Keepin’ it Classic
Certain Milwaukee bars have always served classic cocktails—and keep packing in the patrons
A classic cocktail renaissance swept the country over the last decade, where bartenders from New York to New Orleans sought to reintroduce the imbibing public to long-heralded drinks, many created before Prohibition. While the country caught up, a few bars in Milwaukee, however, have focused on the classics for decades. This new movement has only pushed their popularity and opened the doors to a new set of drinkers.
While places like Bryant’s and At Random have been around throughout much of the 20th century, the push for high-quality drinks and top-notch service inspired a new generation of bar owners to turn back the clock in a sense, while also adding their own modern spin. Here, four bars you shouldn’t miss when visiting the Cream City.
Since opening in 1938, just five years after the end of Prohibition, Bryant’s has always focused on serving top-quality cocktails in a swanky environment. Original owner Bryant Sharp, who converted his former beer-focused tied house to the current cocktail lounge, was a skilled bartender, creating popular classics like the Pink Squirrel and Banshee. A fire gutted the bar in 1971, but then-owner Pat Malmberg persevered and restored it to its former glory, which continues to this day. Even with a stable of 450 cocktails at its disposal, the bar features a new cocktail of the month. Try to snag a seat for happy hour Sunday through Thursday to score $5 Old Fashioneds and other Depression-era cocktails.
Harking back to a simpler time, At Random seems like it’s stuck in a moment—a moment you definitely want to visit. Owners Ron and Shirley Zeller had served classic cocktails, ice cream drinks, tiki punch bowls and more since At Random opened in the Bay View neighborhood in 1964. Retiring in 2018, they sold to Bryant’s owner John Dye, who cleaned up the space and updated it with some modern touches. Dye was sure to maintain the overall feel—globe pendants, the rounded bar, vinyl seating—that makes At Random the bar you want to pop by to put back a few.
Who doesn’t love feeling like they slipped away to an island hut in the middle of the Pacific, especially when you’re deep in winter in a city like Milwaukee? Foundation strives to entice locals with beach culture, a long list of rum-based tiki drinks, and a festive vibe only found in the tropics. Want to make it a true vacation? Book a room on the second level “Captain’s Quarters” and stay a while.
One of the newer craft cocktail haunts on the scene, B&C moved from its original Bay View location, which opened in 2012, to the Harbor District in 2018. Despite more than doubling in size, the bar retained the cozy feeling fans have come to love: an Old West saloon feel with taxidermy on the walls, gramophone chandeliers, an eclectic wood bar and plenty of high-quality cocktails, like a barrel-aged Martinez, Sazerac or a Milwaukee G&T featuring locally distilled Rehorst Gin from Great Lakes Distillery.