By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 19, 2023 at 11:56 AM

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A hip hotspot ever since it first opened on bustling Brady Street on the other side of the millennium in 1998, Hi Hat Lounge – and its adjoining Garage space – has never been all that hidden.

But here’s somewhat of a sneaky secret about the Brady Street staple: If you think the lounge has a festive atmosphere during the first eleven months of the year, Hi Hat cranks the festive fun even higher during December, transforming into a holiday party paradise perfect for one’s reindeer games. 

Hi Hat LoungeX

While Hi Hat has plenty of history – the building’s roots on its current corner go back all the way to 1883 – its grinch-repelling Christmas glow-up is a fairly new development for the hopping tavern. 

"This’ll be our third year now, going all out with Christmas decorations,” said assistant general manager Carly Minor. “Hi Hat has a really cozy atmosphere, and pairing that alongside the chilly weather and Christmas, I think it just really works well together.”

It takes most of the staff working for about a week and a half to deck the Hi Hat halls in time for the first of December – and the effort is apparent from the moment you walk into the Brady Street bar. During the festive season, Christmas is found in just about every nook and cranny of the lounge – quite literally. 

Hi Hat LoungeX

In one corner, you’ll find a small forest of Christmas trees, snowflakes, garland and wreaths greeting guests coming through the door. In another corner, you’ll find its usual snaking ribbons of neon glowing bright green and red, setting a modern holiday mood. Over in one unassuming corner, tucked in between the building’s classic brick, guests will discover a little gingerbread village hidden in an alcove, with some mistletoe hung where you can see – and somebody waits for you. (It’s a Santa statue sitting in the corner.) On the bar’s second floor, one corner has charmingly childish gingerbread men and Hanukkah-themed decorations, while another corner has a ceiling hit with a flurry of hanging Christmas lights and ornaments, looking like a “Stranger Things” holiday special – one of Minor’s particular favorite decorations for this year’s season. 

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Minor’s other festive favorite can be found overlooking the main bar area. In addition to ornament bulbs perched in the chandeliers, garland and fake snow running lining the space and shelves, and a skeleton rocking a Santa hat, the large open main bar features a stream of wrapped presents, forming almost a rainbow of gifts arching from atop the bar to the DJ booth, clad in more wreaths, décor and snowy holiday dioramas. Whether you’re coming in to connect with friends or looking for a Rudolph-approved rave before all the formal family gatherings this season, Hi Hat makes it near impossible to miss the Christmas spirit inside – even if you somehow miss all the décor.

"I think you can come in here any day or night and see people of all ages, and it’s great, and they’re all getting along,” Minor said. 

Hi Hat Lounge
Hi Hat LoungeX

To underline the spirit part of the Christmas spirit, Hi Hat Lounge has a number of holiday-themed cocktail specials for the season. In addition to its usual well-stocked supply of Miller products, craft brews, mixers and more, Hi Hat offers a tart and tangy Yule Mule, a cranberry cosmo, the wintry whiskey drink Three Blind Mice, a soul-warming Amaretto Old Fashioned and literally warming mugs of hot cocoa or apple cider which can be made naughty with your liquor of choice or nice simply as is.       

The best seasonal special at Hi Hat, though, can be found right at the front door: Guests who bring food items to drop into the Milwaukee Hunger Task Force donation bins at the front of either Hi Hat or Garage will receive a dollar per item off their tab. The donation deal runs at the Brady Street hangout through the end of the year – and speaking of which, while Hi Hat is fully festive for Christmas right now, it’ll also unsurprisingly throw a shindig to ring in the new year the following weekend, complete with a traditional champagne toast at midnight. 

“In years past, it’s been High Life champagne toasts,” Minor recalled. “When I heard that, I was like, ‘That’s so Milwaukee – I love it.’”

For those wanting to drop in for its youthful winter wonderland, Hi Hat Lounge is open Tuesdays through Saturdays starting at 6 p.m. (The Garage next door opens earlier at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends.) Hi Hat also offers a happy hour from 6-8 p.m. on weekdays with half-off both drafts and their signature cocktails. So enjoy a hidden gem that may not be all that hidden but certainly is a gem – especially when the halls are so merrily decked. 

Hi Hat Lounge
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.