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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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Shady bar guide: East Side




Note: The contents of this guide were checked for accuracy when this article was updated on Oct. 7, 2002 at 6:01 a.m. We continually update the thousands of articles on OnMilwaukee.com, but it's possible some details, specials and offers may have changed. As always, we recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the businesses mentioned in the guide.


Sometimes you want to go where no one knows your name. Somewhere you won't run into co-workers. Somewhere your sweatpants will feel classy. And most importantly, somewhere you can drink swilly taps until you think your bar stool is swiveling independently and that the beer nuts were a bad idea.

When you need a night out like this, Milwaukee's your place. Our fair city is full of corner taps, posts, inns and dives that would make even Charles Bukowski think he'd bit the dust and gone to barfly heaven.

It's a very fine line between a shady bar and a plain ol' tavern, so the following questions were used to determine the level of shadiness or lack thereof:

Are there more beer mirrors than patrons?
Is anything sticky?
Does the bar open at or before noon?
Is video gambling an option?
Is there little or no natural light?
Is the building sign blinking, buzzing or peeling?
Would it be considered rude not to smoke?

OMC would like to point out that no writers or photographers were harmed in the researching of this article, although they did suffer unmentionable side effects from a bad mix of Blatz taps and beef jerky. Also, it's worth noting that many of the bar owners, bartenders and regulars were extremely friendly and helpful.

All of that said, here are a few of the East Side's shadiest:

Scaffidi's Hideout
1837 N. Humboldt Blvd.
(414) 273-1665

In the mid-'80s the Scaffidi brothers bought the dark, smoky and wood-paneled bar from their stepfather. With red-light lanterns hanging from the stained ceiling and Big Mark behind the horseshoe-shaped bar, it's an easy place to get acquainted with your sketchier self. Tap beers are a real deal. Pool, darts and frozen pizzas are also available, as is a fine selection of redneck favorites on the jukebox, from Merle Haggard to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dare you to order a Cosmo.

Listwan's (Bruno's)
1329 E. Brady St.
(414) 273-1085

Conflicting signage in front of the bar makes you wonder if the place is called Bruno's or Listwan's. Owner Paul Bruno is happy to explain that the bar was originally called Listwan's, the last name of his now-deceased father-in-law. "Bruno" took over the bar 18 years ago, and although he formerly changed the name, he purposely left the Listwan's sign in tact as a memorial to his wife's father. "They all stop here eventually," says Bruno, suggesting Brady Street nightlifers start out at trendier establishments but end up stumbling into his smoky watering hole where the walls are adorned with framed Budweiser posters, Bud mirrors and a photo of Tommy Thompson. "Oh ya, Tommy. I drank a beer with Tommy at State Fair," says Bruno.

Gee Willicker's
2578 N. Dousman St.
(414) 372-4559

Hop over to Gee Willicker's, but be prepared: You may or may not be able to drink there, depending on if the bartender feels like "buzzing you in." Sometimes, rumor has it, only the regulars are allowed to pass through the locked front door. But if the barkeep decides that you're Gee Will's worthy, get ready for a night of cheap, stiff cocktails. Although prices seem to vary, it's not unheard of to get a $1 Jack-and-Coke or 75-cent taps of Point. Pool, bar dice and The Pack are big at this bar, but come early for games because the crock-pot weenies go fast.

Franklin Place
1689 N. Franklin Pl.
(414) 278-7897

Perhaps it's the beer on the floor or the beer spilled down the sleeveless shirt of a guy dozing at the bar, but nothing says "your liver will loath you" like this place. The roach trap in the ladies' room, the hundreds of dead flies on the windowsills and the Pat Benatar tune blaring from the speakers are all part of the charm. It's hard not to notice where an old beer poster fell down and left an unsettlingly white rectangle on a yellow, nicotine-stained wall. Most interesting was the special drink of the night, a Pink Kitty for $4.50. Considering all of the patrons (except one) were men, it seemed like a cocktail called a Tiger's Willy -- instead of a Pink Kitty -- would've gone over better.

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