Old world charm, new world vigor: the most "Milwaukee" bars
"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs -- including guides, the latest trends, bartender profiles and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Everyone has an idea of which bar in town is the "most Milwaukee." That is, which bar feels like the poster bar for beer-loving Brew City.
For some, maybe it's a place like Kochanski's, which celebrates polka and the city's old world charm. For others, maybe it's a great wine bar like Balzac, which shows the city's ever-more-refined tastes and new world vigor. Ask 10 folks and you'll likely get 10 different answers.
We asked each other here in the office and these are our picks. Share yours using the Talkback feature at the bottom.
Since my first visit to Tony's Tavern, I've thought of it as the quintessential Milwaukee neighborhood bar. The moment that caught me came on a workday afternoon, when co-owner Ann Pogorelc made a drink and set it on a bar in a spot where no one was sitting. Rather than serving a phantom, it was a drink ready for a regular, a working man on a quick break from his nearby job who stopped by daily. It was the sign of what makes a Milwaukee bar: a regular crowd and a history. Tony's is named after Ann's father -- and is the name of her husband. No, she didn't marry him just to keep the bar's name. But that does add to the legend of a fine drinking establishment.
Pick: Milwaukee Brat House
There's no ignoring the big part our city's diverse European roots play in its culture even today, and the Milwaukee Brat House celebrates 'em with a laid back, straightforward bar concept. They serve up brats, Italians and Polish sausages with all the traditional prep and add-ons, and they have both old- and new-school Wisconsin brews on tap to wash it all down. And hey, what's more Milwaukee than getting enough beer to warrant serving it in pairs?
Although it's only been around a short while I feel like Blackbird exemplifies so much of what I love about Milwaukee. Bar owner Holly DeShaw's commitment to supporting Wisconsin breweries, and other local producers is the kind of thing that allows upstart Wisconsin businesses to take risks and grow. It's the kind of thing that helped Lakefront Brewery sprout from a basement operation to a nationally recognized brewery, and a cooperative spirit that runs through Milwaukee. The bar's neighborhood feel and no-nonsense atmosphere is a nod to traditional neighborhood bars, while silly theme nights like Metal Mondays and bar events for progressive causes shed out-of-state misconceptions that Milwaukee is a town stuck in the "Happy Days."
Pick: Landmark Lanes
The Landmark is totally Milwaukee to me. It has three separate bar areas with a great selection of micro and macro brews along with a bowling alley. It's unpretentious, affordable and hasn't changed in years. To get any more "Milwaukee" than that would have to include melted cheese or a game of pinball with Laverne.
Pick: Club Garibaldi
As a member and a former president of the Garibaldi Society -- founded in 1908 as a mutual aid society by Bay View's Italian community -- I feel a part of that neighborhood's, and the city's, ethnic history. Every time I go into Garibaldi, which maintains the look and feel of a classic Milwaukee corner tap (as it was when it was Paradise Gardens, before the society bought it in the 1940s to serve as a permanent meeting hall, and it has been ever since [no, I don't get money or anything else out that ownership; the society does not run the bar business]), I feel like I'm nowhere else but Brew City. When visitors come to town and want to see a neighborhood bar -- and especially if they have any interest in the city's Italian past -- I take them there.
This is a tough one. Many places feel oh-so-Milwaukee, like The Landmark or Thurman's or The Newport or Champion's Pub. But for me, the ultimate "Milwaukee" bar must be Wolski's. Hard to find, on the first level of a house, it's a straightforward, no-nonsense tavern. Bumper stickers and free popcorn aside, I imagine that Wolski's is largely the same as it always was (just less smokey). And that's what makes it so great. Wolski's is old-school Milwaukee without trying. On its 103rd year, that's no small feat.
Senior Staff Writer
Pick: Old German Beer Hall
Picking a "Milwaukee" bar depends on your impression of Milwaukee and, more importantly, what you're into -- really, there is something for everybody. So for me, picking a truly "Milwaukee" bar is easy: the Old German Beer Hall. Yeah, my heritage (and my residence) makes me a little biased, but I can't help but think that back in "the day," Milwaukee bars looked and sounded a lot like the Beer Hall. Big glasses of tasty beer, friends and strangers sharing a table and live polka music? To me, that's about as good as it gets in a bar.
Personally, nothing compares to the Corner Pub (76th & Lisbon). It's the bar that is the cornerstone of the neighborhood. Not only does it serve as a watering hole, but you get updated on current events, watch children grow up, everything a bar in Milwaukee always stood for.
Such an amazing article and such great picks! I have to say the worst pick (and I know it's the writer's opinions) would be Blackbird. Really Bob Purvis? No history here what-so-ever. I guess it doesn't surprise me coming from a guy who writes an article about staring at a "bartender's rack." Dave should have been in on this. I love all of these bars mentioned, and it would be hard for me to pick. Fourth Base (IMDB search "Major League"), County Claire, or Y-Not II would be up there. I mean, they serve Natty Light at Y-Not, how amazing is that? No love for Victor's?
And College Dave would be correct! No further questions, please.
Champions is the first place that comes to mind for me.
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