"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun bars and club articles -- including guides, bartender profiles, drink recipes and even a little Brew City bar history. Cheers!
We're not going to write a country song about our favorite old hangouts, but we must admit: thinking about those bars we frequented back in the day, well, it brings back nice (and sometimes blurry) memories.
It's not that we hold anything against these joints. Either we outgrew them or they outgrew us. And we're happy to report that our old favorites are still in business, catering to a new generation of drinking enthusiasts. Here's our list of our favorite bars that we used to patronize. Please add your own using the Talkback feature below.
Molly Snyder Edler
Another lifetime ago, I lived two blocks away from The Nomad, 1401 E. Brady St., and used to hang out there just about every weekend. I still love The Nomad, but don't get there as often as I used to. Not long after The Nomad opened, I joined the Stein Club, which entitled me to a personalized ceramic mug that hung from a hook at the bar, but after not visiting regularly, I decided to take my mug home last year. I still use it sometimes, and when I do, I always remember the great times I had hanging out there with friends and ripping it up until last call.
There are lots of other bars that I used to visit frequently that, for no particular reason, I don't anymore, like The Y-Not II, Tony's Tavern, The Landmark, Champion's Pub and La Cage. These days, if I feel like dancing, I go to The Mad Planet, since it's in my neighborhood and I'm a sucker for the Retro Dance Party on Friday nights.
I'll admit it. I used to go to Axel's Inn, 2859 N. Oakland Ave., during my illustrious UW-Milwaukee undergrad years. And it gets worse: I think I enjoyed it, from what I remember.
But here's where I (hopefully) redeem myself. I wasn't usually one of the slobbering masses killing time before a 3 a.m. greasy chow-down session at Oakland Gyros. My Axel's experience was limited to Sunday afternoons, when my friends who lived nearby needed to do their laundry at the laundromat around the corner on Locust Street. We'd meet at the bar for rounds of pool and $2 imports while the coin machines did our dirty work. We'd always have the place almost entirely to ourselves, with Saturday night's regular patrons probably still passed out in bed.
My absolute favorite Axel's memory involved my friend and I ordering Bloody Marys one Sunday. The bartender just shook her head and said something to the effect of, "Trust me, you don't want one from here." It turned out that at the time (things very well may have changed since then, I have no idea ...) their Bloody Mary mix came out of the soda gun. The lines tended to cross and leak, rendering the mix a slightly sweet, watered-down version of crappy tomato juice. Basically, it tasted like an un-flavored Bloody Mary chased with Sprite.
To compensate, the bartender told us that if we ran next door to Gilbert's and bought our own $5 bottle of mix, she'd supply the ice, vodka and fixings at half the price of a regular drink. Her offer was too good to pass up, and thus, drinking half homemade Bloodies on Sundays at Axel's became a regular event.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, when the Water Street entertainment district was in its infancy, Walkers Point was the happening spot for singles between 21 and 35. I spent entirely too much time at a bar called Louie's Ancient Chinese Tavern (now Fat Daddy's) at 120 W. National Ave. and neighboring spots like Steny's Tavern, Timer's, Mugshots and Just Art's.
Gradually, as I dialed back my drinking and volleyball habits and my good friend Louie Tcheng sold his establishment, I got out of the routine of going to Walker's Point for entertainment. Once in a while, I'll head to Steny's for a burger or an opening day post-game cocktail. But, those occasions are pretty rare.
The recent robbery / murder of Miller executive Lodewikus "Vic" Milford reminded me that crime was a problem in the neighborhood even "back in the day," when my friends and I had our car windows smashed and items stolen. You'd hear about the occasional mugging, too. When people talked about crime in the area, I'd scoff and tell them that the reputation was undeserved.
Reports of Milford's tragic death reminded me of the hundreds of great nights I spent in that area. Rather than scaring me away, they made me want to return to the old stomping grounds and see what has changed.
While working second shift Downtown in the late '80s and early '90s, I used to hit Jim's Time Out, 746 N. James Lovell St., in the company of the wonderful gal who introduced me to it. I remember even going there for a drink one late morning or early afternoon. It looked better at night, though. Some nights we'd also go to the Tamarack, which like its predecessor The Daily Planet, was a watering hole filled with journalists. It's now the Calderone Pub. Other than an appropriate stop there during my bachelor party tour, I haven't been to Jim's in years.
Like anyone who spent a lot of time at UWM and / or on the East Side, I also spent many a Tuesday night bar-hopping in the subterranean Landmark Lanes complex. I know it got something of a remodel in recent years, but the last time I was there, it looked and felt the same to me. I had a lot of good nights there. It was the kind of place where you almost felt like a rock 'n' roll star because you could hardly walk a yard without someone calling out your name.
There are a bunch of bars that worked their way into my rotation in the 12 years I've been legal, but two stand out from the BOMC (Before OnMilwaukee.com) era. Just about every Tuesday, my roommate, Greg, and I would walk the short three blocks to Import Night at the Landmark Lanes, 2220 N. Farwell Ave. Then when we drank our fill, we'd amble around the corner to Vox, 2203 N. Prospect Ave., and drink some more.
In retrospect, I have no idea how I dragged myself into work the following mornings, since every beer at the dank, smoky Landmark was a mere $1.50. They always had an eclectic mix written on a chalkboard, and the bartender would simply erase an entry when it sold out. It wasn't about pounding beer for us, though. We'd throw darts, play a little pool, maybe even bowl a few lines. This was back in 1996 and '97, and each week, we'd run into a dozen of old friends or acquaintances. If we didn't, that's where Brit Pop night at Vox came in.
That was the East Side place to be for our crowd, and fortunately, their beer was similarly cheap. A $2 can of Boddington's and the DJ spinning some Stone Roses or other Manchester music ... oh, it felt great to be 22 and living in Milwaukee. For all I know (and part of me doesn't want to know), these festive Tuesdays are still an East Side tradition for the next generation of 20-somethings. But 12 years later, the only thing I want to be doing at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday is sleeping in my bed.