It doesn’t look like a whole lot on a map, or even driving by, but the cluster of buildings to the east of the still-shiny Fiserv Forum is a cavernous arcade (the Greek kind) of sports, sports bars, Milwaukee references, enormous televisions, and the tireless pursuit of having fun around high-top tables.
With the old Fourth Street closed down to make more event space, including watching parties for the playoffs, the Deer District really does feel like a district. It claims to be a “non-smoking neighborhood,” but we’d need a good lawyer or lobbyist to evaluate how enforceable that is.
333 W. Juneau Ave.
There ain’t much smoking in Deer land, but there sure is a lot of beer. Good City exemplifies a great thing about this land in that a number of locals ponied up serious investment cash. The kitchen serves pub food, including a mac’n’cheese sandwich on pretzel bread, big traditional pretzels and pizzas fired in a big hearth oven.
Like most places in Fiserv Forum’s shadow, there is a lot of seating, some of which is event space. Some smaller scale, experimental brewing is done here, and the alcohol-heavy barleywine BFG is currently on tap.
1134 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave.
This place is built around a towering TV screen (oh, 42 feet wide) the way a theater surrounds a stage, and the great-sounding sound system was not cheap. The Mecca is big on its special wings, no surprise, and buttermilk fried chicken. The Mecca Burger is two smashed beef brisket patties, garlic dijonnaise, pickled red onion, arugula, sharp cheddar and a sesame seed bun. No word yet on who controls the Very Big Remote, or if there is one.
1122 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave.
Dave & Busters for adults, the new Punch Bowl Social location in Milwaukee is a whirlwind of quality cocktails, bowling, vintage arcade games, shuffleboard, “private karaoke,” giant Scrabble and very large Uno. The food leans in the direction of shareable plates, fried chicken and waffles, tacos and burgers, and you’ll have to decide if you want to eat before or after recreation. Kids are welcome, too, but they’re not so much the target audience.
1133 N. Old World 3rd St.
Run by the same people who operate The Beer Garden around the corner, which serves as The Mecca’s back patio. You’ll find a nice number of local beer taps and another gigantic television.
320 W. Highland Ave.
More than any other joint in the district, this one feels immediately homey and familiar, which is the idea. It’s also the only one without acres of seating, if you prefer intimacy. On a recent afternoon, they were serving Bubbler Old Fashioned out of a water fountain/bubbler spigot.
6) Fiserv Forum
1111 Vel R. Phillips Ave.
Now that pesky basketball is over, Fiserv can get down to rock ‘n’ roll and bloody Mary festivals. The New Kids on the Block are coming on June 12, and also look for events at the Panorama Club, a curvaceous, smaller area that looks like the entertainment deck on the Starship Enterprise.
550 W. Juneau St.
No new Downtown district would be complete without some luxury apartments, and Five Fifty’s are pretty darn luxurious. The skywalk to the arena would be terrific for season ticket holders, and a rooftop terrace is convenient for relaxing after the game. Construction is still getting its final touches, but you can already look at and lease units.