We have a whole other guide for swilling the beer that made Milwaukee “Brew City”, but we get thirsty for more than just golden suds and fresh Lake Michigan water.
Breakfast is for Beverages
If it’s before noon, you can bet half of Milwaukee is drinking a Bloody Mary. If you’re looking for a literal meal assembled on top, the classic Sobelman’s in the Valley literally puts burgers and whole chickens in your spicy drink. For the more refined, there’s Steny’s and their consistently-ranked “best in Milwaukee”, or Zak’s Cafe and their local vodka spiced in-house. Oh, and expect to receive a small beer “chaser” with each purchase: this is Milwaukee, after all.
“Brew City” brews more than just beer: with an increasing number of craft coffee roasters in town, there’s an abundance of choices. Head over to Anodyne’s Walker’s Point roastery location to see your beans roasted fresh before you drink, or Colectivo’s lakefront location for the best people watching in town. And pick up a pack of locally-made organic Rishi Tea on your way about town. Souvenirs you can drink!
Local Booze for Yous
The first distillery to open up in Wisconsin since Prohibition was Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee; that’s because owner Guy Rehorst literally changed the laws. Today the state’s liquor makers are thriving, but GLD’s wide selection in stores and their taproom as well as their boozy tours (get an Uber/Lyft) still keep them firmly at the top of most people’s lists.
For those with slightly different tastes, the nearby Lost Valley Cider Company has a light drink for any palate. Though their menu is full of international choices, their homemade batches are in the works and promise to be a delight.
And for all the mothers out there (because I’ve never met a mom who didn’t like it), the milky, almond-y Rumchata is made in a nearby Milwaukee suburb (though that’s a well-guarded secret). Drink local.
OG Old Fashioneds
Though the “fashionable” coasts are finally getting back on the Old Fashioned cocktail train, us Wisconsinites have been chugging along for decades. If you’ve never had this classic drink, you’re in for a treat. If you’re at a bar and they can’t make you one, you’re in Illinois.
The Drink Wisconsinbly Pub serves their Old Fashioneds out of a functioning bubbler (that’s drinking fountain, for your out of staters), and garnishes it with a cheese curd. Our personal favorite can be found at the hipster-cool Boone & Crockett, where they’re literally “served from the sky”. Oh, and make sure you order yours “brandy sweet”.
If you simply can’t get enough, get a bottle of pre-mixed Old Fashioneds to go, made right here in Wisconsin. SoulBoxer offers both brandy and whiskey versions: just add soda.
Not that we don’t love the Old Fashioned, but there’s mixologists in Milwaukee crafting some of the most unique new concoctions ever sipped. A jaunt to the tiny Dock18 Cocktail Lab will show you what I mean: this tasting room for Twisted Path Distillery and Bittercube Bitters is located in a hard-to-find warehouse and regularly changes their menu with well-priced and well-executed experimental drinks.
As fresh-faced as Dock18 is, Milwaukee’s oldest cocktail lounge, Bryant’s, continues to show how experience can make a difference. Expect a wait for a table in these swanky digs, and don’t look for a menu: here, you simply tell the waiter what you like and they’ll make you exactly what you never knew you wanted.
If you still have room, and you have lucky timing, you might pull into At Random when they happen to be open: their name reflects their operating hours accurately (though they’re open most weekend nights). There’s no wine or beer to be had in this Rat Pack throwback, and fair warning that the waitstaff hasn’t changed in 30 years. But if you can stand the crooning Frank Sinatra and curt waitress, their boozy ice cream drinks are par none.
All photos by Joe Powell for The Squeaky Curd.