Finding a place to drink in Milwaukee isn’t much of a challenge thanks to an ever-growing slate of watering holes, from beer bars and corner taverns to sports bars and cozy dives. Whiskey bars, on the other hand, are more of a rarity, especially on the West Side.
But all of that is changing thanks to Whiskey Haze, a new whiskey bar and eatery at 5513 W. North Ave. that’s likely to please seasoned whiskey lovers as well as the whiskey-curious.
Christine McRoberts, who also operates McBob’s just down the block, is the owner of the new Uptown spot; but she says the idea was the serendipitous result of a series of conversations with Chef Frank Harroun, an industry veteran whose resume includes spots like Pastiche, Meritage, The Noble and – most recently – Lucky Joe’s Tosa.
“If you look at the best whiskey bars across the nation,” says Harroun, “They’re spots where the caliber of food matches the caliber of the whiskey. What we wanted here was one of those unexpected places that you just stumble into… and it turns out to be this really amazing spot.”
Harroun’s idea prompted McRoberts to reach out to Kevin Murphy, a bar industry veteran who directed the bar program at Jackson’s Grille for nearly a decade.
“She came to me with a concept that I was really interested in,” says Murphy, noting that he was excited by the prospect of taking something he already had an interest in to the next level. “And we spent some time on Bourbon Trail, talking with master distillers and gathering the necessary knowledge to really create a proper whiskey bar.”
The result? A cozy rustic chic space with 80+ bottle (and growing) collection of whiskey, an adorable mural of Harroun’s hat-wearing dog, Boris, painted by local artist Clive Promhows, and a menu of well-executed dishes that are as delicious on their own as they are paired with a glass of bourbon, rye or Scotch.
And just in case you can’t get enough of Boris, a series of portraits taken by local photographer Megan Moran are in the process of being selected, framed and hung on the newly painted grey walls.
“I loved the concept when Frank presented it to me,” says McRoberts. “And I was blessed to find the right people to make this happen. I’m so happy with how all of it turned out.”
Murphy says he’s working hard to enhance the selection of whiskeys offered by the bar to include at least 100 bottles, including selections from India and Japan.
“Our focus is on the unicorns,” he says, “But we’ll have a range of offerings that meet people wherever they are. The goal is to have plenty here for the connoisseur; but we’re also happy to give people the opportunity to explore.”
Higher end pours, including Calumet Farms Single Black 12-year bourbon, WhistlePig 10 year Single Barrel and Very Olde St. Nick Rye are served in diamond-cut glasses.
But guests are also welcome to explore Whiskey Haze’s collection with flights of one ounce or one-half-ounce pours, including quaffs from the entire line produced by Old Forester.
In addition to wine and beer, Murphy has also created a list of craft cocktails from a classic cosmo and side car to whiskey-based selections including the Boulevardier and Sazarac. Customers can also indulge in a cherrywood smoked old fashioned or negroni.
By early 2022, Murphy says he also hopes launch a membership-based Bourbon Club offering monthly tastings, whiskey dinners and a range of other whiskey-related offerings.
A menu worth exploring
Meanwhile, Harroun has curated a menu of snacks, appetizers, salads and entrees that pair well with selections from the bar, while also supporting neighborhood purveyors.
Bar snacks include house pickled seasonal vegetables ($6), spiced Chex mix enhanced with Angostura bitters ($5) and vegan cheese dip served with roasted cauliflower or steak fries ($13).
But guests can also snack on cheese or charcuterie boards ($14-16) or Whiskey Haze’s chicken wings, which are tossed with guests’ choice of dry rub, Buffalo or hot honey bourbon sauce and grilled. They’re served alongside carrots, radishes and blue cheese or ranch dressing for dipping (market price).
Seafood options include freshly shucked oysters with shallot and apple cider mignonette (market price); stuffies, a Rhode Island signature featuring clams with shrimp stuffing topped with parmesan mornay ($13); or a pound of PEI mussels steamed with Kettle Range chorizo, shallots, garlic and white wine and served with slices of grilled Rocket Baby baguette ($11).
Marinated Napa cabbage forms the base for a unique grilled Caesar salad topped with crisp pancetta, shaved parmesan and toasted panko ($12), while farm fresh red, golden and chiogga beets are classically paired with goat cheese, toasted pepitas and an orange yogurt dressing ($11).
Heartier dishes include the half-pound Haze Burger featuring custom ground Kettle Range beef on a Rocket Baby baguette with seasonal toppings (currently caramelized leeks, crispy kale and camembert) and steak fries on the side ($15); a wild mushroom tart with fresh herbs, garlic parmesan cream and goat cheese served with mixed greens with champagne vinaigrette ($13); and Portuguese pot roast served with Linguica sausage, potatoes and coriander spiced carrots ($20).
Warming risotto features roasted vegetables and parmesan ($10) with add-ins like chicken breast, steak or tofu (+$5-$9). And yes, there’s also steak served with fingerling potatoes, seared brussels sprouts, bourbon mushrooms and housemade red wine veal demi (market price).
Harroun says the menu will change with the seasons. He also expects to roll out some new offerings and regular specials as the restaurant gets its stride.
“Of all the places I’ve opened over the years, this has been the most enjoyable,” says Harroun. ‘The collaboration between myself, Christine and Kevin has been great. And what’s even more awesome is that we’re just getting started…”
Whiskey Haze is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 9 p.m.) and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11:30 p.m. (kitchen closes at 9:30 p.m.)
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.