The Scene: Part posh lounge with food service, part all out dance club, HiHat is the Brady Street area's premiere all in one nightlife destination. The lounge area is artsy and upper class, with well chosen accent pieces and subdued, nearly ethereal lighting creating a cozy and romantic cove. Heading over to the garage offers the flip side of the coin, with hard beats, an in your face sound and video system, and a crowd of the "all out and dance" persuasion.
The Drinks: Seeing as how OP's fate has now been sealed with the halting of production, it was entirely too painful for us to even inquire if HiHat stocks it (feel our pain). Instead, we made ample use of the well stocked bars in both the lounge and the garage to sample a variety of other drinks. In what seems to be quickly evolving in the "new Milwaukee" standard, the martini menu at HiHat is well developed and provides enough depth and variation to keep even the most adventurous sampler busy for more than a few nights. Our far and away favorites were the "Awake" (Skyy Vodka, Kahlua, Godiva Cappuccino, Frangelico, with a shot of espresso, garnished with espresso beans), and the Curacao based "Zest," though the French and Crimson variations also come highly recommended. While the champagne list offers a fairly standard selection, the wine list shows surprising breadth for a venue not exclusively devoted to the restaurant scene. If you're looking to toss back something a little less intimidating between rounds on the dance floor, you'll find plenty of top shelf and um..."upper middle class (?)" spirits to choose from. After many recommendations and a burning need to replace our soon to be extinct favorite (a moment of silence please for the wonder that was OP) we had a very tasty experience mixing Zygo with our favorite OP addons. Try it with tonic and cranberry juice and the flavor is almost identical. Thankfully. Prices are typical for what you would expect at similar venues, plan on mixed drink prices averaging around $7 and martinis ranging from $9-$11. We were a little bewildered at which martinis were priced at the upper end of the price range, since some of the lower cost options offer equal amounts of higher quality spirit. Oh well, who's complaining?
The Music: While the lounge proper is definately for sipping cocktails and trading stock tips (or bites off of each others plates), the "Garage" (HiHat's very own on site dance club) manages to spin out a respectable mix of mainstream dance favorites mixed with small amounts of more "advanced" dance music and just the right dosing of feel good, old school jams (we've heard everything from Don't Stop the Rock to Jam on It coming out of the speakers). To be honest, given the true lushness and artistic persuasion of the main lounge area, we were expecting a musical flavor strongly stocked with progressive/hard house and maybe some breakbeat and downtempo selections. But, surprise does not mean disappointment, because the music selections spun out by DJ J Money and the other residents (DJ Anacron, DJ Marcus Garvey, etc.) get the job done. People dance, and tend to dance well. Expect to hear some rather unique remixes of unlikely songs from both last week and last year (don't worry, only the good ones.).
The people: Definately trendy and hip. Though the variety of trendy and hip tends to vary between the lounge and the garage. The lounge tends to be populated by successful Prospect Avenue resident look-alikes as well as exquisitely urbane couples and small groups of people either hanging out for a few rounds, or perhaps waiting for the last member of their party before heading out to other up and up destinations in town (Tangerine, anyone?). So, the version of "hip and trendy" served in the main lounge is of the pressed pant, Max Azria, Grey Goose variety. Head over to the Garage, and "hip and trendy" takes on a very different appearance. The crowd is a mix of the "my apparently old and faded jeans actually cost $200" variety (complete with hair expertly styled to look not styled at all, and perfectly crafted "don't care" attitudes), together with what we're coming to recognize as "chic punk." That is, great clothes and grooming, with probably a few funky tatoos in very visible places, or maybe a blue streak or two in the hair and a studded wallet. Basically, it's a good reflection of it's Brady Street roots and East Side heritage. The garage in general is a very fun place to just walk around and meet people. Guys take note: there are usually lots of young ladies present in pairs and trios as oppossed to the mega uber conglomerates you may run across in other locations around the city. Ladies take note: the gentlemen at HiHat are almost uniformly of the educated, "going somewhere" variety, with an apparently very low "lounge crawler" factor. Overall, we found the crowd to be equally adept at light but interesting conversation and taking a whirl or two on the dance floor. Of all the venues in the city, the Garage at Hi Hat ranks very near the top of our "cool places to go by yourself" list, since it's virtually impossible not to meet people and make a few new friends over a round of drinks.
The atmosphere: The true and very demarcated duality of the space at HiHat means that each needs to be discussed separately.
The Lounge Proper: High ceilings, dramatic accents such as the multi-level main bar, and a great open-air balcony/terrace concept lend the space an air of enormity that is well anchored by its stylish use of oversized art pieces and well utilized lines of sight that focus on horizontal planes, helping to keep the large area from feeling flighty and impersonal. The lighting is one of our favorite details, with well placed pools and safe zones of comparative brightness helping to create mini islands of privacy, perfect for having a quiet conversation over a bottle of wine or carefully prepared fare from the kitchen. The art that adorns the walls is simultaneously expressive and subdued, with hints of pop flavor a la Warhol in a played down and effective sense. Classy, lush, and enveloping, the Lounge sets the perfect scene for solitary unwinding, or not so solitary interludes.
The Garage: Like entering a different establishment completely...but not. While the cozy and subdued tones of the lounge proper fade away under the glow of crimson lighting and the sounds of the dance music, the Garage retains a sort of sublime connection with it's neighbor. Conveyed by only the barest of visual queues (the dark wood tones of the bar, the same spirit of lighting concepts, the table seating pods near the rear), the continuity is undeniable if you look for it, helping to lend a true dualistic feel to HiHat, rather than a sense of two dramatically different venues stuck together by a walkway. To be sure, the atmosphere in the Garage is vastly different: Two enormous video screens flash images of sultry beauties adorned in the latest fashions, the sound system hammers out the strong beats only a dance club can serve without self consciousness, and the ebb and flow of the crowd centers simulateously around the dance floor and the side bar. The energy level is high without edging into exhuberant, and the crowd nearly uniformly good natured and hip.
What to wear: We're not even going to touch the proper attire for the lounge proper beyond saying "look nice," since anything more would be overkill. For the Garage, faded jeans and a well fitted or button up top would be par for the course in the men's arena. Ladies, well...you're ladies, so you can pretty much get away with anything you happen to feel like wearing. Which is actually a good segue to our formal recommendation: Wear whatever you own that makes you feel like you're the hippest thing going. If you feel it, you'll project it. And you'll fit right in.
to go: The garage is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so unless you want
to stand outside and look lonely...
Tuesdays are HiHat's version of SIN, where showing the barstaff a paycheck stub gets you a card good for half off all drinks from 9-close (not martinis or shots, though). Music is by DJ Anacron from Chicago, who brings his own break dancing super trooper team with him to get the place fired up. Wednesdays are super duper Godzilla style Karaoke night, with backup by DJ Marcus Garvey and David Clabaugh, so come down to work out your rockstar dreams. Thursdays are "Flirt," the tres haute couture version of ladies night with 2 Free Finlandia drinks for ladies (pick up your card at the door), $6 "Flirt" martinis, and a weekly raffle for a $50 Detour gift certificate.