downtown bar - milwaukee, wisconsin
Overlooking the Milwaukee River, this bar is located in a small space carved out of an unexceptional commercial development on the southern edge of downtown. In an effort to counteract the sterility of the building’s cheap, antiseptic finishes, we designed an interior space with a high level of tactility, visual complexity, and drama. A deeply textured wood slat wall, echoing the enigmatic undulation of heavy stage curtains, leads from the building lobby into the bar area before it wraps overhead and cradles the mezzanine, where it transforms into a screen for intimate upper level seating. The rhythmic modulations of the wood slats, reinforced by a series of thin structural steel columns supporting the mezzanine, forms the backdrop for a continuous ribbon of back-lit, custom-fabricated cellular plastic panels weaving through the two-story space. Rising up from the main level bar, the ribbon runs above the main lounge seating before wrapping down again to form a small stage for nightly bands. Spatially, the light ribbon normalizes the skewed geometry of the room and ties together the programmatic elements on both levels. In addition, it consolidates and veils the bar’s entire technical infrastructure, avoiding the mechanical clutter that so often compromises the purity of commercial spaces. Atmospherically, the ribbon’s deep red color washes the entire space with a sensuous incandescence, creating an ambiance for unapologetic aesthetic indulgence. At night, the Downtown Bar emits its mysterious glow through a series of large custom sliding doors into Milwaukee’s somber nights, subtly marking the resurgence of this downtown neighborhood.