It's a restaurant, it's a lounge, it's...Swig. Milwaukee's newest capitalization on a coastal phenomena, Swig combines haute cuisine, downtempo grooves, and creative cocktails with a swank loungey flair, fusing elements of each to create Water Street's newest hip, urbane retreat.
Billed as a restaruant, Swig offers a wine list to match. Bold reds, punchy whites, and selections to fit budgets of all sizes. Several selections would be at home on the wine list of Roots or Sauce, with a few choices clearly added for their high sip-ability factor - semi sweet and light for the whites, mellow and low tannin for the reds. There is also a respectable selection of microbrews and domestics on the two page brew menu. A menu which also proudly proclaims that Grey Goose products are the spirit of choice. As if that weren't sign enough of good things to come, perched prominantly behind the room spanning bar are several bottles of fresh, shiny, delicious-from-a-distance Zygo. Starting at around $11, the premium martinis are not for the faint of heart. The Grey Goose Chok-tini, despite the funkified name, is one of the best chocolate martinis in the city - strong, creamy, and overflowing with dark coccoa overtones. Tangerine still takes the grand prize for their version, but Swig's take is not to be taken lightly. Several fruity varieties are featured on the menu, and the cosmo is a faithful representation of the classic. Not advertised, but whipped up in short order with zero complication was an outstanding metro (cosmo sans citron in favor of kurrant). The staff behind the long, long main bar was genuinely courteous and attentive. Empty glasses were quickly replaced with full, a mixer slightly heavy on the tonic was graciously exchanged with an appology, and when ordering a martini, the server never walked away until the drink was sampled and it was certain that it was mixed well and we were happy. Drinks run toward the pricier side - bill for a martini and two mixed drinks hovered around $30 including the tip.
Swig is not a club. Swig is a lounge. Actually, according to the owners, Swig is a restaurant (more on that later). As such, you won't find a dance floor, DJ booth, or live music - either of the mixed or instrumental kind. Despite this, clubmilwaukee scouts report hearing selections on the speakers including The Future Sound of London (or F.S.O.L as they call themselves now), Moby, some darker melodic euro beat, and even a breakbeat trance turn or two. In addition to earning points just for playing Future Sound of London tracks, it is the overall scheme of the music choices that arouses interest. They're not randomly chosen. We're sure of it. True, it may be a well chosen compilation CD instead of a carefully self-burned mix disk (or perhaps a swanky XM or Sirius setup), but attention is being paid to the effect that the music has on the atmosphere of the place, and Swig has chosen correctly. Supporting this assertion is the fact that the volume on the system is not turned down to barely audible muzak levels with the intention of being simple background noise, but rather loud enough to remain conscious without being obtrusive. It's clear that the music is meant to be heard, and thus to play an active role in creating Swig's envelope. An interesting detail, and an appreciated touch.
Swig is still in swaddling clothes and attracting large numbers of patrons interested in checking the place out for the first time. Despite this, there was an overall feel to the crowd that can be best summarized as a cross between Hi Hat and Kenadee's with a dash of Tangerine. That is, subdued hip with urban sensibility and stylish chic without the Prada. The overall age range seemed very slightly older than the average age of the Water Street area - mid to late twenties with a comfortable mix of thirty-somethings. The layout of Swig encourages a duality of attitudes, and we found the crowd sensibilites to literally vary depending on where we were within the space. The long main bar was an easy place to chat with whoever we happened to be standing next to, while the recessed seating area immediately adjacent held larger groups of friends content with their own topics of conversation. The crowd in the rear bar area had a more "fun night out" feeling, with easy conversation, rounds of introductions, and plenty of cocktail exchanges. On the other end of the space is the elevated main seating area facing Water Street proper, which caters to small groups, diners, and the in and out crowd interested in mingling with their own group of friends. The general summary would then be: Approachable crowd with 1 part flirt, 1 part mingle, a dash of clique, and two drops of small, closed groups.
Feels like a slightly younger version of the Velvet Room. Kind of a "Velvet Room Lite" for the younger members of the community who haven't yet purchased their second BMW, but might be working on it. That is certainly, though, not to imply pretention. While a night out at any of the upscale venues in town is never pretense-free, it's very under control at Swig, and the atmosphere is more of fun than of networking or trading label comparisons. As mentioned, Swig is officially billed as a restaurant first and foremost, with no advertisement of it's worthy lounge qualities. That being the case, the internal space is divided well for accomidating diners. Walking in the front door brings you immediately to hard right turn and a few low steps leading to the main area of the space. The right side of the main room is a terraced area featuring perhaps 10 or 12 tall four person tables with a larger seating arrangement on the north wall to accomidate bigger groups. The seating area is dominated by a bank of dark wood cased cafe windows looking out east onto Water Street, and a creative arrangement of large, clear glass urns 3/4 filled with sand, which house candles and cast a flickering orange tinged cast over the earth toned decor. Adjacent to the seating area is the large main bar, which is surface tiled with corian sheet and features an artful lower mosaic. Stretching the entire length of the large space, the bar allows comfortable seating and standing for perhaps 50-60 people, and the diffusely reflective bar top is consciously wide enough to allow plenty of space should you choose to take your meal here. Immediately behind you as you stand at the main bar is recessed seating area with long, plush cushioned bench seating and a rear light ledge which provides accent to the beige/peach/umber textured wall abuting it. The riser casements are dark wood and burnished stainless steel, which add a touch of class of a feel of weight to the space. Continuing toward the rear reveals a second, smaller pod that is organized very much in the fashion of the main partition in the front. A second bar and one each of a public and a more intimate seating area round out the offerings presented in this secondary space. The main space is separated from the rear by a wall whose upper half is composed of various square and rectangle sheets of hung glass that have differing oppacities and slightly different colors. A very cool choice that lets the subdued lighting of the rear mingle with the decidedly warm, organic light of main room, to create a feeling of flow and connection between the separate lounges. Lighting in general is well done, with clever accent pieces providing shape and structure, and a wealth of recessed globes lending an even, diffuse sheen to the entire main room. The overall effect is that of a space that exudes comfort and warmth tempered and cooled by the correct dosing of class and allure.
What to Wear
They have a dress code. And we assure you, they are not kidding. No sneakers, no hats, no bling, no alterna-wear, no grunge, no sk8tr chic, no grungy sweats, no hoodies, etc. Jeans are definately ok if they're in good repair and respectable. Which doesn't mean boring. We found that staffers in jeans with purposely frayed cuffs and a trendy wash were fine, but saw patrons with the extreme Abercrombie flavor of disrepair turned away. We're unclear regarding boots, but, again, sneakers are a clear no. If you would be comfortable at Tangerine or Cafe Metro, you'll be comfortable here. There is no need to dress up, just don't consciously dress down. The order of the evening for guys was collared button ups and pressed jeans with shiny shoes. Girls seemed to prefer a wide variety of options, as usual, but all shared a common thread of classy casual with a stylish flair.
When to Go
Swig serves their full menu daily until midnight. Scouts report that Wednesdays are your best bet for a crowded after dinner hour, and Saturday has a much more upbeat flavor than Fridays, which attract a slightly more professional crowd in the mid to to late evening. The crowd is generally of the older cast during the week and younger during the weekend, so choose accordingly. Don't worry about parking, they have a $5 valet. And try the crabcakes. They're yummy.