By Maureen Post Special to Published Jan 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM

Maybe I’m hanging out at the wrong places (or the right places, actually) or maybe I’m thinking about it on too a small scale, but recently going out for dinner or drinks, I’d never guess the recession is as deep as it is.

These are hard economic times, there’s no question of that. We’ve said goodbye to dozens of local boutiques and businesses while corporate layoffs seem sadly imminent in several sectors of our economy. But going out to eat or out for a drink, I've found wait times, full dining rooms and packed bars.

What makes a bar or restaurant "recession worthy?"

I hate to use the phrase "recession worthy" and jinx any establishment into debt but there’s something about certain places that, despite hard economic times, seem better at resisting falling sales and forgoing slow, lonely nights.

We went for dinner last weekend at La Merenda. Not getting there until about 9 p.m., we ate at the bar to avoid a decent 20-minute wait for the dining room. It's not necessarily what I would expect in a "recession" economy but perhaps small plate tapas are the perfect answer to cutting back on a dining bill.

The same night, Decibully threw a CD release party at Cactus Club to a full house. Yes, a they are a favorite on the local music scene, but the $7 cover didn’t keep fans from showing up at the door. I suppose Pabst for $3 helps.

According to Soho 7 in-house DJ Dion, the Third Ward lounge is as busy as ever with lines at the door all weekend long. Old World Third Street is plastered with "VIP" style clubs, lounges and luxury bars and despite covers for live music, hordes of people shivered in line at Bootleggers, Notte Nite Lounge and Buckhead Saloon.

In the last couple of months, I’ve waited at Café Lulu, Nessun Dorma and Beans and Barley for a table. We had to make a reservation for a vivaciously packed Maxie’s Southern Comfort on a Sunday night. And even to grab a burger at Sobelmann’s Sunday mid-afternoon was a 30-minute wait.

Of course, this observation makes me happy.

As much as I’m perplexed, I’m really glad to see people still enjoying food and drink in support of local establishments.

Maybe people are forgoing a week-long vacation in favor of several in town nights on the town? Perhaps a reluctance to make large purchases leaves people comfortable and confident in spending $50 on dinner and drinks once a week more so than before.

But, despite what I might see a few nights a week, undoubtedly restaurants and bars throughout the city are struggling to cover the bills. No one can dispute that. It’s just a question of why some are struggling more than others.

The answer probably lies amongst a long list of factors; many of them subjectively vague.

But I think a portion of the answer lies in the appreciated differences between the city mainstay and the market newbie.

Those tried and true favorites -- the places we love, the food we’re confident in. We are unwilling to see them die.

On the flip side, those places that opened just in time to feel the market collapse perhaps suffer the most and continue to see a downturn in patronage. I can only begin to imagine how hard it is for start up in this economic climate.

Regardless of how you’re cutting back, it’s good to see others out there, spending a little disposable income and helping ensure that sooner or later restaurants and bars won’t feel such a crunch. 

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.