The Milwaukee-adjacent village of Cudahy isn’t exactly renowned for its bar scene. The small, no frills, industrial locale is better known for its lunch meat than its libations, for its forging more than its fun hangouts. Sure, a handful of drinking establishments dot the landscape — many of which open at 6 a.m. to accommodate third shift workers — but few offer the amenities of its burly neighbor to the north. While the opening of The Salty Dog (3479 E. Plankinton Ave.) last August hasn’t exactly changed the region’s reputation, it has brought a unique and carefree corner pub to the Cudahy-St. Francis border.
Between the wintry conditions and the building standing in the imposing foreground of the Patrick Cudahy meat plant with its smokestacks billowing with plumes of smoke from who knows what, The Salty Dog’s exterior proved less than inviting when my girlfriend and I decided to pay the bar our inaugural visit on a recent Sunday evening. Any early exterior apprehensions were quickly dispelled upon entering the spacious, well kept confines. It was so well kept, in fact, that our arrival caused the bartender, Rob, to stop vacuuming the carpet to welcome us.
Discovering the bar opened at 5 p.m. on Sundays, and not the 3 p.m. time listed online, we were the first customers of the night. As we eyed the sign describing the daily drink specials, Rob informed us of the new, not-yet-listed Sunday special (in addition to the $6 bloody Mary deal), a domestic $5 pitcher — either Miller Lite or Rolling Rock. While far-from-exotic, a $5 pitcher is pretty tough to pass up. Other days, The Salty Dog boasts a distinctly Midwestern weekly happy hour special that utilizes pull tabs to save customers up to 90 percent on the bar’s already cheap prices. A myriad of other uncommon late night specials, such as $25 All-You-Can-Drink (Thursday) and $2 domestic tap and bottles on Saturdays incentivize things most evenings as well.
But this being Sunday, we opted for the Miller Lite pitcher and took advantage of our run of the joint by trying the bar games. The Salty Dog is rife with tavern entertainment including two pool tables, a pair of futuristic league-caliber dart boards, a beer pong table, a “Beer-Ball” game (think Skee-Ball, with the word “Beer” substituted for “Skee”) and a Big Buck Hunter game.
As we made slow work of our pitcher and shot a few games of darts and billiards respectively, I suddenly took note of an unfamiliar parlor game affixed to a beam.
The game consisted of a board emblazoned with the words “Bimini Game” with a hook, and a nearby brass ring tied to a piece of string attached to a wood beam. Recalling The Salty Dog’s bold declaration of “Metro Milwaukee’s Premier Bimini Bar” on its sign that we disregarded initially, I consulted the website also written on the board to get a scope of the rules.
Apparently brought to the Caribbean and Florida by wealthy, predominately British vacationers, the unorthodox horseshoes-meets-ring toss game was entirely unique to our region before The Salty Dog brought it here. And they seem committed, as three additional boards hang outside, to be uncovered come spring.
While we attempted an abbreviated game of Bimini, Rob took time away from tending to the (now) two other patrons to see if we grasped the game. As he observed a swing, he noticed something was amiss and took the time to extend the string to make ringers possible. Rob’s check-in also came just as our pitcher dwindled to mere drops. I inquired about signature Salty Dog house specialties, and was enthusiastically told about The Voodoo Bucket ($10).
I was won over at “bucket,” so I asked the resident witch doctor (Rob) to perform his voodoo magic. We watched as he filled a miniature sand pail with a variety of flavored Cruzan Rum shots —five in all!— along with rich mango nectar, orange and cranberry juices, and fruit garnishes of cherries and orange slices. Friday nights, one of these (or another bucket type) can be had for an astonishing $5. We found ours to be as delicious as it was potent. And we found our dart trajectory changed with each sip of the sweet-yet-volatile island concoction.
Another Salty Dog specialty seems to be its frozen pizza selection. With nine options in all and two ovens cooking atop a wing added to the interior end of the bar, it was tough to resist tacking a ‘za to our tab. Somehow we resisted… this time.
While we came too early to see it in its glory, Rob told a customer The Salty Dog usually picks up later at night when the second shift workers clock out. Once more people catch on to The Salty Dog’s affordable, tasty and potent drinks, complemented with a friendly staff, clean interior and numerous games—including bimini— there probably aren’t too many more lazy Sundays in this Cudahy gem’s future.