"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Absolut, Avion, Fireball, Pama, Red Stag and 2 Gingers – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
It’s not hard to find a great Bloody Mary in Milwaukee. Just about about any corner tavern will make you one, and if you look hard enough, you can seek out bars that will load them up with all sorts of crazy garnishes.
But leave it up to RuYi, the Asian fusion restaurant at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, to turn the venerable brunch cocktail upside down with its Bloody Ninja. It starts with Srichacha sauce and goes from there.
"We were creating signature drinks for the restaurant and were interested in doing a variation on the Bloody Mary," says Richard Ojeda, RuYi’s general manager. "It is made from scratch and uses fresh Asian ingredients like Szechuan chilies, ginger, basil, Sake and other secret ingredients. The garnish is unique to the drink, as well. We use a chopstick to spear Bok Choy, baby corn, red and green bell pepper, straw mushroom, shrimp and a Teriyaki beef stick."
The result is a drink that tastes mostly like a Bloody Mary, but is, well, more Asian-inspired. (I found it went really well with Thai food, and the only out-of-place ingredient was the beef stick).
Says Ojeda, "Asian-themed drinks do well in RuYi because they pair well with menu items. Many guests have tried the Bloody Ninja, and it has become one of our most popular drinks that guests order to take with them onto the gaming floor."
Other Milwaukee-area bars are also known for taking a classic cocktail and shaking things up, too. Camp Bar in Shorewood, for example, puts a heavy emphasis on its Old Fashioneds and sells plenty of traditional ones.
But according to bartender Ilana Cohn-Gomez, one of the more interesting versions of the Old Fashioned Camp serves is a concoction called the "Real McCoy." Cohn-Gomez says it’s wildly popular and customers drink it all night long.
"It’s the unique combination of cherry bitters and scotch that creates such a dynamic flavor," she says.
Or take Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room, which is known for its sweet Polynesian drinks. The Walker’s Point bar serves a variation of the Mai Tai, called the "Message in a Bottle From Baumer Tenenbaum," which is a long-winded way of describing a peach pie flavored drink. It’s dark rum, maple rum, blueberry rooibos tea, peach liqueur, cinnamon syrup, orgeat, lime and angostura.
"Although the classic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai from 1944 still holds up today, it’s fun to put a creative spin on it and create something that is even more tasty to the palettes of people nowadays," says Lucky Joe’s owner Lee Guk.
And finally, Tonic Tavern bartender Paul Kennedy just likes to improvise when it comes to making Tom Collins or Vodka Collins, he says. "I make them from scratch, and my specialty is a plum, cucumber or cherry Collins. We name our specialty drinks after local bands."
Classic cocktails aren’t going away anytime soon in Milwaukee. But new and inventive versions of them are gaining ground, too.
Let us know your favorite creative versions of traditional drinks using the Talkback feature below.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.