The bar and drinking culture is Milwaukee is so open – there’s an on-campus bar at UW-Milwaukee, for instance – that making believe like an evening out is something illicit and verboten can occasionally be a fun reprieve. Here are four recommended Milwaukee nightspots to visit if you’d like to throw back to the days of moralistic government overreach, the rise of violent organized crime and often-tainted homemade booze… you know, the good ol’ days.
779 N Front St
The speakeasy experience pretty much ends when you get settled inside this long-time spy-themed bar and grille, but getting inside of The Safe House – for those not “in the know” – will require the same kind of quick thinking and charm that many “speaks” required back in the 1920s. The first challenge is finding the place, marked only by a red door down an unassuming alleyway. Go through the door and you’ll find a person in a small room who only wants to know one thing: What’s the password?
218 N Water St
A recent addition to the bar scene overtly meant to mimic a Prohibition-era rum role, Bugsy’s can also be found down an alleyway, or accessed through the fully-operational “front” Gouda’s Italian Deli on Water Street. The place plays the theme up at every turn, complete with custom cocktails and dancing flappers — although the “This way to Speakeasy” sign on the door does seem a bit historically suspect!
2501 S Delaware Ave (At Random); 1579 S Ninth St (Bryant’s)
If you want your speakeasy vibe the natural way, try either of these classic cocktails lounges (which have interesting intertwining histories). With low lighting, carefully-crafted drinks and a low-key approach, both of these cocktail bars embody the kind of “take it or leave it” attitude that came with running a bar in defiance of the law. By bucking the trends and staying out of the way, these places will take you to another time. You might not feel like you’re breaking the law, but you’ll definitely feel something.