4 Can’t-Miss Milwaukee Clubs

Local venues are gearing up for the return of live performances. Don’t miss the celebration!

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1.

WHEN YOU WANT TO CONVINCE A DATE YOU’RE COOL

Cactus Club

Owner Kelsey Kaufmann proved quick on her feet last year, reinventing the venerable Bay View club’s business model: eschewing indoor service for patio seating and carryout growlers, streaming live performances and launching an eclectic web store that featured everything from shirts, hats and patches to jigsaw puzzles and even an opportunity to book a night’s stay in the venue’s renovated green room. The bar reopens its pastel green doors on June 1 and will cater a lineup of film screenings, DJ sets, pop-up markets and literary events. Indoor live music makes its long-awaited comeback in July. 

LOCATION: 2496 S. Wentworth Ave.

 

 



 
 
2.

WHEN YOU’D RATHER BE AT A FRIEND’S HOUSE PARTY

Bremen Cafe

This Riverwest “cafe,” which is more dive bar than coffee or sandwich spot, feels like a microcosm of its bohemian community. More refined spots can be found nearby, but there’s no better place to meet up with old friends or encounter friendly new faces.  With three distinct rooms and two separate doors to come and go, the place is in constant motion. One of the rooms features a stage for live music, a new-ish addition to the ever-evolving interior. You won’t find the biggest acts in the city playing the stage, but if you want a true impression of the neighborhood, there’s no better place to catch a show. And live music is thankfully returning to the venue this month.

LOCATION: 901 E. Clarke St.



 
 
3.

WHEN YOU WANT TO CHANNEL YOUR INNER CHILD (OR ANGST-RIDDEN ADOLESCENT)

X-Ray Arcade

A teenage dream come to life, this Cudahy bar boasts ’90s arcade games, sweat-drenched punk rock shows, and to eat – what else but pizza bagels. The all ages-venue, which was opened in 2019 by a group of investors led by Direct Hit! frontman Nick Woods, spent the winter selling recorded concerts as digital downloads and dishing ’za. Now that the weather has turned, the spacious, wooded back patio is once again hosting DJs, solo sets and smaller bands. The volume will turn up when concerts fill the indoor stage later this summer.

LOCATION: 5036 S. Packard Ave., Cudahy

Conan Neutron And The Secret Friends (Photo by Joe Kirchling)



 
 
4.

WHEN YOU CARE AS MUCH ABOUT THE AMBIENCE AS THE MUSIC

Linneman’s Riverwest Inn

Perhaps no other Milwaukee music venue is more respected by local singer-songwriters than this historic corner tavern in Riverwest. Indeed, it’s the Wednesday open mic night where many got their start. Naturally, providing a space for musicians to play didn’t stop during the shutdown. Linneman’s was one of the first clubs to pivot to streaming performances when the bar closed. Nowadays, you have the option to see shows in person or online. Unfortunately, the internet cannot replicate the Old World charm that imbues the walls and furnishings. That, you have to see yourself.

LOCATION: 1001 E. Locust St.


Polka Fever

Forró Fo Sho plays Milwaukee Polka Fest (Photo courtesy of V’Ron via Flickr)

“LET’S THROW A PARTY,” says Andy Kochanski, who self-describes Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall (1920 S. 37th St.) as the biggest beer garden in Milwaukee (excluding the county parks, of course). The inside portion, which features an impressive selection of Polish beers and a Bonzini foosball table, remains open for a Wednesday polka jam. However, with the arrival of seasonable weather, the big party atmosphere returns, as the brick patio will once again emanate with the sounds of accordions, concertinas and the jovial revelry and dancing that naturally comes with traditional polka music on warm sunny days.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s June issue.

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Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.