There is no drink menu at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge (1579 S. Ninth St.), which my editors saw as a challenge. The bartenders are known for asking patrons how they’re feeling and then crafting a cocktail based on the response. So my assignment was to give the Bryant’s barkeeps off-the-wall emotions, and record – with my stomach – the results.
On a recent Sunday night, our barkeep gives my wife and me the psychoanalysis-via-alcohol opening spiel. I’m first up, and I use The Cure for inspiration. “I feel like the spiderman is having me for dinner tonight,” I tell Max Raasch. He turns to my lovely bride, and after a long, long day with our boys, she says, “I feel like I’m at the bottom of a diaper bin.” After a few tugs on his beard and some thoughtful collaboration with his barback, Erik Chandler, Raasch places down two gorgeous concoctions. For her: Love & Happiness, a gin, cucumber and elderflower formulation culled from the Rolodex that serves as a guidepost for many of Bryant’s 400-plus drinks. For me, “something I’ve been riffing on,” says Raasch. I’m catching lightning in a bottle as the cocktail hasn’t been christened, but he does tell me rum, lime and Angostura bitters play a prominent role.
Having crawled through the gossamer web and forgetting our parental duties, we present Raasch with another challenge. “I want to feel like the Great Gatsby,” I say, and my wife takes a cue from the fish tank that rests behind the bar to announce she wants to feel like she can swim upside down. The old chap sets down a Vieux Carre (rye, Cognac, vermouth, more bitters) for me and goes with a Dogfish (“What does tricks? Dogs.”), an alcohol-forward potion that also stars rye for her.
After this second round, we’re feeling no pain. About the only thing we do feel is that we could use a ride home. But we promise to visit again, as we’ve barely made a dent in the malleable list of concoctions that Bryant’s has collected since the 1940s. And there are so many more personality traits left to “reveal.”
This article appears in the 2014 City Guide in the June 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.