- Haley Henschel
While Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is famous for its beer (locals dub it ‘Brew City’ and ‘Brewtown’) cocktail lovers will be thrilled to know that the city is not short on great mixology. We visit the top ten bars in the city to experience elegant cocktails and top local tipples.
Located in a century-old, cream-colored brick building that originally housed the Schupert-Zoeller Printing Company, Black Sheep has modernized the facility while maintaining an industrial feel. These efforts haven’t gone unrecognized: Black Sheep earned a 2014 Mayor’s Design Award for the quality of its façade renovation. Within the building, a spacious and sleek space adorned with quirky paintings of sheep, patrons can enjoy 16 wines on tap in Black Sheep’s self-service wine dispenser. Or sit back and order one of the many inventive cocktails available or enjoy small plates like the gourmet ‘haute’ dog.
216 S 2nd Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 223 0903
The Hotel Foster
The Hotel Foster is a Prohibition-themed bar lined with exposed brick walls, filled with antique furniture and accented with delicate stained-glass windows. The cocktail selection offers humble twists on classic recipes, such as the Quinn’s Collins, a seasonal option made with raspberry jam and cucumber. Order a drink or two while enjoying one of the many art shows and musicians Hotel Foster hosts throughout the year, not forgetting the ever-popular Milwaukee Film Festival held by the hotel in the summer months.
2028 E North Avenue, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 988 4758
Nestled in a row of pastel buildings just off bustling Brady Street, the favorite hangout for hip college students, Balzac offers an intimate retreat for the more mature palate. Aspiring wine connoisseurs will delight in the spectacular wine list, while foodies will relish Balzac’s extensive menu of tapas and small plates. The sac mac, a heap of cavatappi pasta covered in a blue cheese and béchamel sauce, is a must-try. Balzac’s intricate menu and stylish interior décor make it no surprise that it is regularly voted Best Bar to Take a First Date To by locals.
1716 N Arlington Place, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 755 0099
Boone & Crockett
Boone & Crockett promises its visitors ‘pretentious drinks without the pretentiousness’; the best of both worlds. While a hipster crowd can often be found here, the bar’s rotating selection of seasonal cocktails and assortment of bourbons, whiskeys and scotches should appeal to anyone who appreciates superior spirits. The bar’s most popular cocktail, a bold, barrel-aged Old Fashioned, could entice even the most dedicated hipster to dip into the mainstream. Couple Boone & Crockett’s drinks with its saloon-meets-speakeasy vibe, complete with paisley sofas situated beneath ornate crystal chandeliers, light fixtures constructed from gramophones and mounted deer busts, and you’ve got one of the most standout venues in Milwaukee.
Boone & Crockett, 2151 S Kinnickinnic Avenue, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 763 4935
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge is a venue that has stood the test of time. Established in 1938, the retro bar is the city’s oldest cocktail lounge and, other than renovations following a fire in 1971, has hardly changed over the years. Particularly pleasing is the drinks menu, or rather, the lack thereof. Instead of leafing through a physical list, patrons are encouraged to tell their bartender what they feel in the mood for. From this limited information, the experienced mixologists will concoct a perfect cocktail according to mood, taste and type. Of course, there are some tried and tested options that patrons can order, such as the Pink Squirrel and the Banshee invented by the bar’s founder and still available today.
1579 S 9th Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 383 2620
Relax under the glow of Distil’s copper ceiling while seated in one of its luxurious leather booths to truly discover your perfect cocktail comfort zone. With drinks containing unusual ingredients such as walnut liquor and lemon sorbet foam, Distil is the Milwaukee venue that’s setting the standard for cocktail creators nationwide. While on the more premium end of the spectrum, Distil’s artisanal cocktails are locally considered to be worth every penny and thoroughly deserving of their spot on Food & Wine magazine’s list of Best Bars in America.
722 N Milwaukee Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 220 9411
Decked out with puffer fish lights, authentic Hawaii surfboard tables, an enormous fish tank and local artist Dave Hansen’s Polynesian woodcarvings, Foundation takes South Seas charm in its stride. Whilst the state’s signature cocktail is technically an Old Fashioned, made with brandy, not whiskey, as any true Wisconsinite will tell you, a Mai Tai from Foundation could soon become a worthy contender for the top spot. All of Foundation’s cocktails are constructed with natural ingredients, bringing a spark of delicious freshness to cocktail hour. Some of the more exotic cocktails, the potent Pirate’s Grog and the fruity Royal Hawaiian, for example, include the tiki-themed cups they’re served in, allowing guests to take a little bit of Hawaii back home with them.
2718 N Bremen Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 374 2587
Hi Hat Lounge
Stepping into the retro glamour of Hi Hat Lounge, swathed in the sound of live jazz and the glow of mellow lighting, you’d never guess the building originally served as a schoolhouse in the late 19th century. Inspired by similar lounges in New York and Chicago, Hi Hat pairs its cool, elegant décor with skillfully made martinis. Everything on the menu is prepared with the freshest ingredients and to the highest standard, whether the choice is traditional or adventurous. Particularly worthy of note are Hi Hat’s Manhattan varieties; enjoy one of these specialty cocktails alongside a gourmet burger and the punchy jalapeño cheese curds.
1701 N Arlington Place, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 220 8090
The Safe House
With Time magazine deeming it ‘irresistible and inexhaustible’, it is safe to say The Safe House has made a name for itself. This Milwaukee icon is never short on spy-themed novelties and hidden surprises and behind the unassuming entrance you’ll even have to provide a password to get in. Once you’re inside the venue, indulge in an original mixed drink (the No Ornery Connery or the Brown-Eyed Woman, are great choices) and help yourself to some archetypal bar fare. If you’re not sure what to order, the martinis, shaken, not stirred, are first-class in this quirky establishment.
779 N Front Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 271 2007
While it serves an array of delicious cocktails, Whiskey Bar also knows how to get back to basics in style. With a list of quality spirits that’s indisputably impressive, patrons should take the opportunity to enjoy scotches, bourbons and, of course, whiskey neat or on the rocks. If you’re not sure what to order, why not attend one of the bar’s swanky whiskey tastings and discover your new favorite spirit, all to be enjoyed while relaxing on one of the leather chairs beneath the intimate, golden lighting. If you’re not in the mood to simply sit and imbibe, Whiskey Bar offers dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.
788 N Jackson Street, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 312 8566
Sobelman’s Pub ‘n’ Grill
As all Milwaukee locals know, the best way to kick off a weekend is with a Bloody Mary. Sobelman’s Pub ‘n’ Grill has perfected this brunch time cocktail, despite its overall list of beverages having a simpler, more classic vibe. Sobelman’s Chicken-Fried Bloody Beast (a $50 drink topped with cheese, sausage, pickles, olives, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, scallions, shrimp, lemon, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, celery, two Baconadoes (skewers of bacon-wrapped jalapeno cheeseballs), and an entire fried chicken) is a true masterpiece and gustatory mission.
1900 W St. Paul Avenue, Milwaukee, WI, USA, +1 414 931 1919