11 Dive Bars You Must Visit in Milwaukee
Milwaukeeans love their dive bars. Every neighborhood has one—or seven—and locals are loyal to their favorites. Because of this local tavern culture, the term “dive bar” isn't a bad thing around here; instead it implies a warm, humble community gathering place where everyone is welcome. Here are some of the best dive bars in MKE.
Riverwest has a ton of great dives, and Tracks is known best for its food and volleyball leagues. There are three types of sand volleyball ranging in skill level and competitiveness, so if you're interested, make sure you sign up for the correct league. Watching the fun with a pitcher or two isn't too bad, either. Friday and Wednesday fish fry is the highlight of the menu, though you can also get bar favorites like wings and burgers as well. Happy hour specials run until 7pm and include $3 all pints.
Photo by Joe Kirschling, Flickr CC
It's no surprise that Milwaukeeans love bowling, but what is surprising is that the love extends to mini bowling. The ball fits in the palm of your hand, and the lanes and pins are about half the size of regulation bowling. Call ahead to reserve a lane if you want to bowl, and don't forget to tip the pinsetters. Even if you're not bowling, this bar's jukebox, dart board, pool table, old taxidermy and cold drinks should keep you entertained for hours.
You must get buzzed into this little bar in Riverwest, but once you're in, you're family. If there's not a Wisconsin sporting event or a rousing game of Jeopardy! going on, then find a tune on the strangely well-stocked jukebox. Pet the resident dog that might rub against your ankles, and then buy the bar a round of PBRs, something that happens rather often. Stick with beer and simple mixers because they won't have anything too fancy, but you're here for the camaraderie anyway.
We all know about (or at least have seen) the “I closed Wolski's” bumper stickers all around the city. When I was younger, I thought that actually meant Wolski's was closed for good, but eventually figured out my error—and that the stickers are so ubiquitous because it's so easy to get them. No matter, it's a genius marketing campaign, if you want to look at it that way. But what about the actual tavern? Well, they have rare steel-tip darts, a lovely vintage back bar, free popcorn and a new patio. That's enough to make any tavern awesome, let alone one with as much history and notoriety as Wolski's.
The name of this bar is Just Art's, but there's nothing diminutive about Art Guenther, the owner and if you're lucky, your bartender. He'll greet you as you come into the bar with a loud welcome—or more likely something a little snarky, but don't take it personally because it's all in good fun. He'll regale you with tales of his younger self and foster conversation among those seated at his bar. It's a small, ramshackle place with a small kitchen just off the bar. Order something from the specials board, or partake in whatever food is free that night, because that happens often as a nice perk for his regulars.
How many dive bars do you know have their own Wikipedia page? That's thanks to the fact that the oldest sanctioned bowling alley lanes are housed in the basement of Holler House. They were opened in 1908, same time as the tavern. It's a family-run business, and after over a century, is still being run by only the second generation. Up in the bar, you'll be surrounded by bras hanging everywhere, a tradition that owner Marcy Skowronski started decades ago. You'll only find bottled and canned beer here, no taps, but you'll be having so much fun bowling and stepping back in MKE's history that it won't matter.
Kam's started out as Kam's Corner Tap, a small tavern with few windows but a great reputation. Then the space next door, a former pizza joint, became available and Kam's decided to expand, creating Thistle & Shamrock. Now it's a large space with plenty of light and tables for dining or parties. As you guessed by its name, the bar is an Irish pub, but with an Italian flair. You can get corned beef sandwiches, Scotch eggs and pizza, and it's all homemade. Beers are cheap and there's a small menu of specialty cocktails, most made with whiskey.
Way up on Teutonia Ave. across from Brown Deer Park is a bar that makes you feel like you're up north. Wood paneling, drop ceiling, old stained glass light fixtures and the view of the park across the street feel like an oasis in the city. There's a surprisingly large patio, volleyball court and garden out back. It's the kind of place where you bartender is also the cook, but even so they make a great grilled burger and for dirt cheap prices.
Another tavern where the owner is the star of the show, George is quite the character. On request, he'll whip out the microphone (yes, this bar has a mic) and belt out a really solid rendition of Ring of Fire or Folsom Prison Blues. He'll tell you that it's the frequent stops by the pedal taverns that keep him in business now that the factories are all closing in the area, a sad story for a tavern that's been serving the community for so long. Drink prices are the cheapest in the city here; you can get cans of Busch or Milwaukee's Best for $1, with the most expensive drinks topping out at $4.
Among some of the trendy, upscale bars on Brady Street lives Roman Coin. It's probably most famous for being a dog bar, meaning all dogs are welcome inside, health department be damned. There's even a little doggie bowl in one corner for when your pups get thirsty and dog treats behind the bar. So while this isn't a bar for those with allergies, it's a chill hangout spot for people in the area who love their pooch. Dirt cheap beer prices don't hurt, either.
The Drunk Uncle in West Allis is a tavern in a remodeled space, so it may not look like all the other dives on this list, but it's still got all the best qualities of a dive bar. You will feel welcomed by the owner and other patrons; you will watch sports like NASCAR and UFC on TV; and you'll be playing bar games and drinking cheap booze. So cheap, in fact, that beer is free during Packers games. And there may be free food, too. So for all of you out there who are adverse to 'Stallis, you're missing out.