From Mai Tais to Old Fashioneds, Milwaukee has hit its stride when it comes to craft cocktails. Across the city, there are plenty of places to swoon over retro décor and marvel at mixologists’ offbeat creations, the product of artistry and thoughtful sourcing of ingredients. After all, what else would you expect from the state where the unofficial cocktail is a Brandy Old Fashioned? For a detour from craft beer—another nod to Wisconsin—check out these nine lounges and bars.
Tucked onto an unassuming street on the South Side, this lounge came under new ownership when John Dye took it over in 2008, but its roots date back to 1936 (originally it was a beer hall). Ice-cream drinks such as a Grasshopper are on the menu, which spans 400-some selections, as well as Hurricanes and Pink Squirrels. A second-floor Velvet Lounge was added in 1968.
Want to channel some aloha spirit? Then this Riverwest bar is your place. Bamboo lines the walls, there’s Polynesian carvings throughout, and the lights are turned down—the perfect setting for sipping fruity Tiki cocktails like Blue Hawaiian, Shark’s Tooth, Zombie and Planter’s Punch. There’s also a Rum List, which is a curated selection of rums from 21 countries, including Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Haiti and Java.
This Milwaukee Street bar in downtown Milwaukee is all about artisan drinks and eats, with a focus on top-notch ingredients. Even the food has flair. Order the charcuterie board and you get three cured meats. The cauliflower dish is inspired by Moroccan cooking, and features harissa and preserved lemon. Drinks dance from classic to contemporary, with classics like the 1824 and Kentucky Mule cocktails along with the Don’t Call Me Daisy cocktail (it has ginger-infused honey, mulling-spice tincture, and bitters from Milwaukee’s own Bittercube).
Only open since 2014, this Bay View spot is on a residential street off the main drag (KK Ave.). Borrowing from the farm-to-table food menu, a few of the cocktails also feature local ingredients, such as Rishi Tea’s tangerine-ginger tea syrup in the For You, 1976 drink. Wildly popular for weekend brunch, there is a special cocktail menu for that occasion. Get Out of My Room, Mom! Has tangerine-ginger syrup as well as Meyer-lemon bitters, Cava and Lillet Rose—a perfect pairing with aebleskiver pancakes.
Located on the North end of Bay View, this bar opened in 2011. Taxidermy covers the walls in this narrow spot, and the banquettes are covered in plaid fabric. Drinks are a work of art, with barrel-aged cocktails as well as seasonal drink menus (like mulled wine in winter).
The Iron Horse Hotel in Walker’s Point is one of those hotels that even locals like to hang out at. Just off the lobby is Branded, a bar with lots of natural lighting, art on the walls and drafting chairs, each of these details playing off of the neighborhood’s industrial-chic vibe. Drinks are very creative, including The Escape Clause, which is a house-spiced rum finished with a cedar flamed orange disc.
As part of the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, this is a casual sibling to places like Harbor House, Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus. It’s in downtown Milwaukee close to performing-arts centers, making it a perfect spot pre- or post-show. There are eight specialty cocktails. A Community Effort cocktail relies upon Milwaukee’s own Rehorst gin, while the Champagne Cocktail uses sparkling wine from New Mexico (Gruet Winery).
This little corner spot carries a very urban, almost Parisian, feel with its pinstriped awning and dimly lit sconces. On one wall of the dining room is the bar, with brunch-ready drinks like the Bacon Bloody (bacon- and pepper-infused vodka) and Brunch Punch (juices and flavored vodkas topped with Cava) as well as 11 signature cocktails. Czech Your Head combines rye, Becherovka, Briottet Crème de Peche, and Primitivo Quiles vermouth rojo.