Food & Drink

The Best Places to Drink in Milwaukee Right Now

Updated On 12/04/2017 at 06:04PM EST
Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

Bay View

Classic cocktails in MKE's first lounge
No list of bars in MKE is complete without Bryant's, the king of drinks. This spot mixes history, the corner tavern, and a swanky lounge atmosphere all into one glorious cocktail. You can get any cocktail you want here, including a bunch that were invented in this very building. Just tell the bartender what kind of drink you're in the mood for, and they'll whip up something you can enjoy while gazing at (but never touching) the velvet wallpaper. 

Gin Rickey

Avenues West

1920s-style hotel bar and lounge
The retro Ambassador Hotel's food and beverage program got a massive overhaul and remodel earlier in 2017 from well-known culinary director Jason Gorman. Gin Rickey, the hotel's bar, serves up pre-Prohibition era cocktails in a gilded lounge that will make you feel like Gatsby. Many spots have had roaring '20s parties over the years, but the atmosphere here is the only place where it feels believable.

Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist

Burnhearts

Bay View

Outstanding beer bar with year-round events
A trendy bar in Bay View where everyone is welcome, not just hipsters? Whoa. If the outstanding and ever-changing beer list doesn't get you in the door, perhaps the unique cocktails or events like Mittenfest and obscure brewery tap takeovers will. Burnhearts keeps making its way onto national "best of" lists, but it's never going to lose its chill.

At Random

Bay View

Cozy retro lounge serving ice cream drinks
There are few bars cozier on a snowy winter night than At Random. It's a Milwaukee classic, and just because it’s known primarily for ice cream and other blended drinks doesn't mean we're going to stop going when it's ice cold outside. It doesn't hurt that the year-round tinsel and twinkling lights just amp up the Christmas spirit, as well. If you haven't been to this throwback spot in a while, make a point of getting here for the holidays for a Grasshopper in a pleather booth.

Palm Tavern

The Palm Tavern

Bay View

Friendly dive bar without modern distractions
Palm is an upscale bar disguised as a total dive. The building is old, a hand-painted sign blocking an unused exterior door reads "Tasty," and there's little daylight that makes its way inside. But you won't find TVs, darts, or old beer signs, either. Instead, you'll be greeted with a deep, well-lit bar display that's the focal point of the room, local art on the walls, and a menu of rare beer and spirits that just doesn't end.

Cactus Club

Bay View

Intimate live music venue and dive bar
The Cactus Club is all chill in the front with a well-worn horseshoe bar presided over by a Schlitz lady statue and her glowing globe, but the party’s out back with a small, raucous concert space that's hosted some major names over the years. If you've never been to this Bay View institution, now's the time to start.

Flickr/Ryan Dickey

Holler House

Muskego Way

Neighborhood tavern with ancient basement bowling lanes
A bar that has its own Wikipedia page probably deserves a spot on this list. Holler House is home to the oldest sanctioned bowling lanes (located in its basement), an homage to a time in MKE history when bowling was the pastime of choice. Beer comes in bottles or cans only, there's Polish stuff everywhere, and bras still hang from the ceiling, thanks to owner Marcy Skowronski and her friend who started the tradition decades ago.

Swingin' Door Exchange, Saloon & Eatery

Swingin' Door Exchange

East Town

Actual speakeasy-turned-downtown tavern
Officially opened in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition, Swingin Door probably started out life as a speakeasy; we just can't believe they simply happened to start serving alcohol less than a month after the repeal. Nowadays it's a cozy bar with a huge red stained glass window, cheap beer specials, dark wood fixtures, and some of the best bar food you can find in Milwaukee.

David Szymanski/Courtesy of The Outsider

The Outsider

Third Ward

Rooftop modern cocktail bar
Rooftop bars are rare here, probably because of the whole weather issue. The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel changed that by opening a swanky bar on the 9th floor of the new hotel. It's quickly become the hot new spot to be seen at, thanks to its million dollar view and matching cocktail menu. If you ever find yourself craving some artisan beef jerky along with a gin a cucumber cocktail, this is your spot.

Boone & Crockett

Boone & Crockett

Bay View

Intimate hipster bar with barrel aged cocktails
This is the ultimate hipster bar, complete with succulents, antique furniture, and deer heads on the walls. Do not let that stop you from coming here, though, because they are just about the nicest hipsters you'll ever meet, and they serve some rad cocktails, like their signature barrel-aged Old Fashioned. Head out to the back patio and grab a taco from the Gypsy Taco truck, now a permanent fixture.

Koz's Mini Bowl

Koz's Mini Bowl

Lincoln Village

Duckpin bowling attached to a retro tavern
Taxidermy, antique wood bar, coolers, pool table, snarky signs... this may seem like just another dive bar until you glance in the other room at the bowling lanes. This is duckpin bowling, where everything is miniaturized, and it's been here for decades. Reserve a lane before you go or just watch a league while you sip a Schlitz. No matter what, you'll be treated like a regular.

Flickr/Callie Reed

Sugar Maple

Bay View

No-frills bar with a well-crafted beer list
The focus here is craft beer, not decor, bar games, or neon signs. There are 60 taps, which can be a little intimidating, but the bartenders are knowledgable, and you can always get a flight if you're indecisive. There tends to be a lot of pretentiousness associated with Sugar Maple, but if you can look beyond that -- don't you dare order an MGD -- then a whole world of beer awaits.

Flickr/Dave Reid

Wolski's Tavern

East Village

Famous, classic Milwaukee tavern
The quintessential neighborhood tavern, Wolski's has been going strong for over a century. You won't find anything fancy here (though the patio addition is lovely in summer), just a beautiful wood back bar, free popcorn, steel-tip darts, and cheap drinks. Stay until closing time and snag yourself the ubiquitous "I closed Wolski's" bumper sticker, which you can then stick on anything but your car's bumper.

Foundation Bar

Riverwest

Polynesian-themed bar serving classic tiki drinks
The original tiki bar in MKE (at least, of those that are still around), Foundation embodies the Riverwest spirit of kitsch and heavy drinking. It's dark and mysterious, with bamboo everywhere and lamps made out of spiny puffer fish. Drinks are classic tiki, from mai tais to zombies and flaming volcanos, all served in glassware that probably gets stolen constantly.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Tin Widow

Walkers Point

Dark bar known for gin and Old Fashioneds
A less-hipster version of some of the bars in Bay View, Tin Widow is dark, cozy, and intimate, thanks to numerous candles and a lounge-like area at the back. Gin is the spirit of choice here, and they probably have more types than any other bar in Milwaukee. Get your favorite gin mixed in a Negroni... or for all you gin-haters out there, try their signature Old Fashioned.

Goodkind

Bay View

A restaurant with an outstanding cocktail program
Just because it's primarily a restaurant, don't be afraid to sit at Goodkind's bar; the bar does take up half the available space, after all. And while the food is great, you'd be remiss if you came here and didn't order a cocktail from one of the best bar menus in the city. Our favorite? In the Rain on Royal St, a mix of cachaça, Chartreuse, Cynar, citrus bitters, and apricot and garam masala syrup.

The Phoenix Cocktail Club

The Phoenix Cocktail Club

East Town

Playful cocktails in an upscale, casual setting
The swanky digs and playful cocktail menu may imply that Phoenix Cocktail Club is having some sort of existential crisis, but really it's just a hipster thing. Embrace the funky menu with categories like Kick Ass Potions, Moods, and Colors!, because the drinks here are downright delicious. Try an Obi Wan Negroni slushie with rhubarb amaro, or Rico's Last Tattoo, a spiced rum and cola concoction that comes with a custom coloring book and crayons -- because really, why not?

Pabst Brewery

Pabst MKE Brewery

Westown

Re-opened original Pabst brewery bar
Pabst is so ingrained in our beer consciousness in MKE that you might not even realize it’s been gone since the '90s. But the prodigal son’s finally come back home, opening its first innovation brewery in part of the complex it used to occupy -- the taproom is located in an old church, so feel free to worship beer any way you see fit. Soaring ceilings, a giant Pabst neon sign hanging parallel to the ground, and beers that go beyond the usual PBR tallboys will keep you drinking here for a while.

Hotel Madrid

Vermuteria 600

Walker's Point

Micro-hotel bar with playful Prohibition-era cocktails
Located in the posh Hotel Madrid, Vermuteria has a similar rustic, chic decor to the hotel restaurant Bodegón, but in a much more approachable package. The bar program is inspired by a 1934 cocktail index, so prepare to have Prohibition-era favorites like slings and Manhattans; fruit and liqueur spiked sangria is always available too, along with wines from the downstairs cellar. There's an extensive selection of vermouth as well, including tap varieties and a house-made version that you can order in a giant ceramic T. rex for sharing.

Up Next
Food & Drink

The Best Places to Watch the FIFA World Cup in Milwaukee

Published On 06/08/2018
Y ou may not think of Milwaukee as a soccer town, but there are plenty of fans that come out of the woodwork come World Cup time -- even in a year where the US team isn’t playing. It just so happens that a lot of pub owners and employees are fans too, so opening in the wee hours of the morning for a match in, say, Russia isn't so much a chore as something they'd gladly do anyway; might as well make some money while they're at it.
The World Cup kicks off June 14 and run all the way until July 15, which means you’ll have ample opportunity to catch at least a few games -- and we’ve picked out the very best spots in Milwaukee to do just that, whether you're looking for a low-key pub or a raucous World Cup watch party. We'll be sure to update you here with more specials or other details as they get announced.
Nomad Nacional

Nomad Nacional

Walker's Point

Lively pop-up specifically for World Cup revelry
Nomad, the pub on Brady Street, is running a pop-up bar and restaurant in Walker's Point just for the World Cup, and it will undoubtedly be the biggest party in the city. Nomad Nacional has taken over the huge former La Fuente space including its two patios, and are offering a full menu of Latin-inspired food like arepas, tacos, and a frita Cubana sandwich; drinks will be flowing as well, including a Good City Nomad summer ale brewed just for the pop-up. The spot is open already, so scope out your favorite spot now before it gets crazy.
Specials: No Cup-specific specials, but the Mon-Fri happy hour offers Summer Ale, house margaritas and AYCE taquitos for $5 each

Nomad World Pub

Nomad World Pub

Brady Street

Year-round soccer bar with a colorful patio
What used to be the most raucous World Cup watching spot is now much more low key, thanks to the Nacional pop-up attracting most of the die-hards. That said, you can bet the original Nomad will still be packed with regulars and fans who don't care if there's a pool table or guacamole. The colorful patio with its outdoor bar is top notch, despite some past World Cup-related controversy. The party usually spills out of the small space and onto the sidewalks, but that's just the Brady Street vibe. 

Three Lions

Three Lions Pub

Shorewood

Cozy British pub with minimal kitsch
Three Lions is likely to have the highest concentration of British accents in Milwaukee at any given time, which means it's probably the highest concentration of soccer fans, too. They're already used to opening at 5am for matches, so the World Cup will be no different. They sport a pretty good menu of local and British favorites, including a full English breakfast for those early mornings. There are two separate bars and a patio, so everyone can spread out.
Specials: Free breakfast buffet on weekdays when you purchase a drink. Street party on July 15 for the final with a Jumbotron screening, live entertainment, and raffles.

Red Lion Pub

Red Lion Pub

East Village

Relaxing rooftop patio atop snug British pub
Though the space at Red Lion is long and narrow, there are enough TVs -- including a big projection screen at the end of the room -- to make sure everyone's got a good view. Early morning matches mean Bloody Marys and Guinness pints, with a short menu of bangers and eggs and chip buttys with HP sauce that’ll soak up the alcohol. And, if the World Cup inspires you to play a little footy of your own, head to the surprisingly tranquil rooftop patio and play some giant pool with soccer balls.
Special: Free full English breakfast buffet on weekday mornings with the purchase of a drink; there'll also be a rooftop patio party for the final on July 15.

The Highbury

Bay View

Small bar with raucous soccer crowds
Some places are pubs first, with soccer just a natural extension of that designation -- at The Highbury, though, soccer has always come first, and the fact that it's a pub is just a happy coincidence. There is no food, most beers are canned or bottled, and the most complicated cocktail on the menu is Crispin and Goldschlager. You'll be surrounded by other die-hard football fans in no-nonsense digs, making for one of the least touristy-feeling pubs to catch a match.

McBob's

Washington Heights

Neighborhood pub with great corned beef
For a decidedly Irish experience, watch a few matches at McBob's: it's a neighborhood pub with a diverse, welcoming crowd, and some of the best corned beef and Reuben sandwiches in Milwaukee. If you're there on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, or Sunday (the menu can get a little confusing), you can indulge in one of their infamous giant bar tacos, which truthfully eat more like burritos. If you haven't figured it out yet, this is one of your best bets to watch a World Cup match when you're starving.

Sportclub

SportClub

Juneau Town

Brand-new sports bar with a vintage feel
The newest sports bar in town, SportClub opened just in time for March Madness earlier this year, so there's no precedent yet set on World Cup watching. However, all signs point to this being a great spot to watch a match, especially for the more casual fan; there are TVs everywhere (naturally), and even some stadium-style seating areas in the vintage space. The match day menu is substantial as well, with items like a Korean breakfast sandwich, breakfast totchos, and spicy cheesy grits.
Specials: $19 bottomless mimosas on Saturdays and Sundays, from 8am-2pm

County Clare

County Clare Irish Pub

Yankee Hill

Snug Irish pub and inn with a casual, mellow vibe
The ultra-cozy County Clare Pub and Inn will likely be a low-key spot to take in a match. There will probably be a few people who are into the game, but it won’t be anything like the mayhem of the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration; that's perfect for the more casual fan, or anyone who’s just nursing a headache from the night before. If you’re in the latter camp, grab a fantastic Bloody Mary made with a splash of Guinness and a pickled potato garnish.

Old German Beer Hall

Old German Beer Hall

Kilbourn Town

Lively beer garden on a block full of bars
Though the majority of the places we’re recommending are UK-themed pubs, Germans are not exempt from soccer mania. Old German Beer Hall is full of footy fans, especially those rooting for Munich-based FC Bayern, but all fans are welcome; there's plenty of Hofbrau beers on tap, served up in big glass liters just like at the beer gardens in Munich. In between matches, try your hand at Hammer-Schlagen or scarf down a currywurst.
Specials: Wear your Germany or Sweden gear for the match on June 23 to get half-price liters of beer

Major Goolsby's

Major Goolsby's

Kilbourn Town

Downtown sports bar filled with TVs
An all-around sports bar downtown, Major Goolsby's has been going strong for a long time. It's a little divey these days, but with 40+ TVs and projection screens, there's basically no spot where you won’t have at least four screens in your field of view -- and there are at least four tuners on those TVs, so you can watch multiple games and sports at once if there's a conflict. It's a no-frills kind of place, but the charbroiled burgers (of the wide and flat variety) are reliably tasty, as are the breaded wings (served sauced and sprinkled with dry seasoning).
Specials: $1 off rail and call drinks during all matches

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