Sun: down. Party: on. Our definitive guide to where to go for late-night libations, music, grooving and protesting. Yes, protesting. Plus a bunch of other things worth doing post-dusk.
Try Something New
Hot Water Wherehouse
These two different venues under one roof are situated on a nondescript corner. If you’re looking to learn or practice Latin dance – without feeling awkward – professional instructors offer free tango lessons at 6 p.m. and salsa lessons at 9 p.m. Thursday, each before open dance starts. No partner? No problem: With dancers of all ages and ethnicities on hand, you’re sure to find one to suit your taste. 818 S. Water St.
If You Have Two Left Feet
Kochanski’s Concertina Bar
This family-owned live music venue has been a hidden gem for over 40 years. No need to be Polish to enjoy the open polka jams every Wednesday night. In between tunes, enjoy a refreshing Polish beer. 1920 S. 37th St.
Girls’ Night Out
Yes, there is an actual cage that you can dance in at this gay (but everybody’s invited) dance palace, and everyone should try it at least once. Avoid the throngs of bachelorette parties on Saturday night and hit the multi-level dance floor on Thursday to see professional male dancers from Chicago and Milwaukee, along with a rotating mix of DJs. 801 S. 2nd St.
The Place to Be Seen
If going out means going all out, check out Lucid on a Saturday night. Dress to impress, reserve a suite, order bottle service, and get down to one of the many touring DJs that passes through. Bonus – everyone looks good under the colored LED lights. 729 N. Milwaukee St.
A Riverwest institution since 1990, Mad Planet might look like your grandma’s basement, but the Retro Dance Party is a must-do Milwaukee experience. It starts Friday nights at 9 p.m., but the dance floor doesn’t really heat up until 11 p.m. 533 E. Center St.
Throwback Dance Party
The people watching is almost as fun as the dancing at Victor’s on Friday nights, plus the space itself looks like a set from Pulp Fiction. Throwback tunes permeate the dimly lit bar and beckon patrons, young and old, to shake their groove thang. The wildly cheap drink specials also help keep the place packed. 1230 N. Van Buren St.
Esoteric & Intellectual
Party at the Museum
MAM After DARK
Rub elbows with millennials during this monthly event at the Milwaukee Art Museum ($12 at the door, $10 in advance online; third Friday of each month at 8 p.m.). The evening gets into swing (and even sells out) by 10 p.m. February’s “preppy” theme means movie trivia, a Hole-in-One Challenge, and cover songs from Rod Tuffcurls & The Bench Press, a Chicago band. 700 N. Art Museum Dr.
Protest Under the Stars
Overpass Light Brigade
Armchair activist no more! At the after-dark Bridge Parties, participants hold neon letters spelling out a message over highways or in Milwaukee’s public spaces. Recently the group stood in solidarity with Standing Rock. Find details on the organization’s Facebook page.
Watch Indie Movies
UW-Milwaukee Student Union’s Union Cinema
If blockbusters aren’t your thing, check out this campus venue featuring a full-size screen and hot popcorn. Films are either free or $5 ($25 for a year’s membership). The Land (Feb. 2) and Southside With You (Feb. 9) are part of the African American Film Series, free and at 7 p.m. with a post-film chat. 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Talk Religion Hopped-Up
Jesus + Beer
At these drop-in meet-ups, religious chat and beer flow together like good neighbors. It’s even okay to disagree, says organizer Brandon Brown. Join ’em at Bernie’s Tap Room in Waukesha the second Tuesday of the month from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and the third Tuesday (same time) at Dugout 54 in Story Hill. Large groups will split into two. Bernie’s Tap Room, 351. W. Main St., Waukesha; Dugout 54, 5328 W. Bluemound Road
Boswell Book Company
At the beginning of every free author talk, Boswell Book Company owner Daniel Goldin announces, with theatrical flourish, how many days he’s been in business (now somewhere around 2,700). Upcoming events include Milwaukee native Lesley Kagen chatting about her newest read, The Mutual Admiration Society (Feb. 1), and Brit Bennett discussing her race-related, coming-of-age novel The Mothers (Feb. 6). 2559 N. Downer Ave.
Take a Star Turn
Step in front of the footlights and show off what you’ve got
Tell Your Story
Have a story that needs to be told? The Moth, the national outfit whose story slams are broadcast on NPR every week, has local events regularly. ExFabula, a local group, hosts monthly story slams that give nine storytellers, drawn from a hat, a chance to take the stage. Various downtown locations; exfabula.org, themoth.org
Make ‘Em Laugh
Recently relocated, the Comedy Cafe’s monthly open mic night is now at the mercy of the Bucks’ schedule for the sake of parking. The friendly competition gives emerging comedians a shot on stage. Performers must bring three friends so crowds get big and the audience determines the winner. 1033 N. Old World 3rd St.
Jazz It Up
Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
Get funky with pros and students at the free Jazz Jam on the second Friday of each month. It’s led by jazz faculty members, and improvisation and originality are encouraged. Open to all jazz-lovers young and old, even if you aren’t up for performing. 1584 N. Prospect Ave.
Up & Under Pub
Expect to hear mostly rock and a ringing in your ears the next morning after a night at this dingy but reputable venue with open mic night on Mondays for musicians of all genres. 1216 E. Brady St.
Train for “American Idol”
The High Note
Blink and you’ll miss it. The High Note is the only dedicated karaoke lounge in Milwaukee, offering the opportunity to sing your heart out four nights a week. The interior isn’t much, but the catalogue of songs is wide-ranging. 645 N. James Lovell St.
A long-running event for spoken word, poets and any form of creative self-expression, the monthly open mic night at UWM occurs Wednesdays and also includes one professional artist who hosts a writing workshop. Expect a multi-media, multi-sensory experience with live music and painting, too. 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
This newly opened Third Ward nightclub (formerly Oak Lounge) has already become the city’s best destination to shake your tailfeather to some electronica, hosting notable DJs like electronic duo Zeds Dead, Rhymesayers collaborator DJ Abilities and house producer Shaun Frank. The club’s lax dress code promotes acceptance and a diverse clientele – though the club skews on the younger side. Open 9 p.m.-close on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. 231 E. Buffalo St.
Look no further than the adorned walls of this venerable music venue to ascertain the history that’s passed through its intimate room. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon and White Stripes stopped at this Bay View dive before hitting it big. But the club rejects resting on its laurels. Instead, over the past year it’s bumped up its schedule to host more great rock shows during the workweek, too. 2496 S. Wentworth Ave.
Best Place for Sitdown Tunes
The Back Room @ Colectivo Coffee
Tired of standing for hours at a show or navigating through crowds to find a decent sightline? Select a seat at one of the cafe tables of this East Side landmark, enjoy a caffeinated concoction or a cocktail, and see national touring acts without the pain of sore calf muscles. 2211 N. Prospect Ave.
Best Spot to Headbang
Frank’s Power Plant
Bring the earplugs to this Kinnickinnic Avenue bar because the decibels can test human-pain-threshold levels. It’s the perfect spot to take out some aggression fueled by listening to a local, supremely sludgy heavy-metal band. 2800 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Best Local Talent
Linneman’s Riverwest Inn
Any local musician will share endless praise about owner Jim Linneman, as his tavern has been the launching point for countless area singer-songwriters. During the Wednesday open mics, you might just see another talent born. Or come on the weekend, to catch some scene veterans. 1001 E. Locust St.
Best Free Listen
Gauge the pulse of the hip Riverwest neighborhood by taking in a show at this underrated spot for live music and comedy. With no cover charge and nightly drink specials, the experience likely won’t affect your wallet, unless you can’t unclench your fingers from the controls of one of the five pinball machines. 901 E. Clarke St.
Find solace from the impending work week on the first Sunday of each month at this trendy Bay View establishment’s music alcove. 3rd Coast Blues provides an afternoon of sweet, blue-collar relief in the form of chugging guitars, wailing harmonicas and oh-so-steady rhythms. 2335 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
The Jazz Estate
This swanky, recently renovated East Side establishment captures all the comforts of a trendy supper club – slight twists on classic cocktails, a dimly lit windowless room, dressed-up servers – but rather than relish trays and copious amounts of meat, live jazz music (played Thursday and Saturday nights) is dished out for sustenance. 2423 N. Murray Ave.
I Know a Place
Off-the-beaten-path venues filled with quirky charm.
Want to be someone who happens to know super-cool, under-the-radar places? Keep this list in your wallet. Enjoy an old-school, ice cream dessert cocktail while listening to the sounds of blues, jazz and R&B at Alley Cat Lounge (2416 W. State St.), on the second floor of the Five O’Clock Steakhouse. The live music starts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Downtown, Chic Underground (770 N. Jefferson St.) takes navigation skills to find, but it’s a gem worth discovering high in substance, if not style. On Friday nights, head over to County Clare (1234 N. Astor St.), where a live band plays traditional Irish music. While it’s not advertised, they welcome other musicians to join in, so bring the mandolin and start strumming. The basement floor of the Shops of Grand Avenue has experienced a renaissance in culture with Underground Collaborative (161 W. Wisconsin Ave.), an eclectic venue to see theater, comedy, dance and art. Schedule at ucmke.com.
2042 W. Lincoln Ave.
What It Is: 2 lanes, manual pin setter
Extras: Listening to owner Marcy Skowronski tell jokes
Best For: Groups – call ahead to reserve both lanes, and have a private party
Koz’s Mini Bowl
2078 S. 7th St.
What It Is: 4 lanes of mini bowling, manual pin setters
Extras: Pool, hanging with the locals and learning about the stuffed lion behind the bar
Best For: Small groups looking for a Milwaukee corner bar oozing with authenticity.
2220 N. Farwell Ave.
What It Is: 16 lanes, automatic pin setters and scoring
Extras: Video games, pinball, darts, pool, people watching.
Best For: Those with short attention spans or in witness protection, drinkers averse to sunlight.
I Closed Wolski’s
At the stroke of 2, the legendary bar isn’t quite as raucous as one might expect.
Location surely isn’t the reason Wolski’s Tavern has become a household name. The 109-year-old bar is easy to miss, barely distinguishable from the residences that flank it on Pulaski Street in the Lower East Side. I ask Bernie Bondar, the bartender and a great-grandson of the bar’s founder, how the “I Closed Wolksi’s” tradition got its start. According to Bondar, it dates back to the mid-‘70s. A crew of drinkers would stay from noon until 2 in the morning and claimed they felt underappreciated for their enduring patronage. One of Bondar’s predecessors caved and made them stickers, both to honor them and to shut them up. The gag caught on and now you can’t go around Milwaukee without seeing an “I CLOSED WOLSKI’S” bumper sticker every few blocks. “You can find them all over the country now,” Bondar says proudly.
As we approach the witching hour on a snowy December night, a handful of happy drunks dance over enthusiastically to indistinct rock ‘n’ roll. A couple kiss at a table behind me. Two college-aged guys are having an “I love you, man” conversation by the bar.
At 2 a.m., the music is muted and last call is announced.
Somebody yells, “Hey, we closed Wolski’s!” Nobody responds. The patrons shuffle back into the single-digit cold, some of us with a souvenir. – Adam Rogan
Skillful nudging and flipper management on a legendary pinball machine like Theatre of Magic, one of six classic pins at Blackbird Bar, can be a real workout, both mentally and physically. Practice up so you’re ready for the monthly pinball tournament (first Sunday of the month). Winner takes home prizes like a roll of quarters and beer. 3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Evolution Gastro Pong
Chasing around a little orange ball takes agility and plenty of energy – a good way to burn off beer. The pingpong tables at Evolution provide about as strenuous a workout as you can get at a tavern. If you hope to show your friends your mad spinning skills it’s best to limit your visits to the bar. Pingpong is best played while coherent. 1023 N. Old World Third St.
This game has made its way from carnivals into bars, and The Milwaukee Skeeball League is grateful. G-Daddy’s BBC is where the league hosts its “skeesons.” You don’t have to play competitively to enjoy the game. And if winning isn’t important, don’t bother lightly banking throws off sidewalls for a better chance at rare 100-point shots. 2022 E. North Ave.
You don’t just play mini golf at Nine Below, you actually build one of the holes with props and obstacles provided by the place. After construction you putt around on holes created by other amateur mini golf architects (while accessing a bar in the center of the “course”). So, be nice to fellow golfers and avoid conjuring up holes where deciphering putting angles requires a protractor. 1905 E. North Ave.
CLEAR at the InterContinental Hotel
This sleek bar in the hotel lobby is always an inviting spot. But every Tuesday, indoor bocce ups the ante. Bring your best pallino tossing skills and arrive promptly at 5:30 p.m., when the games begin, to ensure a round or two of lobby bocce. 139 E. Kilbourn Ave.
Bounce houses are just as much fun for adults as they are for kids. The three large inflatable areas at Bounce Milwaukee area available to kids during the day, but after 9 p.m. on weekends, the big kids over 21 get a chance to play. If all that jumping hasn’t worn you out, there’s also a laser tag area, a rock climbing wall and video games. 2801 S. 5th Ct.