What made Milwaukee famous, as the song goes, is beer, and even though Schlitz is no longer the most popular brewery in America, Milwaukee is still one of the best cities in the country for drinkers. The city is filled with popular breweries both macro (MillerCoors, Pabst, Schlitz) and micro- (Mobcraft, Black Husky, Brenner), as well as mid-size craft labels like Lakefront. And in recent years a rash of craft distilleries, like Great Lakes and Twisted Path, have popped up to satisfy the demand for locally produced spirits.
According to a 2012 study, Milwaukee has the second-highest concentration of bars in the United States, with 8.5 bars for every 10,000 households. With so many options, how do you know what to choose? Rentable is a Wisconsin-based company, and when we’re not working to find you cheap-one bedrooms in Milwaukee, we’re probably enjoying a pint or two. Here are our five favorite YP watering holes in Cream City.
- Boone and Crockett
Named for the Boone and Crockett Club, North America’s oldest conservation society, this Bayview bar is a unique, quirky watering hole filled with taxidermy and old-school Americana touches. The cocktails — and specifically, the barrel-aged ones — are the stars here, but don’t miss the top-notch beer selection and inventive boilermakers ($5 for a Schlitz and a shot of ginger liqueur? Yes, please.). Also check out the back patio, where local food-truck favorite Gypsy Taco is parked whenever it’s warm out.
Laid back and friendly, Burnhearts is mostly known for its tap list, which skews Midwestern with some unexpected and rare highlights. This Bayview stop is truly a beer-geek paradise, but the cocktails are nothing to sneeze at, either. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, if a bit dark, with polynesian wood accents and red lights. The back room is a great place to play a leisurely game of pool or board games with friends.
- Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
On the near south side, Bryant’s is a local legend: the first cocktail bar in Wisconsin. It’s dark, historic, and has been featured on Esquire’s list of the best bars in the country. But this is no empty nostalgia trip: Bryant’s is one of the best cocktail bars in the country, with an unwritten menu of over 450 drinks, from pre-Prohibition classics like the Martinez to tiki drinks to more modern concoctions. Rather than ordering off of a set list, customers talk with the bartender on a cocktail perfect for their tastes. It’s a forward-thinking concept in a very retro space. But be prepared to wait — there’s almost always a line out the door.
- Dock18 Cocktail Lab
Most distillery tasting rooms are kind of boring. Not Dock18, the tiny speakeasy tucked inside the Twisted Path Distillery in Bayview. Created in collaboration with local company Bittercube, Dock18 highlights Twisted Path liquors and Bittercube Bitters in a number of inventive, often zany cocktails. Every single ingredient is made in house. If you’re an adventurous drinker, check it out… but be sure to make reservations.
- Cafe Benelux
This Belgian-style beer bar in the Third Ward is the perfect place to meet friends after a morning of shopping at the Milwaukee Public Market. The European-leaning tap list at Benelux is huge, the food is a crowd-pleasing assortment of gastro-pub favorites, and seating in the warm, wood-accented restaurant is plentiful. There’s also a terrific patio and rooftop bar for people-watching. With tasty options for every meal and a kitchen that stays open late, it’s a great place to hang out and watch the world go by.