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Best of Milwaukee 2016 Winners: Out And About

Jan. 18, 2017
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Bar For Quiet Conversation

FIRST PLACE:
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S. Ninth St.
414-383-2620
BryantsCocktailLounge.com

Founded in 1938, Bryant’s is quickly approaching octogenarian status. And like the fine liquors it serves, this cocktail lounge keeps getting better with age. In our day and age of overstimulation, Bryant’s remains an oasis. With a sweetheart in tow, your phone set to silent and a responsible way of getting home, the hustle and bustle of modern life melts away for a spell. So solicitous is the staff that, with a few simple questions about your tippling tendencies, they’ll customize a cocktail suited specially to your palate. (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
Allium
Balzac
Boone & Crockett

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Bar On A Budget

FIRST PLACE:
Wolski’s Tavern
1836 Pulaski St.
414-276-8130
Wolskis.com

Homey and unpretentious, Wolski’s Tavern has been pouring beer for more than 100 years and remains in the hands of the Polish American family who tapped the bar’s very first keg back in 1908. The beer at Wolski’s is best drunk by the pitcher (get Blatz for the full experience), with a side of free popcorn and, as per custom, losing team at cricket buys the next round. It doesn’t take a high-roller to stumble out of Wolski’s with cash left in your pocket (and a free bumper sticker). (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Art*Bar
The Backyard
Ray & Dot’s Tap

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Bar To Be Seen In

FIRST PLACE:
Elsa’s on the Park
833 N. Jefferson St.
414-765-0615
Elsas.com

People watching has always been part of the fun of coming to Elsa’s, going back to the elegant restaurant-bar’s early years in the ’80s when Downtown was a wasteland and a cosmopolitan hangout in Milwaukee was a dream come true. Elsa’s continues to draw an unusually diverse crowd for a Milwaukee restaurant with a sense of prosperity as the prevailing common denominator. Service is efficient, unobtrusive, friendly and responsive. The martinis are potent. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Boone & Crockett
Plum Lounge
Site 1A

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Bar With a Patio

FIRST PLACE:
Café Benelux
346 N. Broadway
414-501-2500
CafeBenelux.com

Spring, summer, fall…it’s all about outdoor dining and drinking. The better the patio, the better the outdoor dining experience. There aren’t many better than Café Benelux. Not only will you find an impressive beer list and some tasty food, you’ll find patios just perfect for soaking in those warm Wisconsin days and nights. Choose a street-level table and watch all the people go by, or opt for the rooftop deck with a bird’s eye view. The lights strung over the patio add ambiance. It’s like you’re in a world all your own. Make this one of your patio destinations. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
Plum Lounge
Trocadero

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Bartender

FIRST PLACE:
Flannery Pendergast (Café Lulu)

If you’re fortunate enough, you might get Flannery Pendergast as your bartender. You’ll be greeted by her vivacious personality that’s a mix of delight and bubbles. Don’t let that fool you, though, she’s as sincere as they come, and she mixes a mean cocktail. There’s a brightness to her that will add just a bit of light to your day or night. Just looking for a good drink and good service? Flannery’s your gal. Look for her at Café Lulu; she works a rare shift, so today might be your lucky day. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
JC Cunningham (Plum Lounge)
Paul Kennedy (The Tonic Tavern)
Jason McBrady (High Dive)

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Bloody Mary

FIRST PLACE:
Sobelmans Pub and Grill
multiple locations
SobelmansPubAndGrill.com

Consider it a lesson for other restaurants: If you’re going to offer a gimmick, you might as well go all in on the gimmick. The Milwaukee burger chain Sobelmans captured the Internet’s imagination in 2011 with its “Masterpiece,” a Bloody Mary crowned—along with a bouquet of celery, radish, pickle, pickled onion, cheese, sausage and shrimp—with a mini cheeseburger! In the wake of all the attention the restaurant garnered, Sobelmans has continued to double down with even more extravagant Bloody Marys, including the “Baconado,” a tower of bacon, and the “Beast,” a mammoth mug of meat that could easily serve as a meal for two. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
AJ Bombers
Café Hollander
West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe

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Brewery/Distillery Tour

FIRST PLACE:
Lakefront Brewery
1872 N. Commerce St.
414-372-8800
LakefrontBrewery.com

Lakefront’s dining menu reflects their Wisconsin pride, using local foods like cheese curds from Clockshadow Creamery, sausages from Johnsonville, Usinger’s and Klement’s, as well as several dishes featuring their own beers. On Friday, diners flock in for a traditional Milwaukee fish fry with all of the fixings and a pint of delicious Lakefront beer. If you haven’t yet taken the Lakefront Brewery tour, do so immediately. For $10 you get four six-ounce samples, a free pint glass and a humorous, yet informative tour. It’s a great way to sample several different craft brews at once. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

RUNNERS-UP:
Great Lakes Distillery
MKE Brewing Company
Sprecher Brewing Company

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Cocktail Lounge

FIRST PLACE:
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S. Ninth St.
414-383-2620
BryantsCocktailLounge.com

Founded in 1938, Bryant’s is quickly approaching octogenarian status. And like the fine liquors it serves, this cocktail lounge keeps getting better with age. In our day and age of overstimulation, Bryant’s remains an oasis. With a sweetheart in tow, your phone set to silent and a responsible way of getting home, the hustle and bustle of modern life melts away for a spell. So solicitous is the staff that, with a few simple questions about your tippling tendencies, they’ll customize a cocktail suited specially to your palate. (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
At Random
Distil
Plum Lounge

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Comedy Club

FIRST PLACE:
ComedySportz Milwaukee
420 S. First St.
414-272-8888
CSZmke.com

Founded in Milwaukee in 1984, ComedySportz (CSz) quite literally makes sport of improv comedy. Pitting two teams against each other in the CSz arena and overseen by a referee, the shows are, of course, much more performance than competition. Case in point: Even with teams in more than 23 cities worldwide, the CSz World Championship has been won by the host city team each and every one of the 13 years the championship tournament has been held. CSz alumni include Milwaukee native Dan Harmon, “SNL’s” Jason Sudeikis and “Reno 911’s” Nick Swardson. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Comedy Café
Lakefront Brewery Keg Stand Up
Mojo Dojo Comedy

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Craft Beer Selection At A Bar

FIRST PLACE:
The Sugar Maple
441 E. Lincoln Ave.
414-481-2393
MySugarMaple.com

Capitalizing on the craft beer craze currently sweeping the nation, The Sugar Maple has created an expertly curated tap line consisting of 60 of the best American craft beers. Local favorites and national standouts are all represented and are at the ready for those of us who enjoy IPAs, double IPAs, nitro stouts or whatever else these adventurous brewers are coming up with these days. The artfully designed interior and underrated patio space only enhances your experience when exploring new beer territories or falling back on old favorites. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
The Brass Tap
Burnhearts
Camino

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Dance Club

FIRST PLACE:
Mad Planet
533 E. Center St.
414-263-4555
Mad-Planet.net

For years, Mad Planet was known for two long-running events: the trend-setting soul-funk spin The Get Down, and an ’80s-centric retro dance party every Friday. More recently, though, the venue has devoted more of its calendar to themed nights, which have pitted The Smiths against The Cure, Depeche Mode against New Order and Prince against Michael Jackson. Unlike some Downtown dance clubs, there’s nothing pretentious about the place: It’s just people of all stripes, dancing to music everybody loves. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bad Genie
La Cage
Site 1A

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Happy Hour

FIRST PLACE:
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
8923 S. 27th St.
414-304-0300
MulligansOn27th.com

The time-honored tradition of getting a beer or two after a long day at work has been documented in pop culture for decades, with mentally exhausted cubicle dwellers stopping in to Cheers or Moe’s Tavern immediately coming to mind. Mulligans has taken this tradition and expanded on it by adding a second happy hour (from 10 p.m.-midnight) to their 2-6 p.m. deal and extending it into the weekend. The $3 micro taps, $4 import taps, $2.75 rail cocktails and half-off appetizers make for a perfect stop either after work or after dinner for the late-night crowd. (Rob Hullum)

RUNNERS-UP:
Art*Bar
Blackbird Bar
The Garage

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Hotel Lounge

FIRST PLACE:
The Iron Horse Hotel
500 W. Florida St.
888-543-4766
TheIronHorseHotel.com

A tip for theater artists: Make a site-specific show here. Have your audience and cast travel from one visually stunning area to the next in this enormous converted warehouse with many rooms and corridors, two-story ceilings, wooden pillars and floors, and Cream City brick walls. Built in 1907, the current owners have it theatrically furnished and decorated in ways that defy any period. Each turn of the head brings surprises. In some parts, you eat and/or drink; in others, hold a meeting, party, talk privately, work, read, look out the window, wonder, dream. Maybe I’ll make that play myself. (John Schneider)

RUNNERS-UP:
Blu at The Pfister
The Journeyman
Pastiche at Hotel Metro

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Import Beer Selection at a Bar

FIRST PLACE:
Café Hollander
Multiple locations

Beer, especially the Belgian varieties, has always been at the heart of Café Hollander’s offerings. At their original flagship location on Downer Avenue, 13 new taps were recently added, mostly for Belgian brews but with a couple of American craft beers made in the Belgian manner. At Café Hollander, beer is given the attention wine receives in French bistros. The Hollander chain includes the only places in the Midwest where some of the rare Belgian brews can be had. Much attention is lavished on the details—the kegs in which the beer is aged, the temperature, the glassware that allows the beer to caress the nose as well as the tongue. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Burnhearts
The Palm Tavern
Von Trier

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Irish Pub

FIRST PLACE:
County Clare Irish Inn & Pub
1234 N. Astor St.
414-272-5273
CountyClare-Inn.com

This is a civilized place with a heart that beats for Ireland. It’s not a pub you’re likely to crawl into or out of, although you could wind up crawling into bed in the adjoining guesthouse. Everyone is welcome. Sit at the bar or in a cozy dining area that feels like a living room. Enjoy Irish music and a personable staff. Traditional Irish dishes like the famous root soup here are delicious. You can eat vegetarian, vegan, gluten free or dairy free. For drinks, along with Guinness and Irish whiskey, the chef’s Bloody Mary is a specialty. (John Schneider)

RUNNERS-UP:
The Harp Irish Pub
Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill
O’Lydia’s Bar and Grill

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Jazz Club

FIRST PLACE:
Caroline’s Jazz Club
401 S. Second St.
414-221-9444

The exterior of Caroline’s Jazz Club is as understated as a Miles Davis improvisation, while the interior is as hip as, well, a Miles Davis improvisation. Despite the name, the Walker’s Point venue hosts a heavy helping of blues in addition to jazz. The cover charge rarely exceeds $5, and there is no admittance fee for the frequent open blues jams in which all comers are welcome to participate. Whether you are on stage or in the audience, digging jazz or blues, have a drink and revel in the hipness. (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
Blu at The Pfister
Bugsy’s
The Packing House

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Karaoke Bar

FIRST PLACE:
The Up & Under Pub
1216 E. Brady St.
414-270-0029
TheUpAndUnderPub.com

Knocking off Hamburger Mary’s after three straight years as the city’s top karaoke spot, the Up & Under Pub is short on frill but long on charm—offering a well-worn stage, cheap 32-ounce PBRs and pretty much every classic, epic or just plain catchy song you can imagine. “Moonlight Karaoke” starts every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. The only bombs you’ll find are the $2 cherry specials. Buy a few rounds of those for the Brady Street regulars, and you’re sure to have a warm and receptive audience. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Frank’s Power Plant
Grainger’s Pub & Grill
HD Hideout

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LGBTQ Bar

FIRST PLACE:
Hamburger Mary’s
730 S. Fifth St.
414-488-2555
HamburgerMarys.com

Hamburger Mary’s got its start in San Francisco as a “friendly dive” that offered burgers and drinks and catered to the LGBTQ community. The brand has grown considerably since then, and the recently relocated Milwaukee Mary’s is nearly as well-known for its great food and drink menu as it is its drag shows or kitschy décor. Although not an LGTBQ bar in the traditional sense, Mary’s is certainly a place where all are welcome, and where no one will leave disappointed. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
D.I.X.
La Cage
This Is It

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Live Music Venue

FIRST PLACE:
The Pabst Theater
144 E. Wells St.
414-286-3663
PabstTheater.org

The Pabst Theater Group has expanded its operations far beyond the Pabst Theater in recent years, turning both the Turner Hall Ballroom and the Back Room of Prospect Avenue’s Colectivo Coffee into destination venues. But the organization’s title venue remains its crown jewel, an impossibly beautiful opera house with stunning architecture, perfect acoustics and a gift for bringing out the very best in nearly every artist who performs there. It’s quite possibly the best place to see a concert in the entire Midwest. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Cactus Club
The Rave
Turner Hall

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Margarita

FIRST PLACE:
La Fuente
Multiple locations

Milwaukee has come to love Mexican food in all its forms—and along with that, the characteristic cocktail from south of the border, the Margarita. La Fuente’s original Walker’s Point location became instantly popular from the day it opened and success has traveled to its newer venue in Wauwatosa. The tasty mix of tequila and lime is the ideal accompaniment to La Fuente’s tasty Mexican staples. (Morton Shlabotnik)

RUNNERS-UP:
BelAir Cantina
Café Corazón
Cempazuchi

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Martini

FIRST PLACE:
Elsa’s on the Park
833 N. Jefferson St.
414-765-0615
Elsas.com

People watching has always been part of the fun of coming to Elsa’s, going back to the elegant restaurant-bar’s early years in the ’80s when Downtown was a wasteland and a cosmopolitan hangout in Milwaukee was a dream come true. Elsa’s continues to draw an unusually diverse crowd for a Milwaukee restaurant with a sense of prosperity as the prevailing common denominator. Service is efficient, unobtrusive, friendly and responsive. The martinis are potent. (David Luhrssen)

RUNNERS-UP:
Blu at the Phister
Casablanca
Plum Lounge

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Micro Brewery

FIRST PLACE:
Milwaukee Brewing Company
613 S. Second St.
414-226-2337
MKEbrewing.com

I love the Milwaukee Brewing Company brewery because the brewery tour is fun (you get to try so many beers), and I just really like their beer. Unexpected ingredients like tea make for delightfully nuanced flavors. Two favorites are Citrus Happy—refreshingly hoppy, pleasingly bitter, using citrus to enhance inherently citrusy hops; and Louie’s Resurrection—taking the malty amber ale Louie’s Demise and aging it in bourbon barrels. It’s rich and complex, but not heavy, while hops balance the sweetness. Find your favorites. Pick up a six pack at your local store or take the tour. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Brenner Brewing Company
Company Brewing
Enlightened Brewing Company

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New Bar (Opened In 2016)

FIRST PLACE:
Camino
434 S. Second St.
414-800-2641
CaminoMKE.com

The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, the beer selection extensive, the food an elevated form of comfort bar food…welcome to Camino. The bar skirts the kitchen, so you can watch your food being prepared. It’s such a cozy vibe. Their fries are thin and crispy tossed in Parmesan and herbs. Hamburgers are cooked and topped how you want them and seasoned nicely. I want to try more. Then, there’s the beer. They have a rotating selection of American craft beer so whether you’re a hop fanatic or possess a penchant for porter you’ll find something to quench your thirst. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Durbar
Site 1A
Vintage 38

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Open Mic Night

FIRST PLACE:
Linneman’s Riverwest Inn
1001 E. Locust St.
414-263-9844
Linnemans.com

Low key as they tend to be, open mics serve as one of the best farm systems for the Milwaukee music scene, and perhaps none have helped foster more talent than the one at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. Many of the city’s most esteemed songwriters have cut their teeth at this open mic, and many others have met mentors, collaborators and future bandmates there. For performers truly serious about their craft, this is the place to go. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Karma
Silver Spring House
Up & Under

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Paint and Wine Bar

FIRST PLACE:
Splash Studios
184 N. Broadway
414-882-7621
SplashMilwaukee.com

Even with a half-dozen or so area bars now doing the paint-and-wine thing, the Third Ward’s Splash Studios—one of the very first drink-and-paint spots in Milwaukee—takes the top honors. With offerings ranging from a six-by-six-inch canvass to do with as you please to three-hour instructional sessions led by local artists, Splash pairs a full bar with a full-service art studio. The entire set-up has an easy-going and open atmosphere that allows even the most novice of painters to find their muse. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Arté
Creative Art & Wine Studio
Uptown Art

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Rock Club

FIRST PLACE:
Cactus Club
2496 S. Wentworth Ave.
414-897-0663
CactusClubMilwaukee.com

Few clubs have been more integral to the Milwaukee music scene over the last two decades than Cactus Club, the Bay View corner tap where countless local punk, indie and metal bands began to build their followings. The venue’s backroom was as busy as ever this year, as promoters continued to draw touring acts like Tacocat, The Good Life, Dälek and Wolf Eyes, while vastly expanding their lineup of local hip-hop shows. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
The Metal Grill
The Rave
Shank Hall

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Romantic Bar

FIRST PLACE:
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S. Ninth St.
414-383-2620
BryantsCocktailLounge.com

Founded in 1938, Bryant’s is quickly approaching octogenarian status. And like the fine liquors it serves, this cocktail lounge keeps getting better with age. In our day and age of overstimulation, Bryant’s remains an oasis. With a sweetheart in tow, your phone set to silent and a responsible way of getting home, the hustle and bustle of modern life melts away for a spell. So solicitous is the staff that, with a few simple questions about your tippling tendencies, they’ll customize a cocktail suited specially to your palate. (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
At Random
Balzac
Foundation Bar

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Sports Bar

FIRST PLACE:
Three Lions Pub
4515 N. Oakland Ave.
414-763-6992
ThreeLionsPub.com

College or pro baseball, basketball, football and football, pardon me, soccer. The Three Lions is your place for sports. The camaraderie abounds during Packer games; you’ll cheer like you’re at Lambeau. Better yet, head on in for a soccer match. Watching a sports fixture here is not to be missed—fan or not; you’ll find plenty of folks around to explain the nuances of the game. There’s really nothing quite like it, especially championship games. You’ll find a good beer selection that’s anything but conventional, friendly staff and good food. Stop in for a pint and stay for a match. (Lisa A. Kortebein)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bar 107
Karma
Who’s on Third

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Strip Club

FIRST PLACE:
Silk Exotic
11400 W. Silver Spring Road
414-462-7455
SilkMKE.com

Housed in a castle-esque structure just off of I-41, Silk Exotic offers nightly drink specials, a full lunch and dinner menu, VIP event hosting and hookah service. And if that doesn’t get you interested, they also have naked women dancing live on stage. Easily the city’s highest-profile gentlemen’s club, Silk regularly hosts some of the biggest names in adult entertainment as well as more mainstream acts like Warren G and Slick Rick, both of whom played there in the past year. (Matthew J. Prigge)

RUNNERS-UP:
Airport Lounge
Heart Breakers
On the Border

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Wine Selection At A Bar

FIRST PLACE:
Balzac
1617 N. Arlington Place
414-755-0099
BalzacWineBar.com

The look, atmosphere, food, drink, staff, patrons, prices, patio and sidewalk seating—everything about this bar and small plate restaurant is appealing. It’s been my go-to place for meetings and conversations since it opened years ago. Good beers and cocktails are happily served and wine is the specialty. Balzac fights the stereotype that wine is a snob drink for rich people. The place takes pride in serving a great variety of delicious wines by the bottle, the glass and on tap at extremely affordable prices. The staff is kind and knows how to talk about wine in a helpful way. (John Schneider)

RUNNERS-UP:
Pizza Man
The Ruby Tap
Thief Wine

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