I arrived early to Branded, the bar in the lobby of the new Iron Horse Hotel (500 W. Florida St.). Knowing my friends weren’t close behind, I waited, explored and chatted with my neighbors.
I chose a central seat at the bar in a turn-of-the-century drafting chair across from a large, antique copper mirror. The chairs were aesthetically pleasing, but a pain in the rear. I looked around and noticed a business-friendly crowd at this point in the evening. A large group was meeting in the attached room with table seating under exposed, Edison-style light bulbs hanging from long, black cords. They’re not blinding unless you stared – this according to my “death-stare challenge.”
Before I was able to order a drink, a release form appeared before me from a woman seeking the entire bars’ signatures because a camera crew was shooting B-roll for Good Morning America. The Iron Horse Hotel recently made the “129 Hotels We Love” list in National Geographic. The cameras made their way in and as the sun was going down, and fluorescent lights were going up everywhere. I was getting warm and uncomfortable – but inside, my unabashed desire to be on film kept me cool. So I sat up straight and made sure I looked the part from every angle. I went for the relaxed and confident woman-in-solidarity look. I think I nailed it.
The two bartenders and bar back were all amiable and willing to engage in conversation, which was helpful to pass the time. Plus, a couple neighbors came and went – the first forgettable; the second still calls my friend. Man #1: pink drink (with fruit) man, formerly employed at CANS bar. He wasn’t too engaging. I couldn’t help but judge the pink-drinker; I prefer a beer man.
Speaking of beer, I tried a Lakefront White for $3, which tasted similar to a Blue Moon: light, white and citrus-y. The drink menu varied, but prices generally high. All of their domestics are respectably from Wisconsin and range from $4-$5, wines by the glass are $9-$11 and cocktails $8-$11.
I eventually had a cocktail, and by this time I was joined by friends and Man #2. The ladies bought me a drink for my patience. I’m not much of a liquor lass so I told the bartender I’d recently had a Manhattan and thought that was okay. Considerate of my taste, he made me his take on a Manhattan – the $8 New Holland with Sazerac rye whiskey, simple syrup, angostura bitters and Kubler absinthe. It was strong at first, but absolutely delicious. I enjoyed the noticeable rye taste.
Man #2 happened to be tied to the hotel. One of the bikes he designed, built and welded was on display in the hotel lobby. He was pleased to see his sleek motor beauty get some camera time for the morning news coverage. Conversation revealed that he was a regular at the hotel bar and friendly with the owner and bartenders. He praised the establishment and filled us in on some extra details, like the hotel’s adults-only boiler room-turned-hot tub.
The atmosphere is unique. As the sun went down behind the surrounding warehouses, the naked light bulbs appeared to be floating. I walked around under the open-beam loft and Cream City brick structure to test the various booths and leather couches. Most of the seating had gentle rips and telling scratches indicating their age – many have served a century of buttocks.
The music was enjoyable and included one of my favorites: “That’s How Strong My Love Is” by THE Otis. My companions criticized my excessive water drinking at the end of our stay, yet the bartenders were gracious and kept filling me up. I hoped to shoot some pool, but the table was constantly occupied.
We had a great night at the Iron Horse and I plan to be Branded again soon. The prices are high, but this is no dive bar. Try a beer or a cocktail at an evening’s start or finish if you’re not willing to splurge. The well-executed vintage industrial feel is worth an extra couple bucks.
For any interested guests, the hotel is located near the Harley-Davidson Museum and rooms start at $134.
219 E. Erie St.
Friday, April 10: Biquerra/Hofstand Duo live, light-hearted bossa nova sounds paired with Spanish wines.
Saturday, April 18: “New Arrivals” wine tasting – FREE! 3-5 p.m.
MJ’s on Milwaukee
332 N. Milwaukee St.
Saturday, April 11: Pizza and a Pitcher for $9. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
2599 S. Logan Ave.
Monday, April 13: Every Monday! $3 Furthermore beer and $4 Korbel Old-Fashioned. The Soul Hole (rare soul) – seem to be a lot of folks pumpin’ out the rare soul and funk grooves in Milwaukee. Most excellent.
701 E. Center St.
Saturday, April 11: “Fresh 2 Death” featuring Diamonds.
Monday, April 13: Check out “In Stereo Music Group” every Monday. Hip-hop, old-school to present from 9 p.m.-2 a.m.
Milwaukee Ale House
233 N. Water St.
Tuesday, April 14: Come Jive! They’ll clear away the tables aside and have Swing Dancing lessons for only $6 on Tuesday nights. Lessons at 8 p.m. and open dancing to follow.
Prime Cigar Company
18900 W. Bluemound Rd., Galleria West
Saturday, April 18: Prime Cigar Company will host a free Isabela Miami cigar tasting, complete with a Sprecher beer sampling and a French buffet catered by Jacques C’est Si Bon catering from 1-5 p.m. This will be the only Midwest appearance of the rare Isabela Miami cigars, apparently one of the most sought after micro-cigars in the world.
424 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Thursday, April 9: The “Lunar Full Moon Party in the Sky” will offer $5 Bacardi Mixers, $6 Bacardi Mojitos and Martini’s, and $2 Miller Lite Drafts. Party is from 8:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. No cover charge, however the dress code is strictly enforced. No caps or sneakers. The usually private VIP lounge “23” is open with a dance floor and will feature DJ E-Rich.