Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bar Louie

1114 N. Water St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

It's not a good sign when a new business opens and quickly ends up on The S**T List. For some reason, though, I'm not too surprised.

Bar Louie, with locations nationwide, recently ventured into Wisconsin and the drunkest city in America by taking over the space formerly occupied by Brew City BBQ. Admittedly, when I first heard about Bar Louie and that it was opening on Water Street, I wasn't very keen on the idea. In a town that prides itself on the neighborhood tavern, a "corporate bar" just doesn't seem to fit. But I gave it a chance. Twice.

The first time I went in was with Buzz (related here) and the experience was a tad odd. We were their first real customers. And you could tell the servers were just dying to get their first real tips as close to twenty milled around the hostess station salivating in our direction. But alas, we were only there to quickly check the place out and simply have a drink.

This first experience wasn't horrible by any means (aside from the bartender confusing bourbon and scotch), but it left me with an uneasy feeling I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Within a week, though, the rumblings started. Nearly everyone who visited Bar Louie, while impressed by the decor, was highly disappointed by the service. One group of people that work with Buzz and I stopped in for lunch one day. Without going into great detail, let's just say one meal was completely removed from the bill while the rest received a 30% discount. Bar Louie deserves credit for attempting to rectify the situation, but based on the repeatedly bad service people are receiving, those discounts will put them out of business within a year.

The final straw, though, and what got Bar Louie on the List, happened just this past week. Buzz, who loves his beer, really wanted to stop in and try one of the 40 malt beverages on tap. It was a Monday night and the crowd was surprisingly large. The formerly bored waitstaff had its work cut out for it.

At this point, I'd like to interject a little something here. You see, I believe a bar needs to have a personality. And that is best revealed in its bartenders. Bars with crappy bartenders, or those who are just plain jerks (and there are plenty of them out there) are just bars. But bars with friendly faces behind them who do more than drop a drink in front of you and take your money are treasures. Think Cheers.

Bar Louie is no treasure. The barstaff spent most of its time filling drink orders for tables. Approximately 15 people sat around around the bar contesting for the attention of either one of two bartenders. When I finally managed to get the attention of one bartender for longer than a couple of seconds, I tried to strike up a brief conversation with something like "how's business?"

He wanted none of that. Instead, he handed us menus (which we had already said we didn't need). When he came back I asked him if I could make a suggestion. It was something along the line of "you guys could probably use another bartender back there. I can tell you're really busy filling the tables' orders, but that doesn't give you a chance to focus more on the bar customers. You wouldn't believe how much more people tip when the bartender chats with them."

His response: "It's a corporate bar. We don't care."

And that's what got them on the list.

If there's one thing Bar Louie is not, it's a bar. Sure, there's a bar in there, but in my opinion the only reason it's there is to hold people while they wait for a table. Bar Louie is nothing more than a hip TGIF with the personality of white bread. If you choose to go, don't be fooled into thinking you're walking into Milwaukee's next hot spot. In fact, I'd recommend you not go at all.

Bar Louie...welcome to The S**T List.