The story of Goldilocks is pretty well known. A little blond girl breaks into a house owned by a family of anthropomorphic bears and proceeds to jack up their chairs, porridge and beds while they're out doing, I don't know, bear stuff. But what if, instead of being a cute little fairy tale girl with no respect for property, Goldilocks had some sense and happened to be just a little bit of a lush? Well, that'd be me.
I've decided to explore every bar, pub, lounge and dive Milwaukee has to offer – in sets of three, just to be cute. Check back often as I embark on regular bar tours with my self-proclaimed "magical sidekick," Jessie. And don't worry – I'm too much of a taste chameleon to ever find one that's "just right."
Bars come and go a lot. They go out of business, they change hands or fall out of favor with customers.
There are plenty of successful mainstays, too, and among these are those well-known, almost notorious, neighborhood bars. It seems like almost everyone knows about them or has a story about a night they or a friend spent there.
This week I wanted to give a shout-out to three of these go-to bars, so Jessie and I ventured out to three different neighborhoods to spotlight their watering holes and go "where everybody knows your name".
Wolski's, 1836 N. Pulaski St.
Possibly Milwaukee's most definitive "Cheers" bar, Wolski's is also one of the most unassuming. Tucked away in a row of similar-looking houses, it's been serving thirsty bar-goers for over a century out of its modest building. It's currently in the process of a remodel and renovation to put in a beer garden, so the green two-story is even harder to spot if you don't know where to look.
Aside from stumbling upon it, the best way to find Wolski's is to follow the bumper stickers. Walking just a short distance up the road, the sightings definitely get more concentrated as you follow the line of cars belonging to regulars that proudly show off proof that they closed the bar.
Even in late afternoon when we stopped by, the place was already packed. The lively atmosphere and the sound of classics like "Born to Run" and "Pretty Woman" that greeted us at the door was a stark contrast from the quiet residential street Wolski's calls home.
The bar plays host to patrons of all ages, who seem perfectly at home surrounded on all sides by a cozy collection of old pictures, beer ads and international flags. The small touches – like the handled beer mugs, antique register and cigarette machine, saloon-style doors to the women's restroom and exterior sink for the men's – are all part of Wolski's charm. With all that, friendly bartenders and free popcorn to boot, it's no wonder Wolski's is world famous.
Ray & Dot's, 6351 W. Grange Ave., Greendale
Not as out-of-the-way as Wolski's, Ray & Dot's is still the same breed of stumble-upon bar. Nestled back into the surrounding trees off Grange, it's easy to pass by. The neon sign on the bar itself is its only identifier and can be hard to spot unless you already know the bar is part of American Legion Greendale Post 416, which is well marked with a roadside sign and military memorial.
Most of the village's residents, however, can find Ray & Dot's in their sleep. Simply mentioning the bar's name in their presence is usually enough to elicit a knowing laugh and a story or two if you're lucky. You're also just as likely to get a response of "It's a Greendale thing."
True enough, I've heard a number of non-residents say they have stopped in and felt like they had their own neon sign blinking "outsider" over their head for the first minute or two, but there's nothing intimidating about Ray & Dot's. The customers and bartenders are more than welcoming and the bar is known as a draw for multiple generations.
The drinks are cheap, there's a decent bar food menu and nearly every seat offers a good view of the big screens, which makes it easy to see why the bar is such a regular local destination.
Brass Monkey, 11904 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis
The baby of the "Cheers" bar list, Brass Monkey's called West Allis home for only a few years now, but it's already worked up a steady customer base – so much so, in fact, that they just opened a second location at 700 E. Layton Ave. less than a week ago.
The West Allis bar, which is located just across the street from the Greenfield Park golf course, found success by appealing to the city's bar crowd at large instead of catering to the upscale golf crowd like the space's previous incarnations.
Like Ray & Dot's, this neighborhood bar is known as the place to be to run into someone you know – and if you're from West Allis, it's pretty certain you will. Brass Monkey's crowd is also pretty diverse age-wise, but the younger set usually doesn't take over until the later bar hours.
The Monkey opens daily at 11 a.m. for lunch specials, and is also known for serving a mean fish fry during its dinner hours. They also tacked on a pretty gorgeous patio not too long ago, complete with a pergola and enclosing greenery. The fact that it popped up right around smoking ban time still stirs up a little well-intentioned bitterness for some frequent Brass Monkey visitors, though (I would have loved a patio circa summer '09).
And, for the curious, the bar does have a brass monkey. They're also featured in the brass railing that circles the bar. You can also opt to hear "Brass Monkey" on the jukebox, but know that if you do, you're making yourself that person who tells the knock-knock joke everyone's heard a million times and insists it's still funny.
Interested in future Goldilocks and the Three Bars adventures? Stay tuned here, or follow me on Twitter @Eenergee for real-time bar tour commentary. And if you want me to drink at your favorite bar, that's what Talkbacks and @Mentions are for.
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.