Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012

Nightlife

Best of Milwaukee 2012

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Sugar Maple
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Bar Food

Hooligan’s

2017 E. North Ave.

414-273-5230

hooliganssuperbar.com

Hooligan’s, that classic triangular-shaped corner bar, has long been a favorite spot for East Side imbibers. It’s also a favorite for casual food, especially at lunchtime. The small kitchen has a remarkably large menu, quite a change from Hooligan’s earlier days, when the house specialty was a Hoolidog. Now there is a full range of sandwiches as well as bar snacks like spicy chicken wings and nachos. Wash it down with a beer. There is an extensive list. (Jeff Beutner)

 

Runners-up:

Mulligans

Palomino

 

Bar on a Budget

Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill

8933 S. 27th St., Franklin

414-304-0300

mulliganson27th.com

Mulligans is an Irish pub as well as a decent restaurant—a bar so congenial that one happy hour is not enough. The first is from 2-6 p.m. and the second from 10 p.m.-midnight. A pint of Guinness will only set you back $3.50 and appetizers are half-price. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:

Duke’s on Water

Rascals

 

Bar To Be Seen In

Elsa’s on the Park

833 N. Jefferson St.

414-765-0615

elsas.com

Elsa’s was Milwaukee’s bar to be seen in 30 years ago, and somehow the place has never lost its gleam or its edge. Although its cosmopolitan interior is no longer as unique in our city as it was in the ’80s, Elsa’s continues to pack in crowds of the locally famous with elegantly prepared bar food, potent drinks and shifting displays of art. Elsa’s is a classic that has no need for revision or updating. (David Luhrssen)

 

Runners-up:

Hotel Foster

Boone & Crockett

 

Bartender

Josh Lefevre of ComedySportz

Brewtown denizens know that bartenders define bars. They must be different things to everyone: friend, mixologist, psychologist, server, party epicenter. They must have attitude, charisma, consistency, a good smile, a great memory, even-handedness, savvy and personality, plus a parish priest’s ear, honesty and understanding. Bartending is also like acting, which is why Josh Lefevre’s background adds that last essential drop of magic. You can find him improvising, laughing and pouring at ComedySportz. (Willy Thorn)

 

Runners-up:

Chris Schulist

Tom Julio

 

Bloody Mary

The Wicked Hop

345 N. Broadway

414-223-0345

www.thewickedhop.com

Food as well as drink enthusiasts will love the Wicked Hop’s exceptional Bloody Mary for its unique variety of small edibles. A beef stick replaces the usual celery and a pickle, and a pickled mushroom and a stuffed olive are draped across a tall glass, with a handful of mozzarella whips stacked on top. The drink itself is classic, providing intense tomato flavor with the lingering heat of Tabasco sauce. (Elaine Zautke)

 

Runners-up:

Sobelman’s

Café Centraal

 

Bowling Alley

Landmark Lanes

2220 N. Farwell Ave.

414-278-8770

landmarklanes.com

Conventional wisdom has it that the drunker people are, the better they bowl. By that logic, some of the best bowling in the world must be taking place at this 85-year-old, basement-level East Side retreat, where it often feels like there are as many bars as there are lanes. Landmark may not be as up to date as some of the modern alleys—there’s no computer scoring here—but this giant underground rec room is rife with amenities. The beer selection is huge, the mixed drinks are cheap, and there are plenty of arcade games, pool tables and dartboards. (Evan Rytlewski)

 

Runners-up:

Bay View Bowl

Koz’s Mini Bowl

Brewery Tour/Microbrewery

Lakefront Brewery

1872 N. Commerce St.

414-372-8800

lakefrontbrewery.com

Currently one of the top visitor attractions in the Milwaukee area, the Lakefront Brewery tour has even become a favorite of Milwaukeeans. The tour is extremely affordable ($7) and takes you through the entire brewery. Brew connoisseurs may rejoice: Every person receives four tokens good for one 6-ounce pour each, and with the beers on tap constantly changing, one can always discover something new. Due to the tour’s massive popularity, reservations are recommended on weekends. Don’t forget to stop in the gift shop, where you can buy a T-shirt or, better yet, more beer. (Maxwell Thiesenhusen)

 

Runners-up Brewery Tour:

Miller Brewery Tour

Milwaukee Brewing Co.

 

Runners-up Microbrewery:

Milwaukee Brewing Co.

Horny Goat Brewing Co.

 

Cocktail Lounge/Bar for Quiet Conversation

Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

1579 S. Ninth St.

414-383-2620

bryantscocktaillounge.com

Stepping into Bryant’s transports you back to a time before neon signs and blaring music were the standard in bars. Bryant’s intimate mood is carefully created with subtle lighting, cozy booths and smooth drinks. It's a pleasure to enjoy creative drinks like Bryant’s original Pink Squirrel or Navy Grog, without having to shout to be heard. With no printed drink menu, newcomers simply need to tell servers what flavors they like (or don’t) and Bryant’s skilled bartenders will whip up concoctions to suit those tastes. Ask for a Brain Buster, secret ingredient “lots of rum,” and get a bumper sticker to commemorate your visit. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

 

Cocktail Lounge Runners-up:

At Random

Boone & Crockett

 

Bar for Quiet Conversation Runners-up:

The Palm Tavern

Nessun Dorma

 

Comedy Club

ComedySportz

420 S. First St.

414-272-8888

comedysportzmilwaukee.com

With a 30-year anniversary on the horizon, this Walker’s Point landmark feasibly can boast a million laughs logged. Since the early 1980s, its claim to fame has been improv, audience-suggestion-based comedy played as a sport by competing “actletes.” It has since expanded its act to include improvised musicals, political spoofs and a drinking show. As always, the audience rules. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Jokerz Comedy Club

Milwaukee’s Comedy Café

 

Craft Beer Selection

Sugar Maple

441 E. Lincoln Ave.

414-481-2393

mysugarmaple.com

The list is ABC extensive, including Alaskan, Anchor and Ale Asylum, Bells, Boulder and Bridgeport, and Central Waters and Crispin. The varieties are clever: Gumballhead, Bitter Woman IPA, Lemon Grass Wit, Mudpuppy, Golden Monkey and Rye of the Tiger. Bay View is a national leader in craft brew slinging, and Sugar Maple rises to the top amid tough competition, flaunting 60 on-tap American craft brews for discerning aficionados and novices. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Romans’ Pub

Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar

 

Dance Club

Mad Planet

533 E. Center St.

mad-planet.net

Visit this reigning champion of the dance club category and let out all the stops on fun. With a large dance space and stage, live music during the week, a regular Friday night retro dance party and DJs on the weekend, this club is a great place for an evening out. Need a break from dancing? Mad Planet also features an unearthly purple pool table, intimate seating area and covered beer garden. (Selena Milewski)

 

Runners-up:

LaCage

Apartment 720

 

Happy Hour

Bar Louie

1114 N. Water St.

414-847-1492

barlouieamerica.com

Standing strong on a proud corner of Water Street, this national chain provides an endless array of appetizers, entrees, munchies, snacks (and, of course, drinks) at rock-bottom prices, every day of the week. You’ll find burgers, fries, pastas and sandwiches, as well as Bloody Marys, cocktails, martinis, microbrews, taps and wines—by the bottle, can, glass or snifter. All of this is tucked amid giant flat-screens and prints of modern photography, with an outdoor fire pit to boot. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Mulligans Irish Pub & Grill

Devon Seafood + Steak

 

Hotel Lounge

Blu

424 E. Wisconsin Ave.

414-298-3196

blumilwaukee.com

Sitting proudly on the 23rd floor of the Pfister Hotel, Blu boasts one of the best views in the entire city, a gorgeous panorama of Downtown and Lake Michigan. Blu’s interior, though, is a sight to behold in its own right. Dimly lit and filled with tasteful modern design accents, this is one of Milwaukee’s most sophisticated martini bars. On the weekends it hosts live jazz music and, during the cool-weather months, afternoon tea service. (E.R.)

 

Runners-up:

Hotel Metro

The Iron Horse Hotel

 

Import Beer Selection at a Bar

Café Hollander

Multiple locations

www.cafehollander.com

The outdoor patio at each location is echt gezellig (perfectly cozy). The import beer menu runs 16 pages. You can learn the difference between dubbels, tripels and quads, and “what the big deal is with Trappist biers.” The amount of research that informs the choices of draught and bottled imports is moving; the café has an active relationship with several Belgian breweries. It’s also nice to find local brews mingling with the foreigners. Try a Kwak, Gulden Draak, Brugse Zot or Lakefront Fixed Gear with those lekkere (delicious) mussels and frites. (John Schneider)

 

Runners-up:

World of Beer

Café Benelux

 

Irish Pub

Mo’s Irish Pub

Multiple locations

Mo’s has two pubs to choose from. One is in the heart of Downtown Milwaukee at the intersection of Plankinton and Wisconsin; the other sits at the corner of Bluemound and Highway 100 in Wauwatosa. The latter features a setting like an Irish country inn, complete with stone fireplaces. Mo’s is also about food, with classics like corned beef with cabbage, shepherd’s pie and the Mo’s burger that tops ground Angus with corned beef, Swiss cheese and bacon. (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:

Paddy’s Pub

County Clare

 

Jazz Club

The Jazz Estate

2423 N. Murray Ave.

414-964-9923

www.jazzestate.com

The oblong layout, with the bandstand situated right in the middle, can make for an intensely intimate listening experience—especially from one of the small tables at the foot of the bandstand. At that proximity, a band with a few horns can make you feel the metal in your molars. The righteous vibrations include the city's most consistent array of hard-swinging modernists, the best-sounding piano in a real music club, and just maybe the best Bloody Marys. Also check the club’s calendar for touring national talent. (Kevin Lynch)

 

Runners-up:

Caroline’s

88 Keys

 

Karaoke Bar

Hi Hat Garage

1709 N. Arlington Place

414-220-8090

hihatgarage.com

I’ll be honest: Karaoke really isn’t my thing. Most times, it’s just painful. However, karaoke night at the Hi Hat Garage is different. The room, which tapers down to the stage, gently forces people to get closer to one another. Paired with the comforting décor and low lighting, the night becomes a no-pressure ordeal. Many in attendance seemed to be regulars who know one another. And the crowd just kept getting bigger. Some singers (one woman in particular) were quite good. It was, hands down, the most successful karaoke night I’ve ever seen. (M.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Lucky’s Irish Pub & Grill

New Yorker Bar

 

LGBT Bar

Nightclub

LaCage

801 S. Second St.

414-383-8330

lacagemke.com

This perennial winner of the Best Nightclub and Best LGBT Bar categories continues to rock Milwaukee every night of the week. Although dancing is by far the primary attraction (be sure to check out the legendary cage!), LaCage offers a wide variety of entertainment and specials. Visit on Monday for a two-for-one special on all drinks, Tuesday or Thursday for male dancer performances, “Transformation Friday” (first drink free between 10-11:30 p.m.) or Saturday for what the club calls “Gay Milwaukee’s Hottest Night.” (S.M.)

 

LGBT Bar Runners-up:

Art Bar

Hybrid Lounge

 

Nightclub Runners-up:

Ivy

Oak

 

Live Music Venue

The Pabst Theater

144 E. Wells St.

414-286-3663

pabsttheater.org

You can practically set your watch to it: At almost every concert at the Pabst Theater, a performer will pause to comment on the historic opera house’s beauty. Good looks aren’t all the venue has going for it, though. In addition to flawless acoustics, the Pabst has a reputation for affordable ticket prices and acclaimed headliners who might otherwise tour around Milwaukee—in the last year the Pabst has hosted unforgettable performances from Glen Campbell and Ani DiFranco, among many others. Thanks to the Pabst Theater, and its sister venues the Riverside Theater and the Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee’s concert calendar now rivals those of metropolises twice our size. (E.R.)

 

Runners-up:

Turner Hall Ballroom

Linneman’s Riverwest Inn

Margarita

La Fuente

Multiple locations

ilovelafuente.com

La Fuente is Spanish for, fittingly, “the Fountain”—as in, fountain of margaritas, perhaps. What’s your pleasure? On the rocks, straight up or blended? Glasses or pitchers? Blue Moon, Mango, Melon, Peach or Rainbow? Don Julio, Hornitos or Patron? The margaritas here are simply the best. And they now flow freely from “tres fuentes”: Tosa (92nd and Bluemound), Waukesha (Kossow Road) and the landmark Fifth Street location in Milwaukee. All that and some of Milwaukee’s best Mexican food? Bueno. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Botanas

Conejito’s Place

 

Martini

88 Keys

7211 W. Greenfield Ave.

414-257-9490

88keys-lounge.com

The blue canopy marks the spot. 88 Keys is billed as a piano martini lounge, and, sure enough, a piano sits on a small stage (with live music some nights), martinis are served and a picture of the Rat Pack hangs on the wall. The interior is a retro fantasy, with chrome-edged modern sofas, TCM and “The Dean Martin Show” on the mute TV screens, vintage jazz purring from the speakers and the lights on dim. Nothing on the appetizer-based menu is more than $10, and you can listen to a personable bartender hold forth on how to make the perfect sidecar—if you’re not in the mood for a martini. (D.L.)

 

Runners-up:

Elsa’s on the Park

JoJo’s Martini Lounge

 

Open Mic Night

The Down and Over Pub

2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

414-481-8860

www.downandover.com

This former Masonic temple and German-style brewhaus hosts concerts, karaoke and swing dance. It separates itself as an open-mic venue with its house band, Silky Beef, which backs the singer-songwriters looking for airtime. Depending on the night, newcomers, first-timers and other songbirds and songstresses can let fly with three songs, for up to 20 minutes. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Linneman’s Riverwest Inn

The Up and Under Pub

 

Pool Hall

Romine's High Pockets

6125 S. 27th St., Greenfield

414-281-2212

romineshp.com

Hustlers, sharks and amateurs flock to this South Side institution, every night of the week. Like the Great American West, Romine’s is special because of its big, spacious vistas. You’ll enjoy cool lighting and the smooth velvet on the highest-quality tables, too. It also boasts food and drink, sporting events on flat-screen TVs, some of the Milwaukee area’s most competitive billiards leagues, and incredible servers. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

Landmark Lanes

Master Z’s Cue Club

 

Rock Club

Cactus Club

2496 S. Wentworth Ave.

414-897-0663

cactusclub.dostuff.info

Every city has a small, storied club that’s hosted a who’s-who of bands before they became famous. Milwaukee’s is the Cactus Club, which has booked early gigs by favorites like The White Stripes, Interpol, Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie, not to mention countless punk bands of varying stature. This year the Cactus Club has hosted memorable shows from touring acts like White Rabbits, Two Gallants and The Corin Tucker Band, and, more importantly, countless shows from Milwaukee’s best and most exciting indie-rock and punk bands. If you’re looking for great local music, this is the place to start. (E.R.)

 

Runners-up:

Riverwest Public House

The Up and Under Pub

 

Romantic Bar

At Random

2501 S. Delaware Ave.

414-481-8030

At Random is like something from another world—OK, planet Earth, but circa 1960, when romance was cool and hooking up was something you did with your new hi-fi. With its dark interior, tightly shuttered windows, deeply recessed booths and amber glass lamps, it’s the sort of place where Frank, Sammy and Dino would have lounged had they spent more time in Milwaukee. Aside from atmosphere, the specialty of the house is the drink menu, with Singapore slings, daiquiris and the like along with seven pages of scrumptious ice cream drinks. It’s like root beer floats for adults seeking romance. Doors open at 7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. (D.L.)

 

Runners-up:

Blu

Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge

 

Strip Club

Silk Exotic

11400 W. Silver Spring Road

414-462-7455

www.silkexotic.com

Silk is simply the very best at what it does—and has been, for a long time. It brings together Las Vegas-style amenities, great prices and endless specials under one roof, at a convenient Highway 100 location. It has a full slate of great local talent and top national acts, every night of the year. If you’re searching for a gentlemen’s club, look no further than Silk. (W.T.)

 

Runners-up:

On the Border

Art’s Performing Center

 

Wine Selection at a Bar

Balzac

1716 N. Arlington Place

414-755-0099

balzacwinebar.com

Balzac, located just north of Brady Street and across from the Hi Hat Garage, is devoted to wine. It offers a large list with thorough descriptions of every vintage, and the knowledgeable staff is happy to offer any additional suggestions. Balzac also offers a small-plates menu and cheese plates to accompany the wine of your choice. (The beer list is not shabby, either.) Sunday is the time to raid the cellar: All bottles of wine are half-price! (J.B.)

 

Runners-up:

Thief Wine

Nessun Dorma

 

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