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Milwaukee’s Old-School Bar Scene

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By Jennifer Posh
Content & Copywriting Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

Milwaukee's Old-School Bar Scene

The readers of SAVEUR, in our humble opinion, have pretty good taste. So we’re thrilled that they chose Milwaukee as a runner-up for “Destination-Worthy Old-School Bar Scene” in the magazine’s inaugural Good Taste Awards. And sharing a category with Dublin, Ireland and Budapest, Hungary means we’re in great company. Obviously these readers know all about Milwaukee’s great bar history, but do you?
Milwaukee’s bar scene is built on a history of tied houses. In the late 19th century, breweries would form exclusive contracts with bar owners, helping them open their business for the right to be the only brew flowing from their taps. Thanks to Milwaukee’s local breweries, tied houses flourished across the city; their connection to the breweries changed after Prohibition, but some of these original corner taverns are still thriving today, many still bearing some mark of the brewery they were once “tied” to.
Raise a glass to the past in one (or more) of Milwaukee’s great historic bars. Here are just a few of the old-school bars that should be on your list:
  • Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge: First opened as a Miller Brewing tied house in 1936, in 1938 owner Bryant Sharp gave up beer in favor of cocktails, making Bryant’s Milwaukee’s first cocktail lounge. Sharp is also credited with the invention of the Pink Squirrel and the Banshee.
  • Wolski’s: Opened in 1908, Wolski’s still maintains much of the tavern’s original interior, including the back bar, but it’s best known for the infamous “I Closed Wolski’s” bumper stickers that have been spotted all around the world, from Paris to Japan.
  • Holler House: Home to the oldest certified bowling alleys in the country, this bar opened in 1908 and is still run by the original owner’s daughter-in-law. Call ahead if you want to bowl so some neighborhood kids can come be pinsetters.
  • Uptowner: Originally a Schlitz tied house, the Uptowner has been continuously operating since 1884, the longest of any bar in the city (they made it through Prohibition by serving “medicinal alcohol”).
  • Landmark 1850 Inn: Built as a stage coach stop between Milwaukee and Racine in 1850, Landmark 1850 is the oldest tavern in the city. Today it’s fully renovated, but still maintains its historic charm.
  • Historic White House Tavern: Another Schlitz tied house, this bar was founded in 1891. Today, the original wood floor, main bar and some original 1890’s décor remains in use.
Looking for more history (and drinking)? Click here for more places to experience beer history in Milwaukee. If it’s just the drinking you’re after, you can find unique bars old and new here. Cheers!