Milwaukee has a lot of nicknames, ranging from obvious (Brew City) to ambiguous (Cream City), but perhaps the most fitting moniker of them all would be Dive Bar City. We've got a tavern on every corner, and we love our neighborhood dives just as much as we love festooning our homes with green and gold. These 14 dives are our second homes, so go ahead and make yourself comfortable.
Do people ever fall for the old clever bar name trick anymore? We can’t imagine “I’m heading to My Office” works on anyone anymore, especially when it’s 6:30pm on a Friday. The name still warrants charm, since it’s a corner tavern stuck into the middle of Downtown. If you’re afraid of the flying Dracula from some bygone Halloween inside, then sip your beer outside on the quasi-patio window ledge bar. Many a beer have been chugged here before heading home after work.
Don’t let the fact that you have to be buzzed into the front door by the bartender distract you -- it’s to keep riff raff out, not because this is an exclusive club. Once you’re in though, you’re family. Bartender Connie has been there almost as long as Randy, the owner, some 30+ years, and there’s a couple of beagles roaming around to pet. It’s a common occurrence that a nice regular at the bar will buy everyone a round in the form of business card-like free drink coupons. There’s no food, but Connie makes a mean taco for $1.50 taco night Wednesdays.
The George of George’s Pub is a retired veteran and country music singer. His band, the Nashville Rejects, played the State Fair, festivals, and weddings regularly, and memorabilia from the band is all around the pub. If you’re lucky enough to go to George’s while he’s working the bar, be sure to ask for a serenade. He’s been known to belt out Ring of Fire on request with his gravely Cash-like voice.
Milwaukeeans unabashedly love bowling, and there is a number of taverns with old bowling alleys in the city. The six lanes in the basement of Falcon Bowl date to 1913, but the building is even older. This is the home of Nest 725 of the Polish Falcons, a fraternal organization that we can only assume is like the Freemasons, but with way more vodka. If you’re Polish in Milwaukee (highly likely,) then get your dupa in here and bowl while you enjoy some obscure Polish booze.
Historic Mitchell Street
Yep, another bowling alley, but this one’s mini! It’s called duckpin: the balls fit in your hand and the lanes are half the size of a normal lane. That means anyone can bowl, even if you’ve had far too many Old Fashioneds. Those little pins really go flying, so don’t forget to tip your pinsetter. You don’t have to bowl while you’re at this tavern, but you’d be stupid not to.
Lower East Side
Wolski’s is like Wall Drug: you see bumper stickers about it everywhere. If you stay until closing on any night, you get a coveted bumper sticker that reads “I closed Wolski’s.” It’s really not that hard to procure one though, since we are all old pros at staying lucid until closing time (right?). Then the stickers get stuck everywhere. Whoever came up with that sticker idea was a marketing genius.
Chill bartenders, great music, and MKE's shortest and cheapest happy hour are what make Sabbatic stand out in dive bar city. Keep an eye on the time and get ready to order as many drinks as you can between 7-7:15pm each night, when most stuff is a whopping 99 cents. Like most dive bars, try to use the bathroom as little as possible, and when you must, just ignore the grime.
Forest Home Hills
Holler House has the oldest certified bowling alley in the US, dating to 1908. The pins are still set by actual human beings, generally local kids, and you call ahead if you want to bowl so they can get a pinsetter for you. There’s also bras hanging from the ceiling, because tradition states that you remove and sign your bra on your first visit. Its fate was in jeopardy in 2013, however, when an inspector deemed it a fire hazard. The local alderman pulled some strings though, the bras were put back up, and all was right with the world once again.
Don’t come to Art’s if you’re looking to be alone. Art won’t let that happen. As soon as someone walks in the door of his little shack, he’s welcoming you and regaling you with tales of his old Buick or playing dice with the regulars. There’s a small kitchen and there’re a few cheap specials like burgers and fried chicken, but the real deals are free pizza on Wednesday nights, or just whenever else Art feels like bringing in food.
Lower East Side
All holiday decorations stay up year-round at Y-Not II because it’s just easier to leave them up. There’s always free popcorn, and lots of nooks and ramshackle booths to eat it in. That bar next door that you spied from the sidewalk on the way in? That’s the same place too, but it’s the morning bar, and only open in the mornings. Therefore, they’re open just about as much as they legally can be.
Kochanski’s is a beautiful mashup of the old Polish neighborhood and rock music. Its two stages regularly feature Polish polka bands, rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock, sometimes dueling on both stages at once. Looking for an obscure Polish beer? You can get it here. And any potential thieves: don’t burgle here. Owner Andy Kochanski shot and killed the last armed intruder, and was supported by the cops and the neighborhood. Hardcore.
The oldest continuously running tavern in the city, Uptowner opened in 1884. There weren’t any pinball machines back then, but it’s always served as the “home of the beautiful people,” a tongue-in-cheek self-descriptor. Anything this old is quirky, and Uptowner is no exception. Stuff on the walls regularly disappears and reappears once the thief regrets his decision to take a memento, and the hand-washing sink is located outside the actual bathrooms. Plus it opens in the morning, because day drinking.
The new old kid on the block, High Dive feels like it's been around longer than just a few months, thanks to the fact that the owner didn't remodel the place to look like every other bar. Live music is the main draw, and everyone just sort of crams around the band in a mess of sweaty bodies. That's OK though, because drinks are cheap and will make headbanging with the band way more enjoyable.
It seems that everyone who lives in Tosa goes here, but very few people outside the area do not, even though it's been around for over 40 years. It's pretty large, with a bowtie-shaped bar and a couple back rooms, all lit with old school stained glass lamps in team colors. You can get standard bar food like butter burgers and fried stuff, which is all cooked right behind the bar. That way, you can yell at the bartender/cook to wash his hands before he makes your sandwich.
1. My Office763 N Milwaukee St, Milwaukee
2. Gee Willickers2578 N Dousman St, Milwaukee
3. George's Pub224 E Washington St, Milwaukee
4. Falcon Bowl801 E Clarke St, Milwaukee
5. Koz's Mini Bowl2078 S 7th St, Milwaukee
6. Wolski's Tavern1836 N Pulaski St, Milwaukee
7. Sabbatic700 S 2nd St, Milwaukee
8. Holler House2042 W Lincoln Ave, Milwaukee
9. Just Arts Saloon181 S 2nd St, Milwaukee
10. Y-Not II706 E Lyon St, Milwaukee
11. Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall1920 S 37th St, Milwaukee
12. Uptowner1032 E Center St, Milwaukee
13. High Dive701 E Center St, Milwaukee
14. Walters' on North6930 W North Ave, Wauwatosa
If you don't want any judgement for the next time you're heading to the bar, saying you're heading "to My Office" just may do the trick. So turn to this corner tavern stuck into the middle of Downtown and drink up, judgement avoided.
You'll instantly feel like a regular at this neighborhood dive bar which has been around for over 30 years. The owners ensure that every patron feels like family, so pull up a chair, pet one of the roaming beagles, and feel right at home.
The George of George’s Pub is a retired veteran and country music singer. His band, the Nashville Rejects, played the State Fair, festivals, and weddings regularly, and memorabilia from the band is all around the pub. If you’re lucky enough to go to George’s while he’s working the bar, be sure to ask for a serenade. He’s been known to belt out "Ring of Fire" on request with his gravely Cash-like voice.
Home to the Polish Falcons Nest 725, Falcon Bowl has six lanes in the basement that were built between 1899 and 1901, making them the fourth oldest in the country. Located on top of the bowling alley is an old-school tavern, specializing in obscure Polish alcohol and typical bar food. If bowling isn't enough for you, be sure to challenge some of the regulars to a game of billiards or darts at one of the tavern's pool tables and dart boards.
Bowling alleys are everywhere in Milwaukee, but Koz’s Mini Bowl is a standout because, well, it’s mini and it has a full bar. Featured are four miniature bowling lanes and bowling balls that actually fit in your hand. An old school jukebox amplifies the atmosphere, and if bowling is not your forte, you can also pick up a game of darts or billiards. Though Koz’s doesn’t serve food, food trucks often stop by just across the street.
Established over a century ago, Wolski’s Tavern is the quintessential Milwaukee dive bar. Apart from the 15 beers on tap, Wolski’s offers genuine boar bristle dartboards, an outdoor patio, and free popcorn, all in a pristinely clean environment. The humble bar is dimly lit by a smattering of Tiffany lamps, which cast enough of a glow to make the walls of memorabilia visible. If you stay until closing, you’ll be rewarded with a bumper sticker, which essentially makes the whole experience worth it.
From 7pm to 7:15pm, most drinks and menu items at Sabbatic are $0.99 so get in all the beers and shots you can in those 15 minutes.
Holler House is a tavern that houses the oldest certified bowling alley in the country, which has been charming Milwaukee locals since 1908. Decorated with memorabilia dating back to 1912, Holler House maintains its notorious tradition of hanging up the autographed bras of women who have visited. The tavern only sells bottled beer and small bites like hot ham and rolls, making patrons yearn for the days of Prohibition, when Holler House still served liquor stored under a baby’s crib, under the assumption that police would not find it there.
This isn't your sit-in-the-corner-alone kind of bar. Owner Art won't have it. As soon as someone walks in the door of his little shack, he’s welcoming you and regaling you with tales of his old Buick or playing dice with the regulars.
It's holiday season all-year round at Y-Not II... every holiday. All holiday decorations stay up year round at because it’s just easier to leave them up. So you can celebrate Hallowindependencegiving (finally!) while you grab the bar's free popcorn.
Kochanski’s is a beautiful mashup of the old-Polish neighborhood and rock music. Its two stages regularly feature Polish polka bands and rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock, sometimes dueling on both stages at once. Looking for an obscure Polish beer? You can get it here.
The oldest continuously-running tavern in the city, Uptowner opened in 1884. Anything this old is quirky, and Uptowner is no exception. The hand washing sink is located outside the actual bathrooms, plus it opens in the morning, because day drinking.
This live-music and dive bar hybrid has a great selection of tap beers and a happy hour that runs until 9pm every day.