Pyramids of alcohol.
As an avid sports fan, I firmly believe that nothing goes better with a game than an ice cold beer. When said beer is $8 at the arena, I try to get my fix on cocktails at a nearby bar before the game. Those Milwaukeeans that live by the same mantra now have one more option when visiting the BMO Harris Bradley Center: the reopened historic Turner Hall Restaurant (1034 N. 4th St.).
My friend Cat and I recently tested the waters before a Bucks game one Friday evening. After finding a parking spot on the street a couple blocks away, we made our way into the building and up the grand staircase. The large wrap-around bar is a focal point in the restaurant as it separates two sides of the dining room. Floating above the large island in the middle of the service area are four televisions, one pointed in each direction to provide every seat a great view for watching games.
We sat down at the bar shortly after 5 p.m. and joined five or so others. A female bartender approached and asked what she could get us. I asked to see a menu.
In addition to a ridiculously stocked bar, the drink menu includes specialty cocktails, domestic and imported bottles, draught beer and wine by the glass and bottle. For $8 you can order a specialty cocktail such as the Supper Club Sidecar, Classic Cosmo or the Apple Crisp made with Captain Morgan, Goldschlager, Apple Cider and a dash of nutmeg.
If you’re interested in grabbing a beer before a game, you’ll have many to choose from. The beer selection includes staples like Miller Lite, PBR and Heineken, and also includes offerings from around the state such as O’so Brewing Company’s The Big O and Night Train, Ale Asylum’s Ambergeddon and a handful of beers from Lakefront and Sprecher.
The female bartender never returned, but after we closed our menus a male bartender approached us to take our orders.
The Old Fashioned.
When I inquired about the $5 Old Fashioned cocktail special that was promoted on the restaurant’s Facebook page I received a blank stare. After explaining where I saw the special, the bartender said he’d be back. Over the bottles stacked on the middle island, I could see him talking with the manager, and to my pocketbook's delight, a few minutes later he came back and asked if I wanted whiskey or brandy.
I don’t blame the bartender for not knowing about the special, but if management is going to put it on Facebook, they better communicate with the staff.
As we waited for our drinks (Cat opted for a Key Lime martini), we looked around at the revamped space. The interior has been brightened up significantly with the help of lighter floors and wood work, but the panoramic murals painted by German artists are still in place. On my visit, the overall lighting in the bar was eerily similar to the lights that go on at bar time. Since then, I've heard the lights have been dimmed a bit.
The bartender dropped off my Old Fashioned in a rocks glass, topped it with a cherry and mumbled “try it out and see what happens.” I sensed a bit of nervousness as he watched me take my first sip, but he had no reason to worry.
Made with the house whiskey, Old Thompson, the mixture of whiskey, sugar, bitters, simple syrup and water was perfect. It was so perfect, in fact, that I even ate the cherry at the bottom to get every last drop of deliciousness. And this was only my third time eating a cherry.
As more people amassed at Turner Hall in advance of the Bucks game, the three bartenders had their work cut out for them. There was only one logical thing we could do as we waited to order: people watch.
On a game night, it’s safe to say you’ll see just about every walk of life bellied up to the bar – business men and women, frat boys, housewives with questionable '80s hair, and on this particular evening even cheerleaders for the local roller derby team. Turner Hall Restaurant could be the melting pot of Milwaukee.
The Moscow Mule.
For our next round, Cat chose the house merlot ($5) and I opted to try the Milwaukee Moscow Mule ($8) made with Great Lakes Distillery’s Rehorst Vodka. When we inquired if a copper mug would be making an appearance (as is standard for the Moscow Mule), the bartender smirked and said, “a cute copper mug doesn’t make it taste any better.” Fair enough.
But the Moscow Mule with local flare was a solid cocktail, even if it didn’t come in a cute mug.
According to Cat, the $5 house merlot was “decent,” which I’ll take as a positive coming from a wine lover who has visited more vineyards in the U.S. and abroad than anyone I know.
My first experience at the revamped Turner Hall Restaurant made my decision on where to meet before this Tuesday’s Bucks game an easy one. Yes, you might experience a few hiccups and a wait during peak times, but it should be a welcomed addition to your pre- or post-game festivities.
For more information on Turner Hall Restaurant visit TurnerHallRestaurant.com, and pick up the February edition of Milwaukee Magazine to read Ann Christenson’s dining review.