Sophie Bolich

New Lower East Side Cocktail Bar

Huge, zodiac-themed Leo Lounge has feminine decor, serves pink tequila and a Womanhattan. 

By - Aug 2nd, 2022 11:13 am

Leo Lounge. Photo Courtesy of Ahidé Valdepeña.

A new cocktail lounge quietly opened a few weeks ago in Milwaukee’s Lower East Side neighborhood in the building perhaps best known as the former home of Trocadero.

Named for the fifth sign of the zodiac, Leo Lounge is located above the Mexican-Italian fusion restaurant, Tauro Cocina, at 1758 N. Water St.

Ahidé Valdepeña, who co-owns both businesses with her husband, Alberto, said that the pair had always planned for a bar to accompany the restaurant, but the process moved along faster than they originally expected.

Tauro Cocina opened in early June with Leo Lounge following a month later.

The lounge had its soft opening July 9. This past weekend was its fourth, and busiest, said Ahidé Valdepeña, chalking the extra traffic up to a festival-filled weekend.

“We have not done a lot of advertising because it’s kind of a speakeasy,” she said. “If you know, you know.”

Tauro Cocina, meaning “Taurus Cuisine,” is named for Alberto Valdepeña’s zodiac sign. The restaurant’s decor is masculine, featuring dark wood and a navy and black color-scheme. Leo Lounge, which is Ahidé Valdepeña’s sign, is the perfect counterpart, embodying all things feminine.

The lounge is high-class, with pink walls, floral details and metallic accents, dark green couches and framed artwork of tigers. It’s a big space, 4,100 square feet, and can comfortably seat about 60 people, according to Ahidé Valdepeña.

The drinks also fit the theme: pink tequila, aged in wine barrels or infused with hibiscus, imparts a rosy tinge to signature cocktails like Mexycali, a mixture of Cava, tequila, grapefruit and agave nectar, garnished with a grapefruit slice ($13).

The Womanhattan, touted as “better than any MAN-hattan,” includes white whiskey, Lilet Blanc, Rose Water and orange bitters ($17).

The Lavender Fizz ($15) incorporates purple gin, lemon juice, lavender simple syrup and aquafaba. Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chickpeas. Though usually drained and discarded, the liquid is an excellent vegan substitute for egg whites and can be used in everything from meringues to cocktails.

A selection of wine will soon be added to the menu.

Though it’s open to anyone age 21 and up, the lounge is mostly geared toward the 30-plus crowd, Ahidé Valdepeña said, noting that the music is kept at a lower volume and there are no DJs or dancing.

The building that houses Tauro Cocina and Leo Lounge was formerly DiModa Pizza & Hotspot. Before that, Trocadero operated there for sixteen years before closing in 2017. The Valdepeñas acquired the building for $985,000 from an affiliate of Wild Planet Hospitality Group, which operated DiModa, as previously reported by Urban Milwaukee.

Customers can enter through Tauro Cocina during restaurant hours. Otherwise, entry is through a side door and you must know the password, which Valdepeña hinted “is tied to the name of the lounge.”

Leo Lounge is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.

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