Rumor Upbeat Lounge, 161 S. 1st St., is the near-South Side's new after-work cocktail lounge and late-night hot spot.
"We're a hybrid lounge and club with elements people don't typically see, including what's on our wine list and our specialty cocktails," says Colin Harbecke, bar manager and jazz-loving Milwaukee native who once worked at Caroline's and numerous other Milwaukee clubs throughout his 12 years in the industry.
In-house mixologist Jeff Bates has been busy putting together seasonal drink menus since before Rumor opened on June 7 and will debut new takes on sangria this fall.
Currently, Rumor lists several specialty drinks on its menu, along with the cities in which Rumor staff first discovered them.
The blueberry cosmo, from Las Vegas, is $10 and a very blue take on the cocktail, with blueberry vodka, elderflower liqueur and blueberry garnish. Other $10 offerings are from Miami, Atlanta and New York.
An $8 entry completes the specialty list, "Beer and a Beer." Created in our fair city, Rumor offers customers a choice of a Miller, Budweiser or Pabst with a "mini beer" shot, which is Licor 43, a vanilla-based liqueur popular in Spain and Italy, served with cream or half-and-half on top to resemble beer foam.
Rumor features Hangar One vodkas and Maestro Dobel tequila, offers 40 beers and has a unique selection of red and white wines, almost all sell at $10 glass / $40 bottle.
Rumor offers bottle service and weekday happy hour from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. with $5 Hangar One vodka drinks. During its "Get Fresh Tuesday" special, all drinks are half off.
Wednesday nights are designated "house nights" at Rumor, with drink specials like $2 bomb shots and Hangar One drinks $5 all night. On other nights DJs play a variety of musical genres.
"It's not the case that we're a 'house bar,'" says Harbecke, addressing the quickly formed impression by some of the two-month-old bar. "We play upbeat music and lots of remixes."
Rumor was designed by owner Christopher Surges, along with Roman Torres and the architects who own the building, John Vetter and Kelly Denk.
Harbecke says that Rumor Upbeat Lounge is a "dream realized" for Torres, which he describes is "a minimalist lounge ripe with energy." Rumor features seven booths, including a very large one, that hug the full-wall windows along South 1st and Pittsburgh Streets and offer city views of old industry and bustling sidewalks.
"It's fun to watch the trains," says bartender Niki Gulan, who also likes the culturally diverse clientele and how pleasantly surprised she was to discover that hanging out with her co-workers was a lot of fun.
"It doesn't happen every place you work," she says.
Harbecke said "the planets aligned" when he was putting together Rumor's staff and people in the industry that he knew from all over town became available.
Owner Surges' mission is to provide excellent customer service and Harbecke knew he had to hand-pick staff in order to make that happen.
Torres, who has been involved in Milwaukee's bar scene for a number of years, first brought Surges to the space which at the time was completely empty, unfinished space. But Surges saw something and says he signed the lease the next day.
Rumor's large patio extends to two sides of the building. The bar is long and takes up most of the west wall. A large area in the center of the space stays open, except in instances of bongo playing.
"We try to keep an open concept," says Surges. "Seating during happy hour with space for people to move around later at night."
Surges also made a commitment to local art with his bar. Currently art by the Couto brothers, whose studio space they share with a few other Walker's Point artists is just around the corner, hangs prominently on two walls.
Surges' current conception is to move toward video art and Rumor has a large video wall and projector already installed.
"I'm a Las Vegas kind of guy," says Surges. "A video component in a place there inspired me, but they were just projecting any random thing. Here, we're going to plan it, maybe get artists from MIAD to show their stuff."
Surges is working to attract a couple different age categories and genres to Rumor Upbeat Lounge.
"We're a lounge, great for the after-work martini, and if you like going out with friends later at night, listen to cool music, maybe stop in a couple other establishments to round out your night, we're good for that, too," he says.
Food from O'Lydia's, 338 S. 1st St., is available for people to bring over and enjoy at Rumor. Sometimes Harbecke will even run over and pick it up.
"Food is welcome at Rumor, but not offered," says Harbecke.
Surges travels extensively and goes out a lot in other cities, which has formed his sense of why offering an ever-changing lounge and club in Milwaukee is important.
"People are not going to have the typical lounge experience here, you're going to get something different every night. Why do we have to go to a different city, when you can find it right here in Milwaukee?" says Surges.
Rumor Upbeat Lounge is open Tuesday to Friday, 4 p.m. to bar time and weekends at 8 p.m.
Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.