By Dave Mikolajek Special to Published Aug 07, 2010 at 3:09 PM
The 2010 edition of the Wisconsin State Fair is underway and runs through Aug. 15. While there are plenty of places on the grounds to quench your thirst with Miller, Budweiser or root beer-flavored milk, there also are a handful of unique taverns on the fringes of State Fair Park in West Allis.

We thought it would an opportune time to list some of these places. Check them out if you need a place to meet friends before or after the Fair or just a cool place to grab a refreshing beverage to wash down food on a stick. All these places have character, charisma and comfort. Just remember to to get your hand stamped if you plan on returning to the Fair.

Capt'n Nick's
1503 S. 81st St., (414) 302-9688

Actually a block to the south of the Fair Park, you can still see it from the south gate when leaving the grounds. Established in 1993, this very clean, friendly neighborhood bar was named after the owner's dog. Only about 20 people can comfortably fit in this place, but the Internet jukebox can sure get things rockin'. This is a place where I found myself captured for about 2 1/2 hours. Also, a famous underground phrase used within the West Side bartender community is "Nick's at 6," because Capt'n Nick's opens at 6 a.m. every morning.

Liquid Johnny's
540 S. 76th St., (414) 476-8668

Established in 1981, this is the only bar visible from the east side of State FairPark. Directly east of the Midway, this is a favorite for the carnies, since they live across the street for these 10 days. "LJ's" is known for its Friday fish fry and occasional live blues music. The bar still features original owner Joe Janz's grilled fish dinner "for the healthy eater," as he likes to say.

Lois's Derby
1430 S. 81st St., (414) 257-9068

Lois opened the former "Ron's Derby," in 2000, according to the bartender on duty last Saturday night. A kind and candid man, he tells me that this is your basic shot-and-a-beer joint, but with a twist. Last year, for $10, you could buy a shot, a beer and a BIRDHOUSE. Yes, a birdhouse. Some places have pitchers or wine racks above the bar. Lois' Derby has birdhouses. I bought one, but am sad to report that the man who constructed the birdhouses, Johnny Gray, passed away.

O'Connor's Perfect Pint
8423 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 257-1898

This Irish bar is West Allis' Guinness ambassador. The friendly little neighborhood bar has undergone major remodeling since the many, many days of being Jession's Needle Inn West. Beautiful wooden booths grace the room outside the bar area and are perfect for some nice, private, conversation or for listening to the occasional live music.

Paulie's Pub
8031 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 257-2854

Paulie brought his style, ideas and marketing savvy to this location in 2004. West Allis' answer to Water Street, this place features 16 beers on tap and many daily specials. Paulie just built a new beer garden overlooking the south end of the Fairgrounds. He did it to adapt to the approaching smoking ban, and it couldn't look any more inviting. Paulie's sells more Tuaca (Italian liqueur flavored with vanilla and citrus) than anywhere else is Wisconsin. I asked my friendly (and attractive) Saturday afternoon server, Lisa, why. She told me that one of the bartenders, Andy, drinks it and others just kind of jumped on board. Makes sense to me.

The State Fair Inn
8101 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 778-0160

Established in 1921, The State Fair Inn only serves food on Friday night, but they do it right. Everything is fresh, not frozen, and that's why they sometimes run out of product. Fillet Walleye and pan-fried perch sell for $13.95. This place is super clean, too, and you can tell the Potocic family ha staken pride in owning it since its inception. Also, when you stop in, make sure you take a look at the Polish coat of arms hanging on the west wall. Very unique.

Tom Ken's Friendly Fried Chicken
8001 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 258-9110

Established in 1991, "TK's" sells four-piece chicken dinners with fries for a mere $7.75. Inside and outside of the dining hours, this place is a lot of fun. A recent visit kept me there for four hours on a Sunday afternoon. I made friends and played cribbage with regulars like Action Dan, Captain Fun and the Buddha (a former longtime bartender at Coerper's 5 O'Clock Club).

Town Tavern
903 S. 84th St., (414) 476-9922

Established in 1928, this building houses not only a tavern, but a liquor store, too. Convenient. Also, it's the only bar located across from State Fair on 84th Street and you can't miss it because of it's glorious 1950's Las Vegas-style flashing sign. This clean and classic shot-and-beer joint has a small pool table in the back, an Internet jukebox and sells State Fair tickets for $5 a pop. Check it out.

Dave Mikolajek Special to
Dave Mikolajek is a longtime Milwaukee bartender and loyal reader.