Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Milwaukee

Published On 07/12/2016 Published On 07/12/2016
Distil cocktails
Distil | courtesy of SURG Restaurant Group

Distil

Juneau Town

If you're looking for a stylish place to have a bite and a couple bourbon-based cocktails Downtown, then Distil is your bar. Of course you can get cocktails made with other spirits, but since it identifies itself as a bourbon bar, you might as well stick with favorites like the bourbon sour shaken with egg white, or the whiskey rebellion with Campari and orange bitters. Bonus: it also makes a mean burger with bourbon onion jam.

courtesy of Dan Bishop

Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

Historic Mitchell Street

Arguably the best bar in Milwaukee, Bryant's started in 1938 and hasn't lost steam yet. Several popular drinks that are now Wisconsin supper club classics, like the Pink Squirrel, were actually invented here. There are no drink menus, a move that's intended to prompt a conversation with the bartender -- which can help you find the perfect drink you never knew you wanted. Bar rules, like only patrons with a seat can get a drink, keep the atmosphere relaxed, even if there's a line out the door.

At Random

Bay View

A staple in its residential neighborhood, At Random really hasn't changed at all since opening decades ago. There are still shiny banquettes, fake flowers, retro light fixtures, and that all-encompassing red mood lighting. Drinks are of two varieties: with or without ice cream. Ice cream drinks will get you mounds of whipped cream and a cookie around the straw, while most other drinks are Tiki-influenced, complete with paper umbrellas, or are served in a huge bowl for sharing. Don't be that guy trying to order a beer in here -- they don't even carry any.

Courtesy of Dock 18 Cocktail Lab

Dock18 Cocktail Lab

Bay View

What do you get when a distillery joins with a bitters company? A fascinatingly experimental cocktail-tasting lab. Twisted Path Distillery has partnered with Bittercube to elevate its tasting room to the next level, incorporating homemade tinctures, tonics, and infusions. The menu changes weekly, and includes a handful of cocktails, plus infusions involving ingredients like lavender and melon. Unlike most bars, you'll want to make a reservation here, so you might as well go all out with a two-hour omakase-style tasting.

Foundation Bar

Riverwest

In a city where winter can last five grueling months, it's no surprise that a vacation-like Tiki bar is popular. The interior of Foundation is exactly what you'd expect: bamboo, fish tanks, surfboards, and seashells in copious quantities. Drinks come in ceramic barrels, volcanoes, and little replicas of those giant stone mo'ai heads, and are filled with rums, fruit juice, and ginger beer. This spot can get crowded, but if you snag one of the secluded booths in the back, you'll feel like a VIP.

Boone & Crockett

Boone & Crockett

Bay View

B&C is dark, intimate, and full of hipsters (though they tend to be pretty chilled out and make for great people-watching, so don't worry about getting that judgy feeling here). With antlers on the walls, you may mistake this place for a dive bar, but the quality of the cocktails indicates otherwise. Barrel-aged cocktails are the thing to get here, and we especially recommend the classic Old Fashioned. The back patio is a welcome retreat in warm weather, which is also where Gypsy Taco makes its permanent home. Who knew tuna tacos and barrel-aged negronis would go so well together?

The Hotel Foster

Murray Hill

Given its name and location on a stretch of North Ave that's full of bars, The Hotel Foster probably gets a lot of inebriated individuals looking for a place to sleep. There are no rooms here, but what you will find is a great (if short) happy hour, karaoke, and plenty of classic cocktails, like Manhattans, sazeracs and Tom Collinses. Stained-glass church windows, a huge American flag, and vintage chandeliers may seem like a jumble of decor, but once you have a couple drinks in you, you can tell that it's the antlers that really tie the room together.

Fink's

Fink's

East Village

Bucking the super-swanky, plush-lounge image, Fink's is the everyman's cocktail bar. From the row of pinball machines, to the kitschy red glass candle holders found in every pizzeria ever, there's no pretentiousness to be found here -- despite the fact that the cocktails are top-notch. Wear cargo shorts and bring a board game; no one cares. Grab a classic cocktail, or opt for one of the house recipes, like the Tuscan Leather, which is comprised of bourbon, spiced pear liqueur, vermouth, and bitters.

Goodkind

Bay View

Though a restaurant first, Goodkind's bar is pumping out some of the most creative and delicious cocktails in the city, thanks to bar manager Katie Rose. The horseshoe bar takes up half the space of the quaint dining room, reminding customers that they better order a drink. Ingredients like celery bitters, cilantro water, and apricot garam masala syrup make for unique, complex drinks with fanciful names like In the Rain on Royal St -- our favorite -- and Harvey Moyman, Esquire III.

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1. Distil 722 N Milwaukee St, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (Downtown)

Distil exudes swank with its dark wood floors, brown leather-backed bar stools and booths, and the glorious amber of the bourbon bottles shining from behind the long bar. There are more than 250 bourbons, scotches, and whiskeys to choose from here, including gems like the entire Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and plenty of Orphan Barrel options. It’s not all about the brown elixir though. The meat and cheese plates include some tasty artisanal fare and are highly recommended.

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2. Bryant's Cocktail Lounge 1579 S 9th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204 (Bay View)

A classic cocktail lounge, Bryant's serves expertly made Depression-Era cocktails -- like Old Fashioneds, Whiskey Rivers, and Cassis at bargain prices, particularly during its popular happy hour. If you're not versed in the cocktail trends of the 1930s, the bartenders here are remarkably unpretentious and friendly -- just tell them what you normally like and are in the mood for, and they'll take it from there. It all happens inside a dark and subtly posh corner bar -- old-school cool at a discount.

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3. At Random 2501 S Delaware Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207 (Bay View)

Sweet, creamy libations and boozy punch bowls are what's on offer at this Bay View 60s' era tiki bar and cocktail lounge. Serving naughty versions of old school soda fountain favorites (check out the booze filled Almond Joy milkshake), this spot specializes in ice-creamed based cocktails and seriously strong, fruity concoctions, all topped with the requisite tropical paper umbrella. Shiny banquettes, retro fixtures, and red mood lighting set the tone.

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4. Dock18 Cocktail Lab 2018 S 1st St, Milwaukee, WI 53207 (Bay View)

Brought to you by Bittercube and located in the Twisted Path Distillery tasting room, experimental Dock18 is a small, rustic-chic cocktail lounge and bar in Bay View, where an ever-changing cocktail menu promises something inventive and enjoyable for every kind of drinker. All of the concoctions made in this intimate, dimly lit space are crafted with house-made syrups, liqueurs, and infusions, so rest assured that what you sip is always fresh and unique.

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5. Foundation Bar 2718 N Bremen St, Milwaukee, WI 53212 (Riverwest)

In a city where winter can last five grueling months, it's no surprise that a tiki bar is popular. Adorned with bamboo, fish tanks, coconuts, sea horses, and puffer fish, Foundation whisks patrons away to an escapist-fueled fantasy of a bar where rum-splashed drinks, filled to the brim in festive glassware, will cure your midseason ails. This spot can get crowded, but if you snag one of the secluded booths in the back, you'll feel like a VIP.

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6. Boone & Crockett 2151 W Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207 (Bay View)

Sporting taxidermied wildlife and an attractive wooden bar dotted with antique light fixtures, Boone & Crockett has the look of a rustic saloon with a hint of steampunk (it is Bay View, after all). The expertly crafted cocktails are the stars here, with the true highlight being the oak-aged Old Fashioneds, which reside in a pair of small oak barrels (one for the brandy variety and one for the bourbon) suspended from the ceiling.

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7. The Hotel Foster 2028 E North Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (Riverwest)

There are no beds here, but The Hotel Foster's cozy, woodsy setting is still a great place to spend the night. The congenial bar specializes in small batch bourbons, unique ales and stouts, and classic cocktails, all of which you can enjoy during their great (if short) happy hour, while rocking out on karaoke, or with friends nestled into comfortable banquette seating.

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8. Fink's 1875 N Humboldt Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (East Side)

This lively neighborhood spot in the East Village boasts a mean whiskey sour alongside an all-around friendly, congenial vibe, perfect for happy-hour hanging or a late-night nightcap. Vintage arcade games and pinball machines, solid happy hour deals (get a draft brew for only $3 or a cocktail for $5), and great service make this a must-try when in the hood.

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9. Goodkind 2457 S Wentworth Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207

Goodkind has all the warmth and friendliness of your neighborhood bar and grill -- but also lots of stuff that place doesn't have. This Bay View farm-to-table restaurant and bar specializes in rotisserie meats, local produce, and house-made cocktails. You'll find as many seasonal ingredients on your plate as you will in your glass, and the full kitchen menu is served until 1am to ensure that the space maintains as much of a bar status as it does of a restaurant one.