Home / A&E / A&E Feature / Milwaukee's Top 30 Bars

Milwaukee's Top 30 Bars

Mar. 14, 2012
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest
When we asked you, our readers, to vote for your favorite 30 bars as part of the Shepherd Express' 30th anniversary celebration, we expected a wide range of responses. We weren't disappointed. From your choices comes something of a cross-section of Milwaukee bars, with many areas of town and many walks of life represented. Whether you're looking for a pint of Guinness, a great jukebox or a beautiful view of the city's skyline, you'll find it here.

Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill

8933 S. 27th St., Franklin



Reasonably priced drinks, good food and a welcoming atmosphere are trademarks of this family-friendly Irish pub. Mulligans offers a full menu that goes above and beyond traditional pub fare, including tasty versions of the Irish classics—corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie, lamb stew and fish & chips. Patrons looking for a challenge may want to try the "Paddy's lament" burger challenge. Eat this 3-pound burger topped with a half-pound of cheese, a pound of corned beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and a pound of french fries in 60 minutes to get the meal free plus a $50 gift card. Happy-hour drink and appetizer specials run daily. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

2. Attebury's Pub

3807 S. Packard Ave., St. Francis



Since opening a year ago, Attebury's in St. Francis has become one of the most popular spots on the South Shore. The patio is an inviting place to gather in summer. All year round, Attebury's offers ample parking, a casually elegant contemporary interior and an excellent menu with such Anglo-American comfort foods as fish 'n' chips (battered in ale), beer mac 'n' cheese, shepherd's pie and burgers. Along with good food comes a good beer selection, with 24 draft and 26 bottled options, plus a wine list. (David Luhrssen)

blackbird.jpg3. Blackbird Bar

3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.



It's time you swooped into Bay View's vaguely avian-themed Blackbird Bar. This popular place boasts an assortment of local beers and native Wisconsin bird decor. If you're feeling peckish, they serve pickled eggs and Polish sausage. The bar has plenty of fun options, including a photo booth, video games and a real jukebox. Like most bars, the clientele is diverse, but the indie/garage music coupled with the location on KK make it classic Bay View cool. (Danielle Stevens)

4. Rosie's on Water

1111 N. Water St.



Rosie's claims to be the place where you should "celebrate everything." But with all due respect to the little bar that could on Water, Rosie's will never outrun its reputation as the foremost proprietors of bombastic birthdays. Pop in whenever you're another year in the books and drink for free from 9 p.m. until close—just enough time to consume the necessary amount of complimentary domestic taps to make you want to strip down to your birthday suit. And even if it's not your b-day, Rosie's still offers enough catchpenny drink specials to make you seriously consider ending the night in your skivvies any day of the year. (Erik Schmidt)

5. Metro Lounge

411 E. Mason St.



Sometimes trying to do too much comes across as pretentious and overstated, but Hotel Metro's newly redesigned bar makes it all work, partly because the lounge actually is as many things as it claims to be (retro, modern, classic, hip), and partly because the place is so damn slick and suave it's hard not to feel like a certain secret agent when you're ordering a $5 martini—shaken, stirred or anything in between. Despite stunning, high-end décor, Metro Lounge boasts some savory everyman appetizers like chicken nachos and Cajun potato skins, which are fine to scarf down. (Erik Schmidt)

6. The Harbor Room

117 E. Greenfield Ave.



"Approachable," "jovial" and "warm" may not be the first words that come to mind when you hear the words "Milwaukee's premier leather bar," but the Harbor Room is less about the kink and more about the welcome vibe. This gay bar has daily two-for-one specials for anyone who goes shirtless (women must keep their bras on, of course), as well as free pizza. There are darts, games and a patio, with regular parties and barbecues, during the summer. (Danielle Stevens)

7. Foundation Tiki Bar

2718 N. Bremen St.



Be it Flaming Volcano Bowls or Mai Tais, the drinks at Foundation Tiki Bar may take some time to make—but they're worth the wait. Savor them with your eyes closed and picture a white, sandy beach. Or keep your eyes open and enjoy the bar atmosphere with a slightly Polynesian flair. Masks, nets and shells adorn the dark walls. The specialty drink selection is kept small, but it's interesting, with flavors ranging from fruity to spicy. (Danielle Stevens)

8. Romans' Pub

3475 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.



Romans' Pub is the quintessential bar for the beer connoisseur. The constantly rotating selection could feature anything from banana-bread beer to a classic stout. Patrons come from all over the country to get what they can't find anywhere else. The pub has a state-of-the-art beer-dispensary system, a humidor, an extensive wine selection, and a hop garden. (Danielle Stevens)

9. Just Art's Saloon

181 S. Second St.


The owner of Just Art's Saloon (he's Art and he's had the place 31 years) may be the most interactive bartender you will ever encounter. Ever the consummate host, Art gets conversations started, keeps the bar dice a-flowin', and is a major flirt, always on the look for his "future ex-wife." Among other things, the saloon boasts homemade pizza with fresh ingredients. The warm and stony interior leads to a patio that features a fully stocked bar. (Danielle Stevens)

drink_wolskis.jpg10. Wolski's Tavern

1836 N. Pulaski St.



More than a century old, Wolski's is nestled quaintly on a side street several blocks off Brady Street. It has standard bar staples like games, specials, pool, video poker, snacks, TV and music, as well as an extremely rare English dartboard. However, as one regular put it, "If you ain't got nothin' from Wolski's, you ain't got nothin'." In other words, make sure you leave with some quality merch. They have T-shirts, hats, thongs and the infamous "I Closed Wolski's" bumper sticker. (Danielle Stevens)

11. Leff's Lucky Town

7208 W. State St.



No sooner than you order your drink, it's in your hand at Leff's Lucky Town. A Tosa favorite, this high-energy, well-lit bar offers two spacious sides—one with a garage door that opens to a bustling patio overlooking busy State Street. The walls are adorned with posters and banners promoting an impressive selection of specials. While it's usually busy, its spaciousness allows your party to enjoy its privacy. This affordable hot spot also features DJs and hot bar food. (Danielle Stevens)

12. Art Bar

722 E. Burleigh St.



The split-level Art Bar features a cozy performance space, a pool room at street level and, a few steps up, a rectangular walk-around bar and lounge. But a third conceptual level defines the whole space: Lively curated art shows, often highlighting local "starving artists," jam the walls with works spanning eclectic tastes. You can also hear rising musical talent here, like Madison's clarion-voiced singer-songwriter Corey Hart. Be sure to remember when Art Bar had 'em first. (Kevin Lynch)

13. Puddler's Hall

2461 S. Saint Clair St.



One of Milwaukee's oldest bars, Puddler's Hall was constructed in 1873, when it opened as a lodge and gathering spot for Bay View union workers. It's now a bustling neighborhood bar with a sports focus, screening football, baseball and NASCAR events and hosting darts, beanbag toss and table tennis. Beer lovers gather here each week for a Wednesday beer club, where members sample brews from all over the country. (Evan Rytlewski)

14. Blu

424 E. Wisconsin Ave.



Towering well above Milwaukee's earthly confines, Blu truly is a party in the sky—a gleaming atrium overlooking the city where you can sip martinis and lounge around like a Greek god perched atop Mount Olympus. Some bars might be content with simply being the town's highest watering hole, but the brilliance of Blu doesn't stop at 23 stories. A large selection of specialized drinks perfectly complements the luxuriously modern furnishings popping with white, gold and—what else?—blue to create one of the most unique, elegant venues around. (Erik Schmidt)

15. Paddy's Pub

2339 N. Murray Ave.



"You can't tell somebody," explained a fellow who drove from Chicago to show Paddy's Pub to his girlfriend on the night I visited. "You have to see it." Every inch of the outdoor patio and cozy indoor rooms with fireplaces is a museum of antiques, the lifetime collection of the bar's owners, who have built a remarkable castle of hospitality in which every generation can feel comfortable. In the glorious, handcrafted upstairs room, with its 18th-century bar, you'll find free Thursday night jam sessions and weekend musical performances. (John Schneider)

Drink_lees.jpg16. Lee's Luxury Lounge

2988 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.


Lee's spacious environs are separated into three main areas: the bar, a mingling lounge and a game area. They're all open, so you can see from one end to the next, which makes for great people-watching. Lee's games include pool, trivia, bingo, shuffleboard and darts. Go for free happy hour and Sunday pool specials. And don't forget to ask for their "South Side special," a tall boy and a cigarette for $3.99. (Danielle Stevens)

17. McGillycuddy's

1135 N. Water St.



McGillycuddy's main attraction is its decadent outdoor terrace, complete with blarney stone and beer garden. But even when the cool clutches of Midwestern winter get ahold of Gilly's, the party continues inside, a place where familiar Packers pride collides with the oddities of high art in one of the city's most lively decorative schemes. Of course, you go to Gilly's more for the drinks than the watercolors, and with some 40 varieties of whiskey, scotch and bourbon (Whiskey Club members get a doozy of a discount), drink you shall. Just make sure to remember the customary "Gilly's Toast" at midnight. (Erik Schmidt)

18. Sugar Maple

441 E. Lincoln Ave.



The intersection where KK meets Lincoln is one of the busiest corners in Bay View, and Sugar Maple's popularity has added to the traffic. The sleek, attractively designed bar (the building once housed a Sikh temple) specializes in American craft beer and serves around 60 varieties. Little wonder it's been a favorite selection for Shepherd Express readers in our annual Best Of Milwaukee contest. The back room of Sugar Maple plays host to DJs, avant-garde jazz combos and other performers. (David Luhrssen)

Drink_nomad.jpg19. Nomad World Pub

1401 E. Brady St.



In a world where drinking holes are untamed beasts made of people-watching, dog-petting, outdoor drinking and epic beer selections, the Nomad would be considered an apex predator. This popular pub, located at the busiest part of Brady Street, boasts a bustling sidewalk patio during the warmer months. A"Prix Fixe" special includes a shot of Jameson, a can of PBR and a cigarette for $5. (Danielle Stevens)

20. Mamie's Bar

3300 W. National Ave.



Live music, no cover charge and daily drink specials are the name of the game at this casual neighborhood bar. Mamie's patrons are treated to live music twice a week—Tuesdays offer an open jam night and Fridays feature blues bands. In addition to a small, inexpensive daily food menu, choices expand with select specials. Mondays offer "Dollar Dogs," while Wednesdays have a Mexican flair with $1.50 tacos and burritos and $2.75 margaritas. Drink specials include $3 Bloody Marys on Sundays and 2-for-$3 rail drinks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

21. Jo-Cat's Pub

1311 E. Brady St.



Save the fake eyelashes and hair gel, and pocket that cover charge. Busy Brady Street houses a down-to-earth pub that appreciates those with an inherent urge to dance. Jo-Cats' friendly bartenders and poppy beats start at 4 p.m. every day. Stay seated and chill if you like, but someone will surely join you if you decide to mosey back to the humble little mirrored dance floor and jam the night away. (Danielle Stevens)

22. Steny's

800 S. Second St.



A spacious, sprawling, red-roofed tavern crammed full of hot wings and beer-battered cod, Steny's has an atmosphere lathered in revelry and a vibe that makes you feel like something wild is about to happen. The iconic Walker's Point corner pub boasts the perfect storm of all-American bar fare: beguiling greasy food that comes fast and cheap, a Monday marathon of a happy hour that runs from 3 p.m. until close, and a fun-loving crowd that will make you have a grand ol' time. The sign above the entrance says it all: "You should be here"—and there really isn't a reason why you shouldn't. (Erik Schmidt)

Drink_rumpus.jpg23. Rumpus Room

1030 N. Water St.



The Rumpus Room is a classy gastro pub that, despite its name, isn't prone to exceedingly loud commotions and noisy riffraff. What you will find is an elegant décor of rich browns and gilded gold, a preposterously large list of brews and liquors, and something few bars in Milwaukee can boast: a truly gourmet menu of fine French cuisine like duck confit and charcuterie. The place might not be as rowdy as the name may suggest, but who wants frat-party ambiance when you can have Clos Pegase chardonnay and duck liver mousse? (Erik Schmidt)

24. Palomino

2491 S. Superior St.



With its rustic roadhouse interior and hugging-the-curbside outdoor seating in the summer, Palomino has become a favorite among Bay View hipsters as well as a destination point for those who live beyond the Hoan Bridge. A restaurant as well as a bar, Palomino's distinctively Americana menu features such unusual sides as cheddar jalapeño poppers, fried okra, sweet potato casserole and tater tots to go along with your order of vegan Southern fried tofu, grilled cheese or burgers made from Wisconsin grass-fed beef. (David Luhrssen)

25. Cactus Club

2496 S. Wentworth Ave.



The Cactus Club is Bay View's most celebrated music venue, with a full calendar of choice punk, indie-rock, metal, folk and hip-hop acts. Since being de-grimed in a 2007 remodel, the one-time hole in the wall has also become one of the neighborhood's more comfortable corner bars, with a warm, candlelit décor and a good selection of craft beer, scotch and whiskey. There's entertainment most nights of the week here, be it live music or a DJ spin, and even when there isn't, the gregarious bartenders will make sure you have a good time. (Evan Rytlewski)

Drink_hotelfoster.jpg26. Hotel Foster

2028 E. North Ave.



The comfortably theatrical beauty of its eccentric old-world hotel lobby décor and its many inviting indoor and outdoor seating possibilities for socializing over alcohol, coffee or tea have made Hotel Foster a welcome shot of wit and energy on North Avenue. Seated behind flower boxes or on the front balcony in summertime with the neighborhood's beachfront atmosphere, you'd think this was the Lido. Inventive craft cocktails, handmade juices, bitters, tonics and liquors are featured and very affordable. There's live music on occasion. (John Schneider)

Drink_crisp.jpg27. Crisp Pizza Bar and Lounge

1323 E. Brady St.



Crisp has proven worthy of its prominent Brady Street location. A Flux-designed, friendly, inexpensive, innovative restaurant 'til 10 p.m., and a two-storied nightclub with a youngish crowd from all over town 'til 2 a.m., it features the products of local growers, bakers, butchers, brewers and musicians. Pizza is served until closing. Booths like train compartments provide privacy, spacious leather window seats can hold small parties, and the upper level gives views of the action below. It's all lighted like bright moonlight in the woods. (John Schneider)

28. McBob's Pub and Grill

4919 W. North Ave.



You can step into a little pocketful of Ireland without leaving Milwaukee at McBob's Pub and Grill, a place that is filled to the brim with shamrocks, green Christmas lights and Celtic memorabilia. But what keeps the regulars of all ages coming back is the extensive food and beer menu. The restaurant/bar is known for its Reuben, fish fry, corned beef and other bar fare. Comfort food and warm, family-style ambiance make any day at McBob's as good as St. Paddy's Day. (Danielle Stevens)

29. Burnhearts

2599 S. Logan Ave.



The artsy furnishings and trendy clientele at this dimly lit Bay View hot spot can put off first-time visitors worried about fitting in, but there's a decidedly friendly, "come as you are" mentality underneath Burnhearts' hip surface. DJs spin old records many nights of the week at the bar, while regulars play pool, board games or free shuffleboard in the back room. The bar's craft-beer selection is extensive and frequently updated. If you're wondering which tap to try, trust the bartenders' recommendations. They're usually impeccable. (Evan Rytlewski)

30. The Tonic Tavern

2335 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.



The sleek, trendy style of the Tonic Tavern has been noted for its mod design. Bay View locals enjoy the tavern's swanky lounge, electric fireplace and secluded patio while grooving to live music. The tavern has an extensive menu of affordable beers and specialty beverages, including hot drinks. It's definitely busy and "happening" on the weekends. Go during the week for more of a chill vibe. (Danielle Stevens)


Are you upset by the way the NFL and the team owners have treated Colin Kaepernick?

Getting poll results. Please wait...