Milwaukee is known as Brew City, and for good reason. It's not hard to find a place to belly-up to the bar in this town. While finding a bar is easy, finding the right bar to suit your tastes can be a little trickier if you're not so familiar with the Milwaukee nightlife scene. Your mom-and-pop corner bar is usually a great bet for a laid-back conversation with the locals, while Water Street is where you go if you're freshly 21 and in the mood to party with thousands of new, inebriated friends. Other bar districts include North Avenue on the East Side and the RiverWalk in downtown Milwaukee, particularly on a hot summer night.
One of Milwaukee's original brewpubs, Water Street Brewery's first location on Water Street in downtown Milwaukee—considered the most populous spot for bar-hopping—is still worth a trip, even with newer locations popping up in Grafton, Oak Creek, and Lake Country. Five Water Street Brewery beers are on tap, from a Honey Lager Light to an Octoberfest. You can even buy beer to-go, via a growler. The extremely diverse cuisine—for lunch and dinner—ranges from brunch fare on Saturday and Sunday (try the "brewmasters breakfast") to tacos, salads, pizza, burgers, and more served daily
As the name suggests, Mo's Irish Pub in downtown Milwaukee celebrates all things Irish. This includes pints of Guinness, plates of gastropub fare such as Jameson burgers and Mo's shepherd's pie, and plenty of shots of Jameson. If you're meeting friends before a show or concert, this is a place where everyone can find something to drink and eat—and the atmosphere is always lively, even if it's not St. Patrick's Day weekend. The bar concept is so popular that the owner opened others in Texas and Indiana, proof this is a cool spot—because who doesn't love a night in an Irish pub?
With three locations—Shorewood, Wauwatosa, and the Third Ward—this preppy- and North Woods-themed bar evokes a lake-lodge setting, with taxidermy on the walls, pine furnishings, and lots of plaid textiles. At the original location, on Oakland Avenue in downtown Shorewood, this is a great spot to watch the game or chill with friends. The owners consider this a riff on their own lake cottage up North, working with the same interior designer to pull off the look (this attention to detail shows). If it's Packers season, Camp Bar pulls out all the stops to host a fun party, so definitely don't hesitate to drop by on a Sunday afternoon if it's football season.
If you're a fan of the mid-century-modern vibe, including the cocktails born out of this era (hello, Pink Squirrel and Grasshopper!), then you need to head to Bryant's Cocktail Lounge on Milwaukee's near South Side. Under new ownership within the last decade or so, there's been a conscious effort to retain its beginnings, including dim lighting and the lack of a menu. Instead, servers greet patrons with a few questions, then determine what suits their palate best. Couples on a date and groups of friends crowd into booths or at tables.
Come summer, this two-story patio at Milwaukee Ale House is the best place in town to view yachts, sailboats, dinner cruises, and kayakers cruising along the river. Beers from Milwaukee Brewing Co. are brewed on-site and range from IPA to stout, with some seasonal selections that have a cult following, like Polish Moon and Oktoberfest. The food menu is vast, featuring healthy options such as salads, along with heartier fare like Stout Pot Roast, Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, and Friday Fish Fry. Live-music acts are often here on the weekends.
A true neighborhood institution, Burnhearts is tucked into the Bay View neighborhood, a 10-minute drive south of downtown Milwaukee. Supporting the local-music scene, this bar also hosts two outdoor live-music festivals each year: Mitten Fest in early April and Pabst Street Party in late June/early July. Fans of craft beer will love the selection--not just from Wisconsin but all over, including the Midwest, Mountain States, West Coast, and East Coast. The vibe is like being in someone's living room, with eclectic furnishings and wall art, all cozy and homey.
Boasting one of Brew City's best line-up of craft beers, Sugar Maple is tucked into a former Masonic temple in the thriving Bay View neighborhood a 10-minute drive south of downtown Milwaukee. About 50 to 60 different taps feature beers from around the state as well as areas in around the United States. Are you coming here on a weeknight? You're in luck: Flights are served then (but not on Friday and Saturday). Keep an eye on its website and Facebook page for info on tap takeovers and other beer-centric events. While food isn't served here, Cafe Centraal next door is the perfect companion with gastropub fare and the city's best selection of Belgian beers.
Sure, it's part of a chain, but the dozen small-batch beers on tap and its riverfront location (with a stunning terrace) make Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery a true destination. Head brewer Dave Bass does a good job brewing beer meant to be sipped with food that's more elevated than your typical bar snacks. Case in point: Ballpark pretzels with a side of jalapeño spinach cheese dip or a Texas Fire Ribeye with jalapeño butter. Three mac 'n cheese dishes round out the culinary line-up.
What's neat about the Iron Horse Hotel—in the city's Walker's Point area—is that there is a bar for each season. In summer, you go to The Yard, which boasts the city's best patio with a view. All other months of the year, Branded is the place to hang. Decked out with industrial drafting chairs and curated art on the walls, this narrow tavern boasts natural light and a stellar drinks menu. Whether you crave a cold craft beer with local roots or an inventive cocktail, it's all here—and, yes, even glasses of wine from regions around the world.
Nomad World Pub
Anchoring the lively Brady Street bar scene, where this Italian-immigrant neighborhood attracts lots of nightlife fans, Nomad World Pub is a known spot for watching soccer games. Another bar of the same name (and the same owner) opened in Madison, but this one is the original. Seating is limited but there is a lot of room to stand in this historic tavern—including outdoor seating with great people-watching opportunities when the weather is warm outside. Every Wednesday night live-music acts fill the space with their sound. Other fun events include "Drink & Draw" on Monday nights and Tuesday-night karaoke.
Every city has that cozy little cramped Irish pub—including Milwaukee. This is the vibe at Paddy's Pub on the East Side, a block north of East North Avenue. Enter through a nondescript corridor (in summer, this place is hopping) and you arrive in a wood-paneled narrow space that feels exactly as an Irish pub should. Upstairs is a place to sprawl out, among padded armchairs, table sets and an extremely ornate ceiling (coupled with walls that are hung with Irish memorabilia that is far from cheesy). Tip: Visit on Thursday nights for live Irish music.
Wine lovers know where to go for a solid list of affordable, by-the-glass options: Thief Wine Shop & Bar. It has two locations, with one at the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward and the other found along Oakland Avenue in downtown Shorewood. The wine list rotates every couple of months reflecting what's trending as well as in season (Rosé in summer, reds in winter, etc.). Keep an eye on its website or Facebook page because nearly once a week, it hosts a very informal wine tasting to satisfy all of your curiosities about wine. The annual Spring Grand Tasting event is a must, too—held at the Milwaukee Public Market. The food here is limited, but what's really great about the Milwaukee Public Market location is that you can bring in food from any of the market's vendors to enjoy with your wine.
Until The Outsider opened inside the new Journeyman Hotel in 2016, there wasn't a rooftop bar perched at this height in all of Milwaukee. The seventh floor might not sound like much, but the fact that this bar has two terraces (forming an "L"), and cushy sofas outside when the weather is nice, it really does feel like you're floating above the Third Ward. A limited food menu is available from Tre Rivali on the hotel's street level. Cocktails are what the bar's mixologists do best, including seasonal renditions such as the Snowball Old Fashioned.