In Bars & Clubs

Milwaukeeans love their bar dice.

Local bars say "no dice" to bar dice

Bar dice are as beloved by Brew City bar-goers as the Bloody Mary chaser and, like the chaser, bar dice are not prevalent in most places beyond Milwaukee. However, exactly how much some people love shaking for shots was made clear when it was, briefly, banned in three area bars earlier this week.

The management at Rascal's, 2311 N. Murray Ave., Duke's On Water, 158 N. Juneau Ave., and Scooter's Pub, 154 E. Juneau Ave. – all owned by Andrea Shafton and James Baade – made the decision to discontinue bar dice on Monday afternoon, according to Rascal's assistant general manager, Katie Charusch.

"The decision was made primarily because it's really hard to monitor multiple games of bar dice at one time, especially for new bartenders," says Charusch. "So we decided to try running the bars without it."

Within an hour of the decision, word spread by regulars via social media, and Charusch started to receive angry texts from patrons. Posts and memes about the "no dice decision" appeared on Facebook, with some of the posts receiving 40 or 50 comments from people complaining about the decision. Some even asked what they were supposed to do in a bar now that they couldn't play dice.

"It was crazy how quickly this spread and how people reacted to it," says Charusch.

By Wednesday, the response was so overwhelming that management decided to reverse the ban, and by Happy Hour on Thursday, the dice-filled cups were back on bar tops.

"We the people…" says Timothy Sluga, a patron of all three bars.

Bar owner and bartender Michelle Hoff understands why a bar might ban dice, even though she has never adhered to such a rule herself.

"I can understand why they would make the decision because of staff taking advantage of drinking behind the bar and consuming too much – or losing too much and giving away too much alcohol," says Hoff. "Also, some bartenders have a difficult time playing dice and tending to other guests."

Hoff recognizes it could be the guests' faults, if they take advantage of people not as familiar with the game or even cheating when the bartender is interacting with other customers in between shakes.

Diane Dowland, bartender and former owner of Monkey Bar, sees bar dice as an integral aspect of drinker-bartender interaction.

"Shots aren't about getting wasted, they're about bonding. Bar dice is about interaction with your customers," says Dowland. "Being a bartender in Milwaukee is so much more about interacting with people versus knowing how to make a Moscow Mule."

A likely reason behind the decision to ban dice at the three bars was based on profit loss. When a bartender or a drinker loses the game, they buy shots for everyone they're playing with, and it can get expensive.

"The two biggest owner complaints about bar dice is that they're flying through too much high-end alcohol and the bartenders get too drunk to function," says Dowland. "There are times we have several dice games going at once. You need to be a good multitasker."

However, Dowland says there are ways around the issues with bar dice.

"Bar owners can prevent bar dice problems by teaching their employees to drink lower in alcohol, cheaper shots," she says. "Plus, you don't want to play to win every game. You want to have a good 50-50 split. That way at the end of the night everyone is happy and doesn't wake up and look at their bank balance and say, 'oh sh-t.'"

In any case, it was made clear that when bar dice are taken away from a Milwaukee bar, a lot of people aren't going to take it lightly.

"It was really unbelievable how much it upset people – they're still texting me," says Charusch. "And the game was only gone from our bars for three days."

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