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Trying to find a bar with beer in this city is like trying to find rocks on the moon. They’re everywhere. But, like so many things, all bars are not created equal. And some are so much better when it comes to beer. Sugar Maple (441 E Lincoln Ave.) is such a place. Having grown […]

Trying to find a bar with beer in this city is like trying to find rocks on the moon. They’re everywhere. But, like so many things, all bars are not created equal. And some are so much better when it comes to beer.

Sugar Maple (441 E Lincoln Ave.) is such a place. Having grown up in Wisconsin means having grown up on beer, so I know a thing or two when it comes to this expansive subject. What makes Maple such a great place lies in the details of this drink.

First, the bartenders are schooled in beer. They don’t just like it, they know it intimately. So many times bartenders take for granted their job, thinking they can just mix a few cocktails and pour a few beers, without ever knowing what makes certain drinks special, and what doesn’t. At Maple, they truly know what makes certain beers work and what customers will like based on previous beer tastes. All you need to do is ask for a suggestion, and the tasting begins.

The second reason, and one that is almost as important as the first, in so much as it makes the bar so unique, is the glasses they use. Most bars use one or two of a three-glass gamut. There’s the regular pint glass, usually accompanied by Guinness, or specialty beers. Then there’s the Weizen glass, a tall 16oz glass with a narrow bottom and wide top, most commonly used for pilsner beers at chain restaurants, even though it isn’t meant for pilsner. The final one, and the most common, is the regular, straight up, no flare, honest piece of glass that most bars serve their tap beer in. I’m not arguing that these last glasses are low-scale and no one should drink beer out of them, but there is something left wanting when beer is served this way. On the opposite side though, I’d drink good beer out of a wet shoe if that’s all I had to use. But when you order a good beer, like a Sierra Nevada Grand Cru, and they serve it up in a goblet made for that kind of beer, it’s fantastic. And equally incredible is finding a bar where the bartender not only knows enough to pour it in that glass, but where they also have that glass behind the bar.

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A lot of people are put off by “fancy” glassware, seeing it as pretentious. But why is it pretentious to drink a good Belgian beer out of a tulip glass, but if someone pours a glass of wine in anything other than a wine glass, it gets dirty looks and most often sent back?

Maple tops the charts for one of the best beer bars in Milwaukee because of the beer it has on tap, an expansive list of more than 60. The best part is that I couldn’t find Miller Light, Michelob Light, Pabst, Bud Light, nothing of the sort, which is a rare thing in Milwaukee.

Now, I realize that everyone has different tastes; beer selection is, like most things, relative to the drinker. But I honestly have a hard time wrapping my mind around the gravitational pull, the steady consumer consumption of some of these beers, like Michelob and Bud. They taste more like beer flavored water than beer, and they’re all almost exclusively the same. I realize the reason for this taste goes back many years. The major beer companies that exist today and the general flavor of beer among them was born out of cutbacks during the World Wars and Prohibition. But is that a reason to continue to drink them? Maybe. And who am I to say what people should like?

But with so much good beer out in the world, why not open up and taste something incredible? And if this is enough to push you over the edge from drinking Old Swill to trying a heady IPA, the bartenders at Sugar Maple do a great job of sorting through the initial bottle shock of the beer world, offering up not only great glasses but great suggestions as well.

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Sugar Maple’s (441 E. Lincoln Ave.) façade has a protruding sign with a helicopter leaf logo that made me smile. We walked into a spacious and contemporary atmosphere. The place felt much larger and more modern than its exterior alluded to. The long, beautifully curved bar is the main attraction while coffee tables, chairs and […]

Sugar Maple’s (441 E. Lincoln Ave.) façade has a protruding sign with a helicopter leaf logo that made me smile. We walked into a spacious and contemporary atmosphere. The place felt much larger and more modern than its exterior alluded to. The long, beautifully curved bar is the main attraction while coffee tables, chairs and a few couches fill the rest of the space. Plus, the establishment is smoke-free, which is refreshing and appealing for many. The artwork is bold and colorful, but I’d love to see more. My favorite is the life cycle of a bird in a windowpane behind the bar. The six-part piece takes the viewer from a fetus-like egg to the bird’s stark, skeletal end — probably not the most encouraging image to focus on after a few strong brews.


Beer taps. Photo by Carly  Rubach.The tap beer lists are scattered about the bar and note the selection of 60 American craft beers. Taps range between $4-6, but most are under $5. My two favorites that we tried were the O’So Night Train Oatmeal Porter out of Plover, Wis., and the Flying Dog Raging Bitch 20th Anniversary Belgian Style IPA out of Maine. Both had unique flavors. If you’re looking to taste a variety, Sugar Maple offers four 5 oz. beer samples for $10. Or heck, have a cocktail. Their liquor selection is just as impressive as the taps.


Our bartender was always ready to pour and joke with us. We asked how long she’d been there, “About a month, but I’ve been drinking here for longer,” she laughs and rethinks her answer. “It gets a little muddled.” The other bartender of the evening was co-owner, Adrienne Pierluissi (same owners as Palm Tavern). Her husband and co-owner, Bruno Johnson, was manning the door to the separate, live music room, which was host to a jazz duo for the evening. We poked our heads in. “Sounds squeaky,” my companion said, cleverly critiquing the reeds player with his technical knowledge.

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The music room has an eclectic arrangement of chairs, including a church pew along one wall. The space is intimate and fills up pretty quickly, so get in early if you want a good seat for some jazzy foot tapping.


We left the bar with one regret: We weren’t able to play a game of mini-ping pong on the table just outside the back room. Respectfully, we were told the ping would be too loud for the quiet jazz show. We’ll be back though. Beer sessions are also hosted at Sugar Maple where you can taste and learn about brews, which are paired with cheeses and other snacks. The next session is at the end of this month. I’ll keep you posted. Check in on the MySpace for more details.


In other exciting news, officials just announced the creation of a new modern rock festival for the summer and a corresponding name-picking contest. Vote now!


Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
1579 S. Ninth St.
Mondays
Bryant’s second-floor lounge turns into a Speakeasy on Monday nights from 8 p.m.-midnight, hosted by Bittercube. Check out the link for more details.


Also at Bryant’s:
Thursday, Jan. 21
The Sporting Fraternity
Advanced tickets are required for this event with limited seating, so act accordingly. Seatings are at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. Tickets are $35 and include three cocktails, coffee and light appetizers made by National Café — also a wonderful place. Don’t miss this!


Cactus Club
2496 S. Wentworth Ave.
Friday, Jan. 22
10 p.m.
Red Knife Lottery, Bosio, Hail Archer


Apartment 720
720 N. Milwaukee St.
Friday, Jan. 22
Patrick Kolz hosts this Friday night with special guest DJ Ginger Kid. Specials include $5 tall Three Olive grape and cherry mixers and $100 bottles.

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Benno’s Genuine Bar & Grill
7413 W. Greenfield Ave.
Mondays
$1 off all taps, and three sliders for $3.


Rustico Pizzeria
223 N. Water St.
Mondays
I’m excited about this one. From 9 p.m.-close, take advantage of $1 slice night.


Blackbird
3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Tuesdays
Blackbird offers one of my new favorite happy hour specials: Free tacos from Hector’s, 4-8 p.m., or until supplies last. Also, $4 margaritas and $2 Pacifico and Corona.


Café Lulu
2265 S. Howell Ave.
Wino Wednesdays
Every Wednesday starting at 5 p.m., enjoy $10 off bottles of wine.


Polish Falcon’s Nest 725
801 E. Clarke St.
Wednesdays
Open Bowl on the oldest lanes in town. And it only costs $3.25 a game plus $1 for shoes.


Decibel
1905 North Ave.
Thursdays
Hey ladies! Free drinks until midnight. Everyone else pays $3 for Stoli drinks. Not bad. No cover.


Hi-Hat Lounge & Garage
1701 N. Arlington Pl.
Thursdays
Ladies Night: DJs Kid Cut Up and Steve Marxx. Two complimentary drinks for the ladies.


Kenadee’s Ultra Pub
718 N. Milwaukee St.
Fridays
Bitch Pleeze Fridays: Ladies drink free mixers every Friday from 10 p.m.-midnight. Kenny Perez provides the music. No cover. No dress code.


Brocach Irish Pub and Restaurant
1850 N. Water St.
Monday-Friday
From 3:30 to 6 p.m., try happy hour: half off all top-shelf Irish and scotch whiskies. 20 oz. pint of Guinness and shot of Powers for $6.25. $5 wines by the glass.

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