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 started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.