The story of Goldilocks is pretty well known. A little blond girl breaks into a house owned by a family of anthropomorphic bears and proceeds to jack up their chairs, porridge and beds while they're out doing, I don't know, bear stuff. But what if, instead of being a cute little fairy tale girl with no respect for property, Goldilocks had some sense and happened to be just a little bit of a lush? Well, that'd be me.
I've decided to explore every bar, pub, lounge and dive Milwaukee has to offer – in sets of three, just to be cute. Check back often as I embark on regular bar tours with my self-proclaimed "magical sidekick," Jessie. And don't worry – I'm too much of a taste chameleon to ever find one that's "just right."
Eating at bars is a lot like drinking at them. Ninety percent of the time the standard fare is just what you need after a long week, whether it be a well-made bar burger or something simple like wings.
If you're like me, though, every once in awhile you get the urge to fancy things up a bit. And, since it's Dining Month here at OnMilwaukee.com, I figured it'd be sporting to join in. So, in the spirit of the theme, I decided to mix a little dining with my drinking and take on some tapas bars.
Swig, 217 N. Broadway
Tapas, for the uninitiated, have essentially become synonymous with fancy appetizers in the United States. Many places still stick to the original small plate concept made famous in Spain, but they're few and far between.
People new to the "sharing and grazing" atmosphere of tapas will feel most at home at Swig. This Third Ward restaurant features a very unintimidating small plates menu as well as a selection of sandwiches, salads and entrees.
The tapas consist of a fairly conventional collection of global fare-inspired dishes. Their ingredients are just elaborate enough for casual fine dining, but not so exotic that they require a lengthy explanation. The ingredients are all listed in their descriptions, however, just in case.
Open since 2005, Swig has built a reputation around being the city's first small plate restaurant. These days the classy Cream City brick building is also known as a destination for private special events as much as it is for a casual night on the town.
Whether you're there with a group of two or 20, make sure not to overlook their martini and specialty drink menu. A unique assortment of original flavors, these drinks – often concocted with one of their many house-infused liquors – are a definite must-taste.
Ginger, 235 S. 2nd St.
Tucked away on the western side of the nebulous area of Milwaukee known as the Fifth Ward, Ginger is a fun, funky restaurant. Depending on where you sit, the tapas bar offers a fun café setting (in the front), a casual place to drink and/or snack (at the bar) or an intimate and relaxed space to lounge and enjoy the company of friends (at the candlelit booths and back tables).
The dining menu here is solely devoted to tapas. The unique creations embrace much more international flavors, like the spinach salad with grilled figs or Thai chili shrimp rolls. Even more conventional small plates like sliders and tater tots come with their own inventive culinary twists.
In keeping with the creative atmosphere, Ginger also serves its own house cocktails, as well as classic mixed drinks and wine. Wednesdays and Thursdays host wine and mojito/margarita specials, respectively, plus a nightly $3 happy hour for select tapas, wine and beer.
Open Wednesday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10, Ginger's minimal hours and out-of-the-way location could almost qualify it as a hidden gem. Well worth finding, Ginger makes for a great evening stop all on its own or as a starter bar for the late night set.
La Merenda, 125 E. National Ave.
Another out-of-the-way spot, La Merenda is situated just south of Ginger in Walker's Point. Far from hidden anymore, La Merenda has become a popular destination for casual small plate cuisine.
With the widest tapas selection on the list, you can literally nosh around the world here. The options are diverse, inexpensive and well-portioned to order for yourself or to sample with others. While the tastes concentrate on the international, La Merenda's focus is definitely local – the Braise RSA members source many of their foods from right here in Wisconsin.
The locally sourced culture also turns up on the large and diverse drink menu. The bar mixes up a variety of Rehorst vodka and gin cocktails, plus seasonal specialty creations, wine, beer and other delicious mixers. They even edge into Ginger's territory with delicious cocktails like the Dark and Stormy, Ginger Cosmo and Walker's Point Pimms.
Complete with a semi-recently redesigned space, La Merenda's bright colors and flavorful menu nail the energetic and social atmosphere of a tapas bar.
Interested in future Goldilocks and the Three Bars adventures? Stay tuned here, or follow me on Twitter @Eenergee for bar tour commentary and other fun stuff. And if you want me to drink at your favorite bar, that's what Talkbacks and @Mentions are for.
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