The swag lights are glowing, the faux fireplaces are faux crackling and the blenders are buzzing. This means one thing, Milwaukee: At Random is open.
We stopped in tonight before the first drink clinked the bar top and chatted with bartender Joe Fahrenkopf who was getting the joint ready for night two of what’s referred to both on social media and the menu as "the softest opening."
"The overall theme here is ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’" says Fahrenkopf. "Mostly the place got a deep cleaning and new technology."
At Random looks and feels very much the same – mid-century swanky-meets-cozy – but it now accepts credit cards and welcomes drinkers to sit at the bar.
Historically, At Random offered table service only, so there was a decorative fence on the perimeter of the question mark-shaped bar. (A miniature homage to the fence is now on the bar.)
"Cocktail culture has changed. People want to see the shaking of the martini or the applying of the whipped cream to the ice cream drink," says Fahrenkopf.
Currently, there are 20 drinks on the menu including cocktails like Bahama Mama, Pink Lady, Pina Colada and Stinger along with ice cream drinks such as the Grasshopper and Peanut Butter Cup. Just as they have been for 60 years, the ice cream drinks are made with Cedar Crest ice cream and garnished with flower-shaped butter cookies with the words "yes," "no" or "maybe" on them.
About 15 more drinks will be added to the menu within a couple of weeks.
"All of the At Random original cocktails will be on the menu," says Fahrenkopf. "We will also eventually serve non-alcoholic drinks and vegan ice cream drinks made with coconut milk for people with dietary issues."
The famous Tiki Love Bowl, a potent punch for two that’s responsible for starting and ending Milwaukee relationships for six decades, is currently not available but will be very soon.
"It wouldn’t be At Random without Tiki Love Bowls," says Fahrenkopf.
At Random serves one kind of beer – Miller High Life – and two house wines, red and white. Two-ingredient mixed drinks are always available as well.
"Traditionally, At Random was a place to go for a birthday or anniversary, and we’re all about that and more. We’re a place to catch a drink on your way home from work or to come for a drink before dinner," says Fahrenkopf.
At Random owner John Dye – who is also the proprietor of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge and The Jazz Estate – bought the business this summer from the original owner, Ron Zeller, who ran the lounge for 60 years. His son, Randy, trained the new At Random staff and will continue to do so in coming days.
"I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to keep the legacy alive," says Dye.
At Random will be closed on Friday, Dec. 14, but open Monday-Saturday from 5 p.m. to bar time.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.