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There are bars located in Wisconsin, and then there are Wisconsin bars. What’s the difference you might ask? Let’s just say that the Wisconsin bars let their Wisconsin all hang out, proudly. Blackbird Bar, located at 3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View, most certainly falls into the latter category. It’s safe to say that […]

There are bars located in Wisconsin, and then there are Wisconsin bars. What’s the difference you might ask? Let’s just say that the Wisconsin bars let their Wisconsin all hang out, proudly. Blackbird Bar, located at 3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View, most certainly falls into the latter category.

It’s safe to say that most bars in the Greater Milwaukee area pay tribute to Wisconsin breweries, old and new, but Blackbird Bar takes the cake. The interior of the bar is filled with more Blatz, Schlitz and Pabst memorabilia than any bar my eyes have ever beheld. Yet let us not forget the enormous map of Wisconsin that hangs in the front of the bar on the right-hand side—which details where each of the state’s breweries are located—the giant, painted, wooden wall art of the Wisconsin state emblem or the murals of Wisconsin state birds on the golden hued walls of the back room, too.

And the Wisco pride doesn’t stop at the décor. Their beer list is actually called “Blackbird’s Wisconsin Beer List,” and it’s separated by city—18 different Wisconsin cities, in fact. Little did I know that there were craft brewers in, say, Glendale or West Bend. (I do feel compelled to mention that there is a teeny tiny section with three categories: “The Others & NA,” “$2 Madness!” and “Non-Wisconsin.” But like I said, teeny tiny.)

As the clock almost struck midnight on a balmy Monday night, or should I say Tuesday morning, I found myself at Blackbird’s door after work. Given the day of the week, I didn’t expect there to be more than one or two other people besides the bartender and myself inside. Boy was I wrong. I counted at least 20 others before I gave up, all the while thinking that there must really be something special to this place.

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I made my way to the end of the bar where I had to wait but a single second before the bartender was ready and waiting to serve me. Heeding her advice, if you’re going to do it up specialty drink-style here, it has got to be the Moscow Mule. Served up in a traditional copper mug with plenty of ice, this remains to be one of the most simple and refreshing cocktails—a little bit of vodka, limejuice and ginger beer go a long way. What really made an impression on me, though, was the bartender’s sincere, friendly personality, given she even came to check on me later to see how I was liking the drink.

Saddling up to a small table with bar-style seating, I settled in to try and figure out what it is that gives this bar its je ne sais quoi. The colors of the walls are bold but comforting: a deep teal in front, a burnt, pumpkin orange in the middle and a golden yellow in back. There are large circle and half-circle booths both in front and back, which add to the inviting ambiance, like you should be here with a group of your closest friends, trying to squeeze everyone in one booth, so you’re sitting nice and close.

Mixed in with the plethora of brewery knick knacks and wall art are all sorts of “Up North”-themed pieces: a mounted antler set here, a taxidermy deer and squirrel there, a few paintings of forest scenes and wood accents throughout. And for the child in all of this, there are not only pinball machines and a photo booth, but also every type of board game you could possibly ask for lying around the bar. There’s Battleship for the fighter in us all, Pictionary for our inner artist, Apples to Apples for your wit and way with words. (A couple of individuals in the front corner booth were even playing a game that seemed to require you getting spanked with a wooden paddle occasionally… I didn’t ask questions.)

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Add it all up, and you’ve got yourself a warm and welcoming bar—the type of bar people want to come and stay awhile, no matter what night of the week it is. Blackbird’s emphasis is on local, a quality that many a Wisconsinite values highly. Maybe it’s something in the water, but maybe it’s that the Midwestern ideals instilled in all of us never really go away. We’re friendly folk, and we’re driven to help those around us. Blackbird is turning around and doing the same thing, but for small Wisconsin breweries, showing its appreciation for what good, quality work people are doing here in our very own state. No wonder this place feels like home.

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By Ryan Litsheim Sometimes we as a culture get hold of a word we like, and then with no regard to its true meaning, we paint the walls with its richness, rendering it ubiquitous and less significant. “Unassuming” is one of those words. But I can’t think of a more appropriate term to use when […]

By Ryan Litsheim


Sometimes we as a culture get hold of a word we like, and then with no regard to its true meaning, we paint the walls with its richness, rendering it ubiquitous and less significant. “Unassuming” is one of those words. But I can’t think of a more appropriate term to use when describing one of my favorite drinking spots in the city, Bay View’s Blackbird Bar. It’s unassuming.

Located near Kinnickinnic Avenue and Rusk, at what might best be described as the ankle to the neighborhood’s beating heart, Blackbird is a bar that you probably wouldn’t see unless you were looking for it. Immediately upon entering the storefront entrance however, it becomes obvious that it’s a place worth searching for. The interior is decorated with a mix of the vintage, the quirky, the artistic and the genuine. Pinball machines abut an antique photo booth, pictures from which cover the wall behind the bar with faces of regular visitors.

On my last visit, I walked in while Pulp’s song “Common People” was playing on the jukebox. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me, as I noticed that the folks already inside seemed like a fairly accurate representation of the people in the area. There were neighborhood guys having drinks after work, as well as Bay View’s usual cast of hip kids looking to be seen.

The daily happy hour special was still in effect when I sat down to order. I could have enjoyed a two dollar domestic tap or two-for-one rail, but instead decided to try one of Blackbird’s signature Moscow Mules. The bartender made the drink the traditional way. She used ginger beer instead of the more common ginger ale. When poured into the copper mule mugs, and because the humidity in the room was just right, a shell of ice formed on the outside of the cup. It seemed like the perfect drink for a summer day, though in reality it’s likely the perfect drink for any kind of day. I concluded the evening by playing a decidedly amateurish round of pinball under the steely gaze of Clint Eastwood (as painted on black velvet.)

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I walked away that night feeling like I hadn’t wasted an evening. I’d be a much happier man if that was a typical reaction to my time in taverns. Blackbird Bar is a place that cherishes the familiar traditions of the neighborhood bar, while at the same time catering to the wants and needs of a truly diverse group of patrons. If you’re not against a little bit of searching, a trip to this fantastically unassuming Milwaukee Bar is highly recommended.

About the Author
I’m a 2007 graduate of the UW-Whitewater where I received my B.A. in Journalism. Since then I’ve been working in advertising and graphic design with various clients throughout the area.

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Bar Time Contest entry #1: Art Bar
Bar Time Contest entry #2: The Iron Horse

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