Beverage Director

The Best Places to Drink in Milwaukee Right Now

Burnhearts
Burnhearts | Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
Burnhearts | Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist

Milwaukee has such a wealth of drinking establishments that by far the hardest part of a night out is agreeing with your friends on the bar(s) you want to head to. Someone might be in the mood for a rum-filled, souvenir cup tiki drink, another just wants to chill by a fireplace wearing flannel pants and stroking his beard, while you're craving a rowdy dive with an unparalleled jukebox. The only guaranteed way to please everyone is to keep bar hopping until everyone is satisfied, and we're going to help you do that in the most efficient way possible with this handy list. Here are the best bars in Milwaukee right now.

MORE: Don't drink on an empty stomach. Stop in at one of the best restaurants in Milwaukee.

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. 

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.

Bittercube Bar

Uptown Crossing
Experimental tasting room for gourmet bitters company
If you're looking for a bar with a unique feeling, try Bittercube. It's more like a modern living room or kitchen than a bar, with homey touches and minimalist furniture. You'll also learn a lot about your drinks here, and especially bitters, because well, that's what Bittercube produces. They utilize the strained botanicals from making bitters, what would normally be waste, and turn them into complex cocktails and non-alcoholic concoctions. And since this is essentially Bittercube's tasting room, you can pick up a bottle or two of your favorite variety on the way out.

Buckley's

Juneau Town
Chic bistro for a casual night on the town

Buckley's, a top-notch restaurant downtown, recently tripled its size when it expanded into the space next door. While the bar was always a welcome spot, now there's a more elbow room in the comfy space with dark wood and breezy blue walls, so you'll feel more inclined to stay a while. Brunch drinks (and food) are outstanding here, including a habanero-infused bloody mary -- otherwise there's a sophisticated, reasonably priced house cocktail menu. No matter what you order here, you'll look great drinking it.

At Random

Bay View
Cozy retro lounge known for ice cream drinks

There are few bars cozier on a snowy winter night than At Random. The Milwaukee classic was recently purchased by the folks behind Bryant's, but don't worry, they didn't change much at all, except for having regular hours now. The cocktail menu, especially the list of ice cream drinks, is massive and still served with a cookie around the straw. The lighting still feels like a darkroom, and the vibe is still ratpack. If you haven't been to this throwback spot in a while, make a point of getting here for a grasshopper or blue tail fly in a pleather booth.

Vennture Brew Co.

Washington Heights
Convivial brewery and coffee shop combo

There has been a glut of new spots that purport to act as a coffee shop and bar, but none do it quite as well as Vennture. They put as much attention into their coffee roasted and cold brewed on site as they do the beers they brew. The space, too, hits the sweet spot where you can enjoy a flight of beer next to someone sipping their espresso, and no one feels out of place. Board games, an honor bar for a quick cup, and even free "community cups" that you can pay forward or use anytime make Vennture as welcoming as your bestie's basement.

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.

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.

Good City Brewing

Deer District
Bright, energetic second outpost of local brewery

The Deer District is the place to be in Milwaukee lately with all the Bucks excitement and events going on in and around the Fiserv Forum. Good City is right in the middle of it all with a spacious, light-filled second outpost of their East Side hub. The beers brewed at this location are all sours and experimental, so expect those on their 24 taps along with their classics like Risk IPA. When the weather cooperates, expect the garage doors to be wide open or head upstairs to the patio to feel like you're part of the entertainment block action.

the outsider
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

Harbor View
Cozy & hip bar with barrel-aged cocktails

Boone & Crockett made a big move from its little space in Bay View to a much bigger venue not far away on the river. Though it's not as intimate anymore, it has retained its coziness and rustic-chic appeal, complete with sparkling chandeliers, antique furniture, and taxidermy on the walls. They still serve some rad cocktails, like their signature barrel-aged Old Fashioned and a roster of classics. Step outside to the Taco Moto, the resident food truck, for a Dr. Pepper-braised pork taco.

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.

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.

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.

tin widow
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.

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.

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Lacey Muszynski is a Milwaukee native. Follow her on Twitter @worthhersalt.