Don't kid yourself, you will find out quickly that chili is a winter food for a reason. But it's worth it to hold off on eating everything in sight to try some of the more distinct flavors.

There were many more veggie chili options this year and, kudos, that gave us leaf eaters a chance. Lord knows you don't stand a chance at winning the title, but I hope you know how much we appreciate the latest options. Keep up the good work.

I've heard of people using grape jelly in their home chili recipes. To me that sounds... off, but honestly, you can't knock it till you try it. Some of the recipes at the event had unusual ingredients such as chocolate, blueberries, edible flowers and seafood (thankfully, not all combined in the same chili). I'm a vegetarian so my choices were a little more limited than the carnivores in the group. So I had to take their word for what made their list of favorites.

Red Rock Saloon's chili was a big hit. I'm sure the chili was good but it probably doesn't hurt to use a little sex appeal. Sex sells. Sex even sells chili and Red Rock knows it. It's hard to say no to a gal in a low cut tank top offering you a cup of chili and a bread stick. No wonder they were last year's chili champs.

Here are some of the comments from my group of friends who fully indulged in the chili chow down:

"My vote for 'best in show' went to the Old German Beer Hall's "3-brat chili," which was phenomenal. Grilled brats, sliced and braised in beer and onions, then the tomatoes and beans are added later. Cheese on top was great."

"Il Mito's three smoked meat concoction (lamb, turkey and pork) with smoked chunky veggies. That Italian chef from Il Mito knew what he was doing."

The best veggie vote went to the "green veggie chili served in a bread bowl. It tasted slightly boozy (more than beer) -- maybe had mescal or tequila."

So there you have it!

I have to say one downside was I couldn't find a recycling bin anywhere. I asked a few bartenders if they knew where we were supposed to put glass recycling and they said there weren't recycling bins in the building. In this day and age that's pretty pathetic. Lots of plastic, glass and Styrofoam used and thrown away, I hope next year they come up with a better situation for recycling. Having glass, plastic and paper recycling bins is a no brainer so with luck next year will be a little more planet friendly.

All in all it was a great event. If you haven't been, make sure to mark your calendar for next year. It's a very Wisconsin winter event not to be missed.

Alissa Lawton Special to

Alissa grew up on the near west side of Madison and had childhood dreams of being a veterinarian. Instead she moved to Milwaukee to attend college and attained a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from UW-Milwaukee. Previously an advertising copywriter and a marketing specialist, Alissa always preferred the writing aspect of her career.

An animal lover, a shoe lover and a white wine lover, she now resides on the much beloved East Side of Milwaukee in what she describes as an ancient apartment building full of character, but lacking sufficient electrical outlets and the convenience of an elevator.

To some she comes across as a shy wall flower, to those that know her much better she is a social butterfly, usually overdressed and wearing inappropriately uncomfortable shoes for nearly every occasion. Either way you choose to see her, Alissa has a strong desire to bring awareness to the social issues in our city while maintaining a sense of humor about herself and surroundings.