Nestled into a residential stretch of Kinnickinnic Avenue, there is a place where few venture in unless otherwise previously told of its exact location—and it happens to be one of the best beer bars in the city. Truth be told, there’s no way I would’ve easily found The Palm Tavern if not for warnings given by friends and fellow craft beer lovers. One friend even told me he drove past the bar three times before and, on his fourth time around, someone stood outside and waved him in. With the exterior so noticeably lacking of any detail that would help distinguish it from the houses nearby, the anticipation for what must lie inside The Palm’s walls is a driving factor in taking those first steps toward its door.
One foot in and The Palm feels like you’ve stepped into the warm, cozy living room of a friend (albeit that of a friend with a highly impressive beer and liquor selection). Deep red paint covers the top half of the walls, save for roughly a foot of mint green trim around the perimeter, while black metal covering adorns the bottom half. The lights are kept down low, which keeps you guessing at the intricacies of each piece of artwork, drawing you over to look at each one closer. Homey touches, like decorative pillows on the bench-style seating and a floor lamp in one corner, set the tone for a comfortable, quiet environment for which to partake of at least one drink carefully chosen from The Palm’s binder.
Yes, I said binder. Their drink menu is literally a binder. The binder is eight, double-sided pages separated by beer or liquor type at the top, from Big Belgian and Belgian Style Beers and European and World Bottled Beers to American Bourbon and Whiskey and Single Malt Scotch. Most pages are broken down for specificity’s sake, like the second Belgian Bottled Beers page including subheadings for Trappist Ales and Lambics-Guez, which excited my palate given my particular fondness for lambics (or what I like to call “adult fruit juice”).
On a blustery Thursday evening during Happy Hour, my beer-drinking companion for the night and I stepped into The Palm, located at 2989 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., to be but two of four people total in the establishment, bartender included. The bartender greeted us cordially as we sat down and settled in, simultaneously handing us said beer bibles, I mean, binders. Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of choices, I never ordered anything past the front cover of the menu, but given that that page holds all 25 different craft beer choices on tap, there was plenty to peruse.
For tasting purposes, I decided upon their option to get four six-ounce samples of any tap ($12): Éphémère Golden Apple Ale, New Belgium Lips of Faith Cocoa Mole, Scaldis Pêche Mel and Cuvée des Jacobins Flanders Sour Red Ale. (Of the four, the Cocoa Mole certainly wins out as my favorite of the bunch with its thick, dark sweetness and cocoa powder taste and finish.) The Golden Apple Ale and Pêche Mel I chose based solely on my aforementioned love of lambics and all other fruity tasting beers, whereas the Cocoa Mole was more founded in my acquiring of taste for dark, sweet beers over the past year.
I was undecided about what to choose as my last sample, so I asked the bartender what she recommended. She quickly suggested the Sour Red Ale and began to explain the unique brewing process for and taste of sour ales entirely unprompted, yet more than welcomed. (Balsamic dressing, seriously. Dead on.) Her beer and brewing knowledge was well-founded and quite helpful, two things absolutely necessary to be working in a beer bar like The Palm or its sister bar, The Sugar Maple, located at 441 E. Lincoln Ave.
Drawing comparisons between the two bars comes easily, from the jaw-dropping number and quality of the craft beer selection on tap and bottled to the laidback, hip-without-trying-to-be environment. Truthfully, it simply makes sense that these bars are “related.” Yet it feels unfair to the uniqueness of each to group them together as a lump sum or single entity. For instance, The Sugar Maple is ten times the size of The Palm, and though some say size doesn’t matter, in this case, it does, and I mean that in a good way. The size of each of the two bars plays a significant role in the vibe each gives off—and their respective noise levels.
Both, however, are well worthy of praise, because without these two bars (and a few others like them) where oh where would I go to feel my heart swell at the sight of Milwaukeeans appreciating regional, national and international craft beers instead of absentmindedly swilling Miller Lite due to sheer convenience? The world may never know. All I can hope for is that The Palm keeps doing exactly what they’re doing right now, maintaining a funky yet well decorated, relaxing and welcoming space with a magnificent drink menu binder—all while flying slightly under the radar.