By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 25, 2019 at 10:01 AM

"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee is brought to you by Miller Brewing Company, calling Milwaukee home since 1855. For the entire month of March, we're serving up fun articles on bars, clubs and beverages – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!

XO Cocktail Parlor is slated to softly open to the public on Wednesday, March 27 at 326 E. Mason St.

The new Downtown venue, owned by Larry Taylor, aims to bring together a mix of well-executed cocktails and small-plate dining in a sophisticated lounge-style environment that appeals to a new generation of socialites.

Stop in, but be kind

During the first few weeks, the bar and lounge will offer drinks only, but small appetizer-style plates will be introduced at the venue’s grand opening, which is planned for April.

"This is a first attempt at this industry for me," notes Taylor, a young professional who has spent years working developing his vision a venue which would both fill a  void in the Milwaukee market and fuel growth for Downtown. 

"Being new to owning a bar and restaurant, I want to take things slowly. I know that  we won't get everything perfect the first time out, and there will be hiccups along the way. So, as we open, our focus will be on really giving our staff an opportunity to gain the experience they need to execute the vision for XO."

Guests who visit the new lounge will be struck immediately by the bar’s focal point: a mural created by local artist Brandon Minga which depicts a beautiful young woman surrounded by subtle patterns and textures that mimic the X's and O's in the bar’s name.

From there, the experience includes a lounge-like vibe, featuring soft seating accompanied by low cocktail tables, cozy booths and a palette of neutral warm tones and pops of red.

"I was very hands on in terms of choosing colors and fabrics for the space," notes Taylor, who worked with Flux Design on the layout and design. "And I did a lot in terms of choosing lighting and furniture; but the folks from Flux were instrumental in really pulling my vision to the forefront."

For its initial opening, XO will offer guests a selection of beverages including bottled beer, a short list of wines and signature cocktails including the Cranberry Kiss (a riff on the Amaretto sour); the Violet Mule, a fruity take on the classic made with blueberry vodka, blackberry liqueur, lime juice and ginger beer; and a tiramisu martini.

The inaugural cocktail menu has been designed to be as accessible, notes Taylor. But as time moves on, the menu will evolve to include a variety of mocktails, ultra-premium cocktails and various drinks that our customers would like featured.

The name – which takes its inspiration from the abbreviation for "hugs & kisses" – was inspired by Taylor’s good friend, Ollie Banks, who Taylor says played a role in the visioning process for the venue.

"He called me one day and said: ‘I have the perfect name for when we find a space. It’s XO’... And I knew that was it. It was perfect. It’s simple; it’s synonymous across generations, and it’s easily recognizable. Ollie has since moved to California, so the name remains as an homage to him.

In keeping with its name, the bar will also carry the full line of XO products as well as a variety of local liqueurs and spirits like Milk & Honey.

"One of my goals is to really work with as many local businesses as possible, both in terms of food and beverage, but also art to display on the walls," notes Taylor. "All of that is in my vision for what this place can be. In many ways, I want this place to be like XO Spirits … the vision is that we will really get better and better with age."

During its soft opening phase, XO Cocktail Parlor will be open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to close.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.