The 15 Best Bars in Milwaukee

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 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.

  • 01 of 15
    Visit Milwaukee

    As the name suggests, Mo's Irish Pub in downtown Milwaukee celebrates all things Irish, from pints of Guinness to plates of gastropub fare like Jameson Burger and Mo's Shepherd's Pie, and plenty of shots of Jameson, too. 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?

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    Camp Bar

    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 game season.

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    Water Street Brewery

    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 the Lake Country. Nine Water Street Brewery beers are on tap, from a Honey Lager Light to a hearty Irish Stout. 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.

     

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    Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

    If you're a fan of the midcentury-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.

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    Milwaukee Ale House

    Milwaukee Ale House

    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.

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    Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery

    Visit Milwaukee

    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 beers 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.

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    Sugar Maple

    Sugar Maple

    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 50-60 different taps feature beers from around the state as well as areas in around the U.S. Coming here on a weeknight? You're in luck: flights are served then (but not on Friday and Saturday). Keep an eye on the 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.

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    The Love Shack

    The Love Shack

    A new arrival to the Third Ward/Walker's Point area--The Love Shack is perched along the Milwaukee River, just north of Pittsburgh Avenue and west of Water Street--and specializes in all things Tiki. If it's a warm night, the bar's seating spills out onto the riverfront setting. Daily specials throughout the week include the Wednesday-night "Date Night Surf & Turf" where, for $40 you get a love-bowl drink to share along with a pu-pu platter. All of the drinks skew Polynesian, such as a Pina Colada, Pain Killer or Man Tai, folding in rum and tropical fruit juices.

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  • 09 of 15

    Thief Wine

    Visit Milwaukee

    Wine lovers know where to go for a solid list of affordable, by-the-glass options: Thief Wine Shop & Bar, with two locations (Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward or 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 the website or Facebook page because nearly once a week Thief Wine hosts a very informal wine tasting (sometimes with either the winemaker or winery rep present) to satisfy all of your curiosities about wine. The annual Spring Grand Tasting event is a must, too--held at the Milwaukee Public Market. 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.

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    Nomad World Pub

    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.

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    Burnhearts

    Burnhearts

    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.

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    Drink Wisconsinbly Pub

    Drink Wisconsinbly

    Open since 2016, Drink Wisconsinbly Pub is in the heart of Walker's Point, along East National Avenue. Imbibing options include more than just beer, although the brews line-up is quite solid, with 33 Wisconsin beers on tap (like New Glarus Brewing Co.'s "Two Women Lager" and Capital Brewery's Maibock). Nine signature cocktails are riffs on old classics, such as the "Old School Old Fashioned" and "Manitowoc-hattan." This pub is also a nice option for a Friday fish fry or sampling another delicacy--fried cheese curds.

     

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  • 13 of 15

    The Outsider

    Whit Preston

    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, 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 like "Snowball Old Fashioned."

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    Paddy's Pub

    Paddy's Pub

    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.

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    Branded

    Iron Horse Hotel

    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.