1686 N. Van Buren St.
When thinking about Angelo's, two words come to mind: old school. Angelo's is a small lounge, but it contains more atmosphere than Miller Park. Great drinks (including one of the most delicate and delicious martinis in town), attentive and often amusing service, and live lounge music a couple nights a week make Angelo's a great place to hang out for a few hours.
Each night, Angelo seems to find himself behind the microphone, belting out Sinatra tunes. Angie's is getting more and more popular, and therefore more and more crowded, so come early to get a piano-side seat at this tiny East Side bar.
For adventure-seekers: Have a couple of cocktails, go up and sing. Chances are they'll welcome you with open arms. Just don't sing too loudly, please.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: The photo of Angelo and Tom Jones hanging out at the bar. What's Tom doing here? We only wish we knew.
Art's Concertina Bar
1920 S. 37th St.
Art Altenburg, his 200 concertinas (they're like little accordions) and a whole lot of charm round out this remarkable South Side bar.
Polka bands are booked every Friday and Saturday, and local musicians are invited to come and play Thursday nights for "Concertina Jam Session Nite." The crowd is a diverse mix of older polka fans and young hipsters anxious to hear the music that made Milwaukee famous. Not surprisingly, the drinks are affordable and well-mixed by the bar's devoted staff (and Art, himself).
For adventure seekers: Step out on the dance floor and kick up your heels. The bands won't laugh at you, and you'd be surprised how easy it is to polka (just think: one-two-three, one-two-three, and you'll be fine).
Most unusual artifact in the bar: On the north wall, there's a photo montage of Art and his bands over the years. On closer inspection, you'll notice that Art is striking the exact same pose in every photo: one hand on the stage, staring seriously at the camera in his trademark white button down shirt with his glasses case hanging from his pocket. The only thing that changes in the photo is the color of his hair (evolving from brown to white) and the style of his pants. It's quite the study in one man's quest to operate the quintessential polka bar.
2501 S. Delaware Ave.
Somehow, At Random earned the reputation Milwaukee's best place to have an affair. Perhaps the dark lighting or the sweet, frosty ice cream drinks.
At Random's hours are, how shall we say, random. In other words, it may or may not be open if you stop by on a Saturday night. Drinks are ordered off a large, bound menu, and the bar's senior citizen waitresses bring them over at their convenience. But no worries: they taste great, and the atmosphere can't be beat.
For adventure-seekers: couples should try the Tiki Love Bowl. It's big and slushy, and though many have tried, it's not designed to be consumed solo.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: In the mirror-lined men's room, a smattering of photos of horses greet you from every angle. We're not sure what this means, but it seems vaguely sexual, though we're not sure why.
2042 W. Lincoln Ave.
Did you know that the nation's oldest functioning alley is in Milwaukee? Yep. Holler House, an historic corner tap, has a two-lane alley in the basement. And like Koz's (read on), the lanes are about as manual as they come. In fact, you have to call ahead for open bowling so the owners can arrange for a pin setter to be on duty.
The bar is family-owned, with 70-something-year-old Marcy still at the helm. She's great to talk to and full of racy stories about the bar's past. Not surprisingly, the beer (none of which is on tap) is affordable, and the regulars are friendly and inviting.
For adventure seekers: It's a tradition at Holler House to donate your bra to hang from the rafters upon your first visit. So come on down and fling that bad boy up there for all the world to see.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: It's a tie between the Polish Falcon crests above the two lanes in the basement, or the original furniture, photos and decorations in this beautifully untainted Milwaukee landmark.
Koz's Mini Bowl
2078 S. 7th St.
OK, it's the 1940s and you own a brothel near the Milwaukee River that caters to sailors. But people are getting suspicious about the constant influx of married men each night. How do you cover yourself? Build a tiny bowling alley, of course.
Thankfully, Koz's is no longer a house of ill repute, but it's still a mini bowling alley nestled in a corner tavern. The balls are tiny, the lanes are tiny, and the pins are tiny. Oh yeah, you need a "pin monkey" (they call them "pin setters") to reset the ones you knock over. Other than that, it's real bowling on four 16-ft. lanes.
Koz's actually has leagues that play this miniature style of duckpin bowling, and the game is admittedly easy (we bowled a 270 on our first try). But the charm of the bar is unmistakable: the beer is cheap, and the hard rock jukebox rocks hard.
For adventure seekers: Try bowling a serious game. It's easy to get strikes, and 300 games are posted on the wall. Leave your impressions of the joint in the guest book kept behind the bar.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: The antique signs posted from Koz's shadier days. There's one particular sign instructing the call girls on how to enter and exit the establishment in a discrete fashion.
Jim's Time Out
746 N. 7th St.
A townie bar smack dab in the middle of downtown Milwaukee? Yup. Look for it nestled among much bigger fish, across the street from the fire house and kitty corner from the Milwaukee Public Museum.
A downtown treasure, Jim's Time Out is the kind of low-key, neighborhood tap that could once be found everywhere in the city. Alas, Jim's is the last of a dying breed, especially downtown, where it is now the sole example.
If you like smoky, intimate, no-nonsense watering holes, Jim's is the place for you. Its charms are especially evident now that they are hidden in a shadow by the modern Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater.
For adventure seekers: Stop by for a lunchtime beer. It might set you back a dollar, but will probably put you in a better mood as you stare at the PC in your office cubicle later that afternoon.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: Probably the building, itself. It's one of those places that looks like it should've been swallowed up by downtown development. Quite simply, it's a little house with a bar on the first floor. You'd expect to see this building on the corner of Burleigh and Fratney, perhaps, but not one block from the Midwest Express Center.
1731 N. Arlington Pl.
Named after the late New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, this Dead-Head bar has turned into one of Milwaukee's most colorful spots. Fantastic bartenders, friendly people, Grateful Dead gilding and shuffleboard give Thurman's its unusual character.
As Brady Street becomes more and more cosmopolitan, Thurman's (just a few blocks north) stays about the same. Throw on a tie-dye, order up a PBR ASAP and chill to the tunes of a Tape Night.
For adventure seekers: Play shuffleboard near the back of the bar. In this high-tech world with its Web-enabled Golden Tee, the low-tech sport of sliding a puck down a long table is surprisingly fun, especially after a couple of Lakefront Brewery cold ones.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: The life-size cut-out of Robin Yount from 1985 (also hanging in the OMC office) or the wallpapers of '80s hair band album covers are among the gems on the walls.
706 E. Lyon St.
On the surface, there's nothing too unique about the Y-Not. But its great location -- between downtown and the East Side -- and its cool clientele make this corner tavern a keeper.
Several Milwaukee Bucks live in the immediate area around the bar and, during the season, are regulars. As are East Side hipsters and older residents who have weathered the neighborhood's revival. The Y-Not is truly a Milwaukee melting pot where all are welcome.
The drinks are reasonably priced, and large round tables give this neon-draped tavern a loungey feel. Poetry readings and live music are par for the course, and the jukebox is rumored to be among the city's best.
For adventure seekers: The nudie video game in the corner. Choose the male or female version and have fun. It's only a quarter, and it's strangely addictive.
Most unusual artifact in the bar: The antique barber (or it a dentist's?) chair in the front window. What's it doing there? Who knows? It's a little scary looking, but we think it's just for show.
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.