No shirt, no shoes, no booze: Dress codes in Milwaukee bars
"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round – brought to you by Aperol, Pinnacle, Jameson, Fireball, Red Stag and Avion. The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
The Grammy Awards caused a stir this week when the show's 2013 dress code was leaked. The austere guidelines scrupulously cover everything that Grammy execs expect to stay covered on the red carpet and on the stage, describing "bare sides or under curvature of the breasts" as "problematic" and asking attendees to avoid exposing "female breast nipples."
However schoolmarm-esque the language, the need for stipulations are understandable: one Janet Jackson slip and someone at the network has to pay a fine.
For most of us, dress codes are a horrible memory from parochial school. Once you're an adult, you don't generally have people telling you what you can and cannot wear in your free time.
But there are a surprising number of bars and clubs in the Milwaukee area that enforce dress codes – and they might not be the ones that come to mind when you think of "dressing up."
Rules range from the understandable to the downright strange.
Jared Siemers, general manager of Oak Lounge, 231 E. Buffalo St., feels that a dress code is a good way to create the kind of environment he wants his clientele to experience. Oak Lounge nixes athletic wear and tennis shoes for guys. "Avoid hats or a jersey," he advises. "For the ladies, just dress nice. You guys always look great."
Siemers leaves it up to his employees at the door to enforce the rules.
"We like to keep the clientele classy. We like to have good-looking people." But has Oak ever turned anyone away for not keeping it classy enough? "Yes, we have," Siemers says. "What usually happens is they turn around, (go home) change, and come back."
Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, 1579 S. 9th St., has similar rules, but not as much of a need to enforce them.
"We've never had to ask anyone to leave in recent years, that I can remember," an employee told OnMilwaukee.com. "Men have to remove their hats. No tank tops. (Leaving it up to the clientele) is usually the way it works with us. When they walk in, they're dressed appropriately."
Not everyone is as trusting of their patrons, though – and this is where it starts to get complicated. Many places explicitly forbid the wearing of baggy pants, grills, baseball hats and even tattoos.
For a lot of people, that translates to racism.
"It's in no way implied to be racial or discriminatory to any particular person. Not at all," said an employee at Brothers Bar and Grill, 1213 N. Water St., who – like many interviewed for this story – spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Brothers' dress code specifically prohibits grills, the exposure of neck tattoos, excessively baggy clothing, sleeveless shirts for guys and earrings bigger than two inches.
"We've turned white people away, we've turned black people away," said the employee. "Anyone that doesn't meet our dress code we turn away. Sometimes people will like to argue about the dress code, but we have it posted right at our front door and it's really a non-issue because that's our policy ... we like to portray ourselves as being a dress-to-impress kind of bar."
The Library Club, 1905 E. North Ave., has particularly detailed guidelines posted prominently on its website that prohibit the wearing of "relaxed, loose or baggy-fitting jeans" as well as "stretch pants or leggings as outerwear."
For shoes: only "designer and upscale footwear, no boots or anything that resembles boots" and "no gator-style shoes." Bright-colored suits, fur coats, sports attire, "mouth jewelry, visible arm, hand, leg, neck, chest or face tattoos" and "urban labels."
The Library Club did not return calls inquiring about their dress code.
Whiskey Bar, 788 N. Jackson St., asks that guests refrain from wearing sports apparel, baseball hats and athletic shoes.
"We notice it keeps the place classy," said an employee. "We have turned people away and they come back the next week and don't wear the Jordans that they had on the week before."
In the end, he says, it benefits all the clientele. "People that aren't in dress code kind of stick out."
Places that Milwaukeeans might typically think of as more upscale, however, seem to be less choosy with the attire of their patrons.
Kris Gorski, owner of Cuvee, 177 N. Broadway, specifically chose not to have a dress code for her champagne lounge.
"When we first opened, I had a hard time getting people to want to come into a champagne lounge," she told OnMilwaukee.com. "I could stand outside and I would listen to people come and go and I would hear them say, 'Well, we'll have to come back when we're dressed.'
"I really worked hard to create a space that was rustic elegance. People can come in khakis, they can come in cargo pants, they can come in jeans. I don't feel that people need to be dressed up to enjoy champagne. I've never had anyone come in that was really dressed inappropriately."
Nick Kowalski, manager of Blu on the 23rd floor of The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., says as upscale as hotel bars can be, they still have to cater to exhausted travelers. He likes to leave the clothing issue to the "common sense discretion" of his guests.
"We're located within one of the city's top hotels and still play the role of a guest amenity. With the many different guests we see throughout the evening and into the night, we have to be flexible with our dress code.
"Other than the fact that we do require shoes for safety and sanitation standards, we trust our guests to use their best judgement when it comes to what they wear."
When asked, an employee of Bar 333 in the Hyatt, 333 W. Kilbourn Ave., was not aware as to the existence of any dress code.
"You have to have shoes," she said. "You have to have clothes on. I haven't seen anyone dressed so inappropriately that we've had to ask them to leave. People are in everything from sweatpants from their room to business suits."
Thank you for making this list. Now I know all the names of the bars I will never enter. It's not that I would wear clothing that would keep me excluded from these clubs. But you're telling a bouncer to judge the character of a person based on their outward appearance. Which is wrong on every level. If you're too snooty to let someone in, then you're too snooty to receive my money. Keep in mind, this is Milwaukee. We're a baseball team away from being Peoria.
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