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Best of Milwaukee 2013: Out & About

Best bar, dance club and more

Nov. 13, 2013
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Bar on a Budget

Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
8933 S. 27th St.

If you are living on a fixed income or just appreciate a good deal, visit Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill. With two daily happy hours from 2-6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight, customers have lots of opportunities to score savings like $2.50 tap micros, $3.50 tap imports and $2.25 rail drinks. Half-price happy hour appetizers will also give your wallet a break. In addition, Mulligans’ restaurant menu offers several items under $10 that are guaranteed to fill you up without breaking the bank. (Susan Harpt Grimes)



Riverwest Public House Cooperative
Yield Bar & Restaurant



Paul Kennedy (Tonic Tavern)

Bartenders provide an important service and no one honors the title more than Paul Kennedy. After 30 years in the industry, he’s considered one of Milwaukee’s last-standing old-school bartenders. He provides his customers with great service and his drink expertise has even earned him the nickname “PK” (alternatively meaning product knowledge). At first, PK’s stature and slight New York accent may be intimidating but once you order a drink from him, you’ll find he has a unique sense of humor. Blow off some steam with Milwaukee’s choice bartender at Tonic Tavern. (Brandon Miller)



Kerri McCracken (Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill)
Jill (J. Beans Pub)


Bar to Be Seen In


Elsa’s on the Park
833 N. Jefferson St.

Although its cosmopolitanism is no longer as unique in Milwaukee as it was when the swanky bar (with upscale bar menu) opened in the early ’80s, Elsa’s remains a hub for sophisticated night life in a city where drinking once meant beer at the corner tap. Few venues have been able to sustain their popularity over the decades (and generations) as successfully as Elsa’s. The martinis have long been a favorite of Shepherd Express readers. (David Luhrssen)


Runners-up Bar to Be Seen In:

The Hotel Foster
Blackbird Bar


Runners-up Martini:

88 Keys Piano Martini Lounge


Bloody Mary

The Wicked Hop
345 N. Broadway

The Wicked Hop has found unusual twists for its exceptional Bloody Mary, making it a treat for food as well as drink enthusiasts. A beef stick replaces the usual celery and pickle, and a pickled mushroom and a stuffed olive are draped across the tall glass, with a handful of mozzarella whips stacked on top. The drink itself is classic, providing intense tomato flavor with the lingering heat of Tabasco sauce. (Elaine Zautke)



AJ Bombers
Rumor Upbeat Lounge


Brewery Tour/Microbrewery

Lakefront Brewery
1872 N. Commerce St.

How convenient that Milwaukee’s best brewery tour and fish fry cohabit in Lakefront Brewery’s historic digs. This way, after the generous samples of the $7 tour, you need only stumble a short distance to keep the booze company with some beer-battered cod. The experience pairs well with the complimentary music courtesy of the Brew House Polka Kings. Given the well-deserved popularity of the brewery tour and fish fry, buying online tickets and making reservations are recommended. (Tyler Friedman)



Sprecher Brewing Co.
Milwaukee Brewing Company


Cocktail Lounge

Bar for Quiet Conversation

Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S. Ninth St.

Skip the crowds and loud music on Water Street or North Avenue and discover the pleasure of patronizing an establishment that brings their clientele back to a more civilized, respectful era. Cozy nooks and subdued lighting make Bryant’s a great place to go if you actually want to hear the person (or people) you came with. Wonderful servers will help you choose a drink simply by hearing the flavors you enjoy, and the talented bartenders whip up secret concoctions that will, in at least one case, “bust your brain” and amaze your taste buds. (S.H.G.)


Runners-up Cocktail Lounge:

At Random


Runners-up Bar for Quiet Conversation:

At Random
Palm Tavern


Comedy Club

420 S. First St.

Comedy Sportz has been a Milwaukee comedy mainstay for nearly 30 years. Competing improv “teams” draw upon suggestions from the crowd, then the audience votes on which is funniest to determine the winner. No two shows are the same. Remember, depending on what time you go, you could see family friendly or off-color adult content. Either way, everyone will leave laughing. Inexpensive tickets, no drink minimum and a group of truly talented “actletes” make for a really fun night out. (S.H.G.)



Milwaukee’s Comedy Café
Jokerz Comedy Club


Craft Beer Selection

Import Beer Selection at a Bar

Sugar Maple
441 E. Lincoln Ave.

The Sugar Maple is Milwaukee’s bar of choice for beer. With 62 American craft beers on tap, they offer a variety of local and imported brews. From the seasonally appropriate Smuttynose pumpkin ale from New Hampshire to the Fox Barrel pear cider from California, you can tour the states without leaving the bar. The bartenders are both courteous and knowledgeable about their selection. Make sure you bother the one with the wicked mustache. (B.M.)


Runners-up Craft Beer:

Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar


Runners-up Import Beer:

World of Beer
Palm Tavern


Dance Club

Mad Planet

533 E. Center St.

For years Riverwest’s Mad Planet has won Best Dance Club honors primarily on the continued popularity of one long-running event, its Friday night Retro Dance Party, but lately the club has greatly expanded its dance lineup. In addition to its signature Friday gathering, Mad Planet has begun hosting semi-regular themed nights which have pitted The Smiths against The Cure, Depeche Mode against New Order, and Madonna against Janet Jackson and Blondie. Between the cheap drinks and tiny covers, a good night here might only run you $10 or $15. (Evan Rytlewski)



La Cage


Happy Hour

Bar Louie
Multiple locations

The restaurant/lounge/bar is part of a growing chain, mostly found in Chicago and northern Illinois but with locations in other states as well. It’s a youthful place, and with at least 40 beers on tap, Bar Louie is definitely ready for Water Street, its original Milwaukee venue. Appetizers abound, and the small plates include standard bar fare, with a few vegetarian offerings as well. The sandwiches and burgers are crowd pleasers. Monday-Friday happy hour features $3 drafts, $4 wine and $5 martinis. (Jeff Beutner)



Bosley on Brady
Yield Bar & Restaurant


Hotel Lounge

The Iron Horse Hotel
500 W. Florida St.

An upscale hotel catering to Harley riders and businessmen (and many of them are one and the same), the Iron Horse carved deluxe rooms out of a turn-of-the-last-century warehouse. The Industrial Age chic lounge and restaurant areas feature a full bar with extensive lists of cocktails and wine, and a menu of small plate and entrée options. (Morton Shlabotnik)



Blu (Pfister Hotel)
Clear (InterContinental Hotel)


Irish Pub

County Clare
1234 N. Astor St.

Over the bar at County Clare are the words “céad míle fáilte,” Gaelic for “a hundred thousand welcomes.” It’s a perfect sentiment for a pub that always offers a friendly environment, outstanding service and one of the most authentically Irish drinking experiences in a city chock-full of Irish bars. The restaurant and adjoining inn are decorated like many a cozy place north of the River Shannon, with beautiful stained glass windows and a charming Waterford stove warming up the pub. The bar offers the widest variety of stout and makes the perfect destination for a pint of Guinness. Though County Clare makes a great place to swap stories with friends anytime, the best nights are Thursday and Friday when traditional Irish music is played. Rounds of “Whiskey in the Jar” and “The Wild Rover” are all you need to make the idyllic Irish scene complete. (Erin Heffernan) 



Mo’s Irish Pub
Paddy’s Pub


Jazz Club

Jazz Estate
2423 N. Murray Ave.

The East Side’s Jazz Estate has earned its reputation as a premiere jazz club. They’ve been hosting big jazz names since the ’70s. Artists like Lonnie Smith, Melvin Rhyne, and Joe Henderson have graced the club with their presence. But let’s not forget about the local favorites who make the club happenin’ night-to-night: weekly residents The Chicken and Evan Christian, along with bop slayers Devin Drobka, Eric Schoor, Steve Peplin, Neal Davis, Jamie Breiwick and others. Recently, the owner put the club up for sale. Let’s hope he finds a buyer who will carry on its legacy. (B.M.)



Caroline’s Jazz Club
Angelo’s Piano Bar


Karaoke Bar

Hamburger Mary’s
2130 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

What better way to spend a night than watching a drag show and belting the lyrics to your favorite musical theater or Madonna song? Hamburger Mary’s is known for one of the campiest and best-loved karaoke nights in the city, dubbed “MaryOke.” After the Bay View diner’s regular drag show “Dining with the Divas” on Friday and Saturday nights, patrons can take to the small stage and become divas themselves. MaryOke offers a wide selection of songs, special lighting for dramatic effect and $3 drink deals to provide liquid courage enough to help you get up and strut your stuff. (E.H.)



New Yorker Bar
The Newsroom Pub



La Cage
801 S. Second St.

Among Milwaukee’s oldest gay bars and dance clubs, this perennial winner of the Best LGBT Bar Award continues to rock Milwaukee every night of the week. Although dancing is by far the primary attraction (be sure to check out the legendary cage!), La Cage offers myriad entertainments and specials. Visit on Monday for a two-for-one special on all drinks, Tuesday or Thursday for male dancer performances, “Transformation Friday” (first drink free between 10-11:30 p.m.) or Saturday for what the club calls, “Gay Milwaukee’s Hottest Night.” (Selena Milewski)



This Is It
Walker’s Pint


Live Music Venue

Pabst Theater/Riverside Theater/Turner Hall Ballroom


Since all three are operated by the Pabst Theater Organization, our readers lumped The Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater and Turner Hall Ballroom into one choice for this category this year. Together, these venues make one unstoppable triumvirate, reliably booking some of the most exciting shows in the city and taking chances on touring acts that other promoters in this mid-sized market might shy away from—all while keeping ticket prices low enough to leave even the most tightfisted Milwaukeeans nothing to complain about. (E.R.)



Cactus Club
Linneman’s Riverwest Inn



La Fuente
Multiple locations

La Fuente has been serving up authentic Mexican food and drinks in Milwaukee for more than 20 years, expanding multiple times and adding locations in Wauwatosa and Waukesha. Though their food is ever popular, the margaritas alone draw customers. They are available by the glass, half pitcher or full pitcher, served blended or on the rocks. While the original lime is wonderful, they also offer strawberry, raspberry, mango, peach, melon and blue moon. Alternately, try one of the tastiest and most beautiful rainbow margaritas you may ever have with alternating layers of strawberry, lime and blue moon. (S.H.G.)



Botanas Restaurant
Cempazuchi Comida Brava



42 Lounge
326 E. Mason St.

After opening only five months ago, the 42 Lounge has built quite a buzz as a place where patrons can play video games, drink and socialize. The lounge invites nerds of all types “into the RL.” Get sucked into a game of Super Smash Bros., re-watch episodes of “Doctor Who” or get into a Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate. Let your inner nerd come out after a gamer-themed cocktail such as the Vampire’s Kiss or the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. (B.M.)



Papa’s Social Club
Kana Mojito Club


Open Mic Night

The Up and Under Pub
1216 E Brady St.

Being close to the universities of Milwaukee, Brady Street is a melting pot of collegiate culture. But above all else, the arts hold a dominant sway. Concerning music, the Up and Under Pub is well known for its Monday night Open Mic. While some open mic nights consist of monotony and bad poetry, the music and word to be had here are of note. One may actually get the chance to hear some real music. And, if the musician receives a good enough response, a booking for an actual show may not be out of the question. (Max Thiesenhusen)



Linneman’s Riverwest Inn
AJ’s Live


Rock Club

Shank Hall
1434 N. Farwell Ave.

Named for the fictitious Milwaukee venue from This is Spinal Tap, Shank Hall will mark a quarter-century in 2014. The East Side rock club has good sightlines and acoustics, and is just the right size for touring bands whose audience would look embarrassingly sparse at the Rave or Turner Hall. Legendary acts have played Shank, including Van der Graaf Generator, but alas, Spinal Tap never took the stage in real life. (D.L.)



Cactus Club
Quarters Rock ’n’ Roll Palace


Romantic Bar

Blu (Pfister Hotel)
424 E. Wisconsin Avenue

Breathtaking lake views, cozy loveseats and an air of elegance make Blu a perfect place for a date-night cocktail (or two). Situated at the very top of the Pfister Hotel, the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake present an amazing vista to take in while sipping exquisitely crafted martinis, carefully selected wines or maybe even a glass of fine Scotch. Live jazz on the weekends only adds to the ambience. This place is so topnotch, even the bathrooms have a view. (S.H.G.)



Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
At Random


Sports Bar

Leff’s Lucky Town
Multiple locations

What makes Leff’s Lucky Town stand out in a metro area with so many terrific places to pair a love of sports with great beer? Leff’s has a comfortable patio, wallet-friendly specials on food and drinks, juicy burgers made from Bunzel’s meat, and lots of TVs so you won’t miss whatever game you want to see. Friendly, welcoming service by the staff and a neighborly vibe from the crowd puts first-timers at ease and keeps the regulars returning. In either case, it’s a great place to grab a brew and watch a game with friends. (S.H.G.)



Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
Replay Sports Bar


Strip Club

Silk Exotic Gentlemen’s Club
11400 W. Silver Spring Rd

The polls show that the best pole shows in Milwaukee take place at Silk Exotic. In addition to the usual coquettishness, Silk throws monthly “XXX VIP” parties featuring adult film stars and DJs of renown. But on any old night, Silk’s extensive, award-winning menu allows you to satisfy more than your carnal appetites. Whether you are coming for the Silk Girls or the Silk Men, singles flush with singles will find hospitable hosts. (T.F.)



On the Border
Solid Gold Milwaukee


Wine Selection at a Bar

Pizza Man
2597 N. Downer Ave

Pizza Man’s original building on Milwaukee’s East Side was destroyed by fire in 2010, but the restaurant was finally resurrected earlier this year and can now be found on the corner of Downer and Belleview. A perennial winner of Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence, Pizza Man has retained its extensive selection of wine, offering more than 250 California, Oregon or Washington varieties by the glass or bottle that will surely add a special touch to any meal. Added to that impressive number are a handful of luscious tap-kegged wines and, also worth mentioning, a dozen craft beers on tap and roughly 50 bottled beers. Milwaukeeans know where the wine is at. (Amanda Sullivan)



Balzac Wine Bar
Thief Wine Shop & Bar


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