By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 08, 2021 at 6:56 PM Photography: Royal Brevvaxling

March is "Bar Month" on OnMilwaukee. Get ready to soak up more bar articles, imbibable stories and cocktailing content all month long. For more of our Bar Month stories click here

Though normal seems as if it's joyously within reach, nothing looks or feels quite the same just yet in the world of bars. And that includes OnMilwaukee's annual Bar Month. 

While we're spending March serving up our usual heavy pour of all things Brew City bars, booze and beyond, you may have noticed that one notable element is missing: the annual Best of Bars poll, a tradition almost two decades old.

Shelving a beloved tradition

Each year, we love igniting friendly competition between local favorites, new and old, while learning from our readers about what classic Milwaukee locales are still beloved, what fresh Brew City hot spots are becoming new landmarks, what hidden gems we must seek out and what specialty drinks we must order up ( ... and order again ... and again ... and again). 

In years' past, we saw some results which stayed the same; others changed radically from year to year. Sometimes the winner seemed obvious and inarguable; sometimes the winner was a surprise and sparked intense debate.

But no matter the results, it never felt simply like naming winners and losers; it felt like a chance to learn from each other while overall celebrating one of our state's favorite pastimes: grabbing a drink at the local watering hole. 

That is, until last year.

In 2020, like every year before, we'd surveyed readers for our Best of Bars poll (and even published some of the results). But, in an instant, the world as we knew it broke. Suddenly the bars and taverns we wanted to celebrate couldn't celebrate if they wanted to, shut down to prevent the spread of a virus we were still learning about and adapting to.

We tried publishing a few poll results just after the shutdown. Our intent was to spread a little joy and give these venues something to cheer at a time when nothing felt cheerful. But the reality was that even friendly competition didn't seem so friendly when these businesses were already competing against the ravaging economic shock of the pandemic.

Fighting to win a silly poll seemed like an useless and minor consolation when bars and restaurants were, and still are, fighting to merely stay afloat – not to mention the people who rely on them for their livelihood. Even moreso, pitting venues against one another for the sake of tradition, seemed unfruitful at a time when we needed to unite and support as much as possible.

So we stopped.

What you can expect

While things are truly looking up and normal no longer feels like a far-off hypothetical future, bars and restaurants are still just trying to make it through. They are working in ways never expected or predicted, bending over backwards to keep their employees paid and their communities both nourished and safe.

As a result, there will be no Best of Bars poll this year. 

Make no mistake: The poll will be back, but not before the ground beneath our collective feet is back first. 

In the meantime, Bar Month is very much still on the drink menu. We will still celebrate our city's incredible bars by serving up a month of exciting bar news. We'll share profiles on individuals and venues brewing up fascinating and delicious things, shine a spotlight on some of your (and our) favorite places, and dive into the past, present and future of our city and state's particularly pour-happy culture. Our goal: to help whet your appetite and wet your whistle so we can all better support these valuable venues as we move ahead. 

So cheers to normal times returning. Cheers to Best of Bars polls in the future. Cheers to an intoxicatingly good Bar Month in 2021. And – most of all – cheers to the bars, bar owners, bartenders, bar patrons and all who help to make Milwaukee's bar scene something to celebrate.

414, let's have one more!

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.