Brew City Bar Tab takes a patron's-eye look at the Milwaukee area's diverse selection of bars, clubs, pubs, taverns, lounges and more. Stay tuned each week for bar reports, reviews and other content to help you explore and discover the city's bar scene.
Between the Bar Tab and the Goldilocks blogs that preceded them, I've been to almost 70 different Milwaukee-area bars in a little less than six months. That's not too shabby in my opinion, but considering the mind-boggling number of bars around town, 70 is just a drop in the proverbial glass.
I've been to all kinds so far and have plans for many more, but it struck me not too long ago that I was woefully lacking in Riverwest representation (i.e., there wasn't any). Not content to leave the 53212 out in the cold any longer, I decided it was high time to show them a little love.
And please don't get your lemon in a twist if your watering hole of choice didn't make this cut; this is not the end-all, be-all of Riverwest bars, and I can assure you there's more themed fun on tap.
Nessun Dorma, 2778 N. Weil St., (414) 264-8466
The name "nessun dorma" means "none shall sleep" in Italian, but it's hard not to at least get comfortable at this cozy, out-of-the-way café bar. The aria of the same name, from the opera "Turandot," hardly offers a proper comparison. The opera focuses on a cold-hearted princess; the only cold thing here is an occasional chilly blast of air from the front door during the winter months.
There is one thing the aria did get right: it's very possible you'll lose sleep anticipating a return trip to Nessun Dorma. Their menu boasts wine, beer and light Italian fare worthy of Christmas Eve-style excitement; however, you'll have to hold off until dinner time to indulge. Nessun Dorma opens daily at 5 p.m.
Patience is a virtue for anyone seeking to conquer either the beer or wine menu. The beer list holds over 50 mostly micro selections, the majority of which come in bottles or cans. The wine list is the winner here, with a number of red, white, rosé and sparkling wines from around the world that totals over 75. More than 30 of these are available by the glass, and that includes apertif and dessert wines. Not sure what to order (or what the heck an apertif even is)? No problem – the staff can happily and knowledgeably point you in the right direction.
It's always nice when your bartender knows his or her wine, but it's even better when they can pair it with your meal. Nessun Dorma doesn't have a large menu – it offers bruschetta, Italian appetizer plates and panini, mostly – but what comes out of the kitchen is mouthwatering. I've heard good things about the artichoke dip, but if you're a one entrée kind of person, the panini are the way to go.
The Tracks Tavern, 1020 E. Locust St., (414) 562-2020
The term "sports bar" doesn't readily come to mind when you think of drinking in Riverwest, but Tracks is just that. The bar has made a home on Locust since 1969 and has become a laid-back destination to watch the game, grab a fish fry or just hang out.
With a front-and-center big screen for barside patrons and televisions scattered throughout, it's easy to catch your favorite team in action. Or, you can get your friends together and get in the game with Thursday night trivia. Spring and summer also offer Tracks' biggest draw: three levels of co-ed volleyball league play in the adjoining sand courts.
Tracks' bar space is comfortable, but groups will have a much easier time spreading out (especially on busy nights) in the adjacent seating area, which offers table seating and more of a restaurant feel. This makes sense, since the bar also serves a mean menu stocked with comfort food, Wisconsin-style favorites and daily specials. The most appetizing thing here, though, is their bonus fish fry night on Wednesdays. Between the food specials and the drink specials, it's easy to spend a whole night at Tracks. Just be careful when you do leave – that first step can get tricky.
Klinger's East, 920 E. Locust St., (414) 263-2424
Just one block west of Tracks Tavern, Klinger's East is another bar that does solid business in the pub grub game. Here, too, the big-ticket item is the fish fry, but they also serve a variety of bar fare, including butter burgers and other house specials for lunch and dinner.
Most bar/restaurants have a fair amount of overlap. Klinger's however, is literally split down the middle – something you can see both inside and outside. Right when you walk in there's a long bar stretching to the back of the space. All the typical bar amenities are here, right down to the grown-up arcade games. Yes, you can order food, but it's not nearly the focus it is on the other half of the place.
Once you cross the bar area, Klinger's morphs into an almost supper club-style restaurant space, complete with hostesses and the "please wait to be seated" greeting podium. The multi-room dining area looked a little crowded, but it was also filled to capacity the night we stopped by.
On both sides of the "divide," so to speak, the staff couldn't have been friendlier. Both the bartenders and waitresses were easygoing and conversational, which was a pleasant surprise considering we were surrounded by a large crowd of mostly regulars. Despite their hit-and-miss press, I'd go back based on the service alone.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.