Address: 618 N Water Street
Located just south of the hottest club strips in Milwaukee, Ladybug is Milwaukee's new "mega-club," delivering huge, fluidly active video walls, a multi-level lounge area, and a spacious dance floor. Topped off by the "party fusion" sounds rolling from the elevated DJ booth, Ladybug is well worth a weekend rendevous.
Departing from Milwaukee's recent trend of combining restaurant, lounge, and club in nearly equal thirds (or perphaps two of these in halves), Ladybug is not ashamed to stand on it's own as a purely billed dance and entertainment mecca. That being said, you aren't going to find the wine list you would at Swig, or the uber tasty and extensive martini sampling offered by the skilled crew at Tangerine (still the best chocolate martini in the city). Ladybug instead opts for downplayed offering of standard dance club fare. Of course, "standard dance club fare" is a term with enough built in variability - due to huge differences in patron tastes - that it's almost devoid of standard meaning. For the tried and true weekender getting a little groove on late on Friday night, the mixer selection will offer everything you've come to expect from a well stocked bar. Decent rail mixers, a good selection of brews - if beer is your thing - and all of those "pretty in the bottle" funkalicious flavored offerings from the likes of Stoli and Bacardi. If you only make it out once in a while and you like to take your semi-monthly outing up a stop, you'll have no trouble fiding the standard top shelves. Grey Goose is a given, but we were also pleasantly surprised to find a few golden Tequilla gems for very, very reasonable prices (shhhh, don't tell them, maybe they don't know). One random fact we noticed: The juices are good. Really good. As in, the juice you mix with the drinks - "I'll have a vodka cranberry" - yeah, *those* juices. An esoteric detail perhaps, but on the other hand, it's tough to deny that there really can be a wide variation in taste between, to use the sample example, different cranberry juices. Whatever brand/make/type/secret supply Ladybug uses, we sincerely thought the quality was above average. And everyone knows it's the ingredients that make or break the drink...right?
Along with the top shelf liquors, you'll find a respectable collection of semi-good to very good champagnes. So if you need to bust out the bling for a birthday party, bachelor(ette) gathering, or just feel like being a rockstar for the night, ante up the cash and you can be sipping the good stuff with a plate of strawberries at your own reserved section in the cushy, private upstairs lounge (Huh? Read on.). Of course whether you're drinking Miller Lite or a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot 1995 La Grande Dame, you'll need to rustle up a server to place your order - which is sometimes easier said than done. The main bar certainly offers ample opportunity - with it's impressive span reaching nearly the entire length of the main floor, the main bar offers plenty of seating room and bartop real estate for squeezing in, rubbing shoulders with cuties (male and female) and, hopefully, managing to place an order. On our visits, we had to wait. And wait. And then we waited a little. A five minute period spent watching the activity behind the bar revealed the issue: quite simply, Ladybug and it's staff are still figuring each other out. The sheer area of the bar means that, despite some obvious planning during construction, servers often need to hustle from one end of the bar to the other to gather ingredients, glasses, ring a tab, etc. Add to this the fact that the servers are still figuring out where everything lives, and you end up with some non-trivial delays. But, the problem is not with the enthusiasm, work ethic, or skill of the staff itself - it's much more our impression that this is a transient phenomenon while everything is broken in and the staff learns the ropes. To their credit, the staff was uniformly courteous, quick to respond, and generally well versed in their offerings. Give it three months and the bar will function like clockwork. Prices are average to slightly above average. Rail drinks come in between $4 and $6, with the upper level mixers fetching about a $3 premium. The afore mentioned bottles of champagne fetch a pretty penny (you should be thinking in the hundreds for the good stuff), but that's standard industry markup, nothing out of the ordinary. Bottle service is available, and considering the spread available with the service (private seating, plates of berries, cheese, etc) it's a better deal here than many places around town. Get 5 or 6 friends together and try it out - you'll end up spending about the same amount of money per person, and you'll get to glam it up in your own private booth overlooking the action below.
We first visited Ladybug on a Saturday night, a night they headline with a term we've become a little wary of - "Fusion." Wary because it seems to be a recent trend that any random assemblage of unrelated offerings can be hastily pasted together and offered under this term. With this in mind, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Ladybug, or perhaps Ladybug's DJ trio, actually seemed to put thought and considerable energy into making the Fusion concept more than just an exercise in mundane, uninspired assemblage. During our first and subsequent visits to Fusion, we've heard everything from standard top 40 flavor hip hop, to the deeper hip hop sounds of the east coast underground, to euro beat electronica, to flat out deep house and the meatier, beat heavy end of the often ethereal vocal trance realm. The tracks are planned, with the energy level of each blending well into the next, and with the sound scheme as a whole engineered to create verdant soundscapes that ebb and pulse along the energy continuum. The energy starts at point A, escalates through 5 or 6 tracks from different genres, and peaks at point B, where it's maintained, again with selections from different styles, for 3 or 4 tracks. After this, the pulse slowly winds down in plateued steps to a point slightly above where it started, where the journey begins once again. It seems that each peak on this trip takes about 35-40 minutes, systematically packing the dance floor during the high points, and allowing natural breaks in the action to get drinks, take a breather with friends, or chat up the great dancer you caught eyeing you on the dance floor. Also notable: The "low points" in this scheme are also cleverly engineered so that the tracks being played are those universal "favorites," ensuring that the floor is never entirely empty, and that the unifying thread of the night is not punctuated by large gaps in the action. Ladybug is still playing with it's lineup, but you can also catch Latin themed parties on Friday nights, and a variety of genre specific nights during the week (check the forum for listings). All in all, the music does good cross cover between tried and true melodies, the hiphop scene, and the dance realm, with respectable trips into the true house and electronic genres. All of this is pumped through a sound system that was carefully crafted and is honestly...pretty damn good. Clear highs, understated mids, and enough bass to keep your feet thumping without rattling your teeth. Except, of course, when you want it to.
The crowd at Ladybug is still finding it's niche. (Clever pun?) With the recent issues that venues across Milwaukee face regarding capacity, you'll likely have plenty of time to check out the crowd while you're waiting in line to actually make it inside the club. On busy nights while waiting in line, you might be able to actually meet a partner, get married, have a few kids, and sit back in great satisfaction as they embark on long and fulfilling careers while you reap the benefits of having well educated, gainfully employed offspring. See, those private schools *did* pay off. Ha ha, yes, but you get the idea. Cleverly witty banter aside, the crowd is definately mixed, ranging from fashionista, to hiphop kid, to football player with attitude, to...every other grouping you can imagine. It's an interesting time for crowd watching in Milwaukee right now. For several reasons. First, there is still a large displaced crowd due to the closing of Pure, Dragon Lounge, and Thai Joes. While some of this crowd has settled in to new digs, a sizeable portion of it is still searching for the next big thing, and no small portion makes it's way through Ladybug. Add to this those crazy capacity issues are displacing patrons from every venue in town and you have a sizeable group of people showing up to Ladybug to check out the newest vibe in town. And that's not a bad thing. It means that the "Ladybug Crew" is in general very well mixed, which has several implications. First, it means that the dance floor population is constantly in flux as hiphop lovers take a rest during the euro beat tracks and vice versa - which makes people watching much more interesting and fun. Second, it means that no matter what particular style you fancy yourself as, you'll likely run into a good number of like minded revelers, making meeting new people a little easier, and encouraging smaller groups to come out and take part in the fun. On our trips we've seen plenty of pretty much everything. Bling, armani, grunge, hipster, starving artist, not-so-starving artist, and the definately-not-starving-but-like-to-look-like-it-because-it's-ever-so-trendy cache (that's 13 dashes, in case you weren't counting - a new clubmilwaukee.com record). Bottom line is: Diverse. Implication: You'll find someone to hang out with very easily. In general the crowd age ranges towards the younger side - averaging mid 20's, but we've seen plenty of early thirtysomethings mixed into the fray and having no trouble with the groove.
The place is cool. On the inside tip, the owner/operator/big guy is a native New Yorker, and is thus no stranger to large, swanky, high energy environs. This translates clearly into both the macro and microscale touches at Ladybug. Walking in the door, you're quickly greeted by a small, red carpeted entry way which quickly opens into an expanded gathering area again carpeted with moniker emblazened red. This area, which serves as a gathering point for both those coming and going, stretches up in lofted fashion to the ceiling high above, and features several elaborate cut glass and crystal chandeliers which cast a soft, warm glow on the space beneath. If you're entering, your view of the main space is hidden until you've ventured a little further in, at which time the space suddenly explodes into the main room. It's a very effective transition that helps to heighten Ladybug's "wow factor," since you pass with no transition from a small, warmly lit space and in the space of only a few steps (and a little bit of a turn) are suddenly presented with an enormous space bedecked with hyperactive video walls, a complex lighting system spilling lush and ever changing patterns over the crowd, and the brightly glowing main bar and more softly lit lofted DJ booth and balcony areas to the left. A great effect. The main space is layed out with the bar to the left, which stretches the length of the lower level (almost) and is lit from within by a soft fiber light system that changes color in slow progression to the music. Behind you and to the right are two enormous video walls, driven by bleeding edge hardware and software, and directed by the skilled in house and guest VJ team. The dance floor, despite being located away from the main entrance directly below the lofted (and softly crimson lit) DJ boot, is the soulful center of the room, and it's nearly always packed. Separate seating areas to the right with standing room adjacent to the dance floor give the resting and people watching plenty of space to call home. There are two stair cases on the left that lead to the upper mezanine style seating areas, which are typically reserved for VIP, bottle, and whoever else happens to make it up the steps. If you manage to make it past the security staff, you'll find 6 or 7 slightly recessed seating areas clearly designed to accomidate single groups in a semi-private setting, as well as a more public open space with seating and a second (crimson and indigo lit) bar area. The entire second floor is essentially an extended balcony concept, which means that all points offer a great view of the main space beneath, making it a terrific vantage point for taking in the action while kicking back and catching your breath. The vibe is definately high energy, and there is little pretension to be found anywhere in the venue. Just a lot of people out having a good time.
What to Wear
Nothing dumb, like, oh, a gun. Other than that, you should be ok. Standard caveats apply, though. Be wary of boots, ripped jeans, excessive bling, hats, and overly baggy threads.
When to Go
Again, Ladybug features a variety of themed nights, so choose one that seems to fit your style. The Friday night Latin sessions are sensual, steamy, and a ton of fun. Saturday is your best bet for a varied crowd and musical scheme.