Your mission, should you choose to accept it: explore everything nerdy that Cream City has to offer.
You actually enjoy shopping for new glasses. You prefer PBR and have a Tri-Force tattoo. You’ve been meaning to brush up on your Klingon and have a green-and-gold 20-sided die.
You’re a certified “Wisconsin Nerd,” and Milwaukee is your hubworld. But what’s a fantasy/sci-fi hero without their fellowship? With MKE as your home base, here are the most important taverns, quests and fandoms you need to visit to complete your Pokédex.
Where you get your coffee
This is the cappuccino you’re looking for. The planet Alderaan may have been destroyed by the Death Star in Episode IV, but the Alderaan coffee shop that bears its name survives on N. Water Street.
Your modern-day blacksmith
Sometimes it takes more than blowing air into the cartridge to get your old games going again. That’s where NES Matt’s Old School Video Game Repair comes in. If new-fangled triggers, high-definition and motion controls aren’t your thing, NES Matt can get your classic games and consoles back in the fight. That said, Matt is a well-rounded repairman and can fix just about anything, including cleaning out the kinks in your Xbox One controller. On the north side, there’s Computer Geeks & Citadel Games, offering CPU help, and also selling a selection of card and board games.
Where you ARE entertained
Who says nerds need to get out more? The Dainty Rogues are a group of geeky, risqué thespians who perform pop culture-inspired burlesque shows and revues like “Doctor Who Or: How I Learned to Stop Time and Love the Dalek” or “Damsels and Dragons: An Evening of D&D Burlesque.” The troupe doesn’t have a set location, but have performed at nearby venues like Next Act Theatre, Hot Water/Wherehouse Night Club [now closed] and The Miramar Theatre.
If your nerdy side belongs in a kimono or costume, then the Anime Milwaukee convention might be calling you. It could also be the only place in town where you wouldn’t fit in wearing a Brewers cap. The con, the state’s largest devoted to anime, is held at the Wisconsin Center on Wisconsin Avenue in either February or March every year.
Your Own Christmas
Some celebrate with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Others celebrate with Sonic’s rings, the Doomguy and Tetris tiles: that’s where the Midwest Gaming Classic comes in. The convention, hosted at the Wisconsin Center, features more than 100,000 square feet devoted to all kinds of gaming, from money-grubbing cranes to air hockey and PlayStation. In 2018, the Classic also hosted a one-man performance chronicling the founder of Apple’s 2010 experience with FoxConn: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs starring Wisconsin actor Jason Compton. There were also two after parties, one at 42 Lounge — “Milwaukee’s gaming nightclub” [now part of Oak & Shield Gamin Pub] — and the other at Bounce Milwaukee — a “family entertainment center” complete with rock climbing, laser tag and (you guessed it) arcade games.
Your Favorite Real-Life Athlete
Eric Sogard. Those glasses are a home run. #NerdPower
Equipping Your Gear
If you don’t know what you want…
Make Cents Variety Store is incredibly well named. If you want something a little nerdy from the ‘70s until today, odds are that Make Cents has it. Here’s a short list of the products it has carried: pinball, slot machines, Star Trek lunchboxes, gaming manuals, collectible footballs, spare NES parts, posters, plush toys, board games, retail store displays, books, refurbished Ataris. And that doesn’t even tap into the hundreds of video games for a dozen systems in stock every day.
Where you stock your deck
The best selection of cards in the city has got to be at Pink Bunny Games. There are thousands of cards for a dozen of the most beloved games. You can pick up a Yu-Gi-Oh monster for less than 50 cents or a rare Magic: The Gathering land that costs a small fortune.
A Selection bigger than Skyrim
It’s called “Universe” for a reason. Game Universe may have the strongest selection of board games in the Milwaukee area: from Munchkin to the Sheriff of Nottingham to Warhammer to D&D. Game Universe sells all the necessary nerd equipment you need to compete in the daily matches, tournaments and encounters hosted at the store. There are two locations — one in Franklin and the other in Brookfield — and both are open seven days a week.
Nobody hosts more game nights in MKE than Board Game Barrister. Sure, it helps that there are four locations — Bayshore, Greenfield, Mayfair Mall and South Milwaukee — but there’s still always something going on at the stores. In addition to board and card games, Barrister also has an abundance of puzzles and family-centered tabletop fun. Oh, and if you have extra games in good condition, Barrister will sell them for you.
Battlegrounds / Arenas
Get in the game
Laser tag is fun and all, but it’s no match for a good ol’ sword fight. Using a new magnetic scoring system (complete with live scoreboard), MagneTag offers hand-to-hand, non-lethal combat. Body armor tracks the number of hits each duelist receives and delivers with their foam weapons. There is a permanent setup at Mobcraft Taproom and another at Bounce Milwaukee. It can also be rented for special events. Soon, MagneTag looks to develop a home version to be purchased with a crowd-funding campaign that should start sometime this year.
Where you encounter lords, ladies, and jousting knights
You don’t need to travel far to time-travel back to the 1500s. The Bristol Renaissance Faire is less than an hour south of the city via I-94. The 16th century celebrations don’t get started until the summer. The Ren Faire is open on Saturdays and Sundays from July through September. Admission is $25.95. Corsets and bathing are both optional.
Where you game
Okay, there are too many arcades and video game-friendly homesteads around town to narrow down. So here’s a collection of some of the best ones. St. Francis’s 42 Ale House offers free gaming and weekly Super Smash Bros. tournaments, karaoke and trivia nights, along with a nerd-inspired menu and 24 drinks on tap. 1983 Arcade Bar — a 21-and-over arcade with ample alcohol offerings and new games every two months — opened in December 2017. Tier 1 Gaming Lounge is for hardcore gamers and has dozens of PC, Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, Nintendo Switch and virtual reality titles. It’s also the best place to truly test your skills, hosting several competitive tournaments monthly in games like Overwatch, Call of Duty and Street Fighter. The Garcade became the first true arcade in Menomonee Falls this summer and offers unlimited play for $15. Looking to the west, Binary is a true nerd’s bar with hundreds of tabletop games to make up drinking games for. Battlebox Studios, a video game store that will soon include a gaming hangout on the North Side, wields a bigger purpose. Owner Bryant Wilcox gives free coins to kids who achieve honor rolls at school. He wants to encourage youth stay on the straight and narrow, and not have to serve time like he has.
Your Next Quest
Up-Down gaming bars have been taking Midwestern cities by storm — no, not the X-Men hero. There are already locations in Kansas City, Des Moines and Minneapolis, and a fourth one opened in MKE in 2018. Game Informer ranked the chain among the top 10 arcade bars in America in 2017. Each one offers specialty drinks, plenty of drinks on tap, and dozens of classic and new arcade games (including Wisconsin-owned Skee-Ball!) starting at a $0.25 a play.