Image courtesy of Studio Lounge.
With a quarterly gallery night, local renderings hanging on the walls of more than a few businesses and Sky High Gallery hosting regular exhibitions, Bay View has shown it has quite a proclivity for the arts. Amid the menagerie of artist-friendly drinking establishments in the Kinnickinnic Avenue corridor, one bar, Studio Lounge (2246 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), takes the neighborhood’s affinity for locally sourced artwork and craft cocktails a step further.
Excluding my failed attempt to drop in on a recent Monday (Studio Lounge is closed Mondays and Tuesdays), I’d last visited Studio Lounge during the summer edition of Bay View Gallery Night in May. Predictably, the self-anointed “cocktail gallery” was well equipped for the event and packed tight with one-night cultural connoisseurs. With no event happening on a Thursday in early August, my next visit was strikingly different.
I strolled into Studio Lounge at the tail end of happy hour and, at first, thought I was the only person in the building, until a bartender emerged from a nook behind the bar. After a particularly warm welcome, I was handed a drink list to peruse. Fortunately, I gave the list the attention it deserved. Ordering a mere gin and tonic at Studio Lounge is akin to settling for a side salad and bread at an upscale steakhouse.
Of the variety of house cocktails (approximately a dozen) and 15 or so seasonal spirits, I eventually landed on the Bye-Bye Buffalo ($8)—a mix of bourbon, lime, strawberry nectar and ginger beer—solely by how strange-yet-tasty the concoction sounded. With Bob Uecker prints and a framed Ron Swanson Pyramid Of Greatness poster being the extent of my art collecting, I’m far from bohemian. But there was something faintly artistic in the attention the bartender put into muddling, swirling, shaking and methodically pouring his masterpiece into the blank canvas of glass and ice cubes.
My Bye-Bye Buffalo was nothing short of tremendous. The imposing brawn of the bourbon quickly gave way to the tart lime wedges, the staggering sweetness of the strawberry and effervescent kiss of ginger beer. I took a seat at a particularly plush antique couch near the entrance and fought all temptation to bid my Bye-Bye Buffalo farewell in one satisfying gulp, as I glanced at pieces adorning the brick walls in my vicinity.
There was a Beatles-inspired Yellow Submarine mixed media assemblage, as well as a series of colorful Elias Vallejo portrait collages. Meanwhile, songs by De La Soul as well as easy-listening world music reverberated off the brick, plaster, installations and lofty ceilings for added ambiance (or something?) in the still-empty gallery. Soon, my willpower faded and I dispatched the last remaining droplet with straw suction that, had I not been alone, would’ve been off-putting.
I ambled past a cluster of lavish and (probably) intentionally clashing chairs and sofas back to the bar, where I commissioned a second beverage—this time one of the Lounge’s beer (and sub-$7) offerings. The 20-some options in the barside cooler were a blend of expected uppity brews like Stella and Fat Tire, localized craft bottles from Lakefront and New Glarus and a handful of basic outliers from Lagunitas and St. Paul. With a $4.50 flat rate at hand, I opted for a Victory Prima Pils, only because I’d never had it before. And never will again.
Sipping the skunky pilsner, I strolled around the bar, examining Steve Wirtz’s dog statues, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt’s vibrant paintings of women’s faces and screen-printed etchings from Milwaukee curator Jeff Redmon. I’m no art critic, but taking in the work of talented locals at a swank gallery is made all the better with a drink in hand.
Between the prices and the nature of the business’ theme, Studio Lounge isn’t the type of place to make “regulars” of many Bay View residents. But those seeking to balance their alcoholic intake with a dash of culture for a night or looking to end the evening with a downright delicious after-dinner drink, go to a place where it’s gallery night every Wednesday through Sunday.
Bye-Bye Buffalo image by Tyler Maas.