Last week, we revealed that Spike TV mainstay Bar Rescue is scouting a Milwaukee location to salvage with its tried and true bar-saving formula of screaming at people and using high-end technology given to them by sponsors. The initial Reddit thread claimed the show’s staff was at Y-Not III. Since then, speculation has been swirling, as a growing list of both Milwaukee and suburban watering holes have allegedly been in touch with Bar Rescue. A Milwaukee episode seems imminent, but we’ve yet to hear which bar (if any) won the opportunity of having a dude that looks like bizarro Scott Thompson call its staff failures. In the instance Bar Rescue still hasn’t found the right bar, here are some promising or formerly great Milwaukee bars we wouldn’t mind seeing the show improve.
Speculation about Bar Rescue coming to the aid of Y-Not III seems apt, as the East Side hole-in-the-wall could use some freshening up. Keeping the bar’s dive-y DNA intact would be key—this is a Y-Not bar, after all—but a little light, better beer, and a fresh coat of paint would do wonders. The sporadically used upper floor also needs some reconsidering: Is it another bar? Is it a music venue? Can it be a destination in its own right?
Stonefly Brewing Company
Drop in at Stonefly any given day of the week, and you’ll likely find it unnervingly empty. Beyond occasional shows (which were more plentiful back in the Onopa days), there’s simply not a lot going on at this spacious Riverwest mainstay. Even the seemingly ideal outdoor patio is underused, filled with more rusting farm equipment than people. That’s a shame, as Stonefly is still a gorgeous space, and has plenty of untapped—or perhaps forgotten—potential.
Bugsy’s Back Alley Speakeasy
Prohibition was an altogether bad idea. Bugsy’s—a “hidden” Third Ward speakeasy—has shown itself to be just as bad of a concept as the short-lived law was. Instead of trying to douse an upscale sheen on a forced premise (complete with flappers dancing uncomfortably to modern music and all!), Surg should use Bugsy’s immaculate Flux-designed interior and uncommon alley entrance as pillars for a new business model that’s rooted in this century.
For years, Village Pub skated by on being the default “best bar” in Milwaukee’s teetotaling northern neighbor of Shorewood. However, the uppity suburb’s recent youth movement brought the V-Pub competition that Shorewood’s legion hall and the Oakcrest Tavern (beyond rescue) never could. Unless the once-unopposed tavern vastly improves its selection and steps up service that was predicated on a lack of other options, Camp Bar and Three Lions Pub will continue to own Shorewood’s night life—which isn’t a oxymoron anymore.
The East Side lost a neighborhood gem in 1995 when Oriental Drugs closed its doors. Nearly 20 years later, the former icon on Farwell and North is the blandly inoffensive Replay, a sprawling sports bar that seems better suited to the suburbs than to the East Side’s most prominent corner. Keeping the space a sports bar would be fine, but a little pizzazz (and some worthwhile food) would go a long way to making seas of flat screen TVs more palatable.
Toni’s Moody Blues
Chill On The Hill kicks off this week, and until a beer garden is erected, no bar in Bay View is a better-situated site for pre- or post-Chill drinks than Toni’s Moody Blues. However, the diminutive townie bar fails to capitalize on being across the street from Humboldt Park due to its sketchy exterior, limited beer and liquor options, and bartenders’ proclivity to change terrestrial radio stations—Moody Blues’ predominate soundtrack—mid-song. A little work could really make this unpolished gem sparkle.
To be clear, The Parlor is a perfectly fine neighborhood bar. For almost two years, the Walker’s Point bar has provided a decent option in the shadow of the Allen Bradley Clock Tower. Unfair as it is, The Parlor could learn a lot from its previous occupant, Bomb Shelter Bar, which abruptly closed in 2012 when owner Greg Landig died. Inching even a little closer to the 360-plus beers its predecessor stocked—or even the 60 part of the total—would go a long way to make The Parlor a worthwhile replacement.
Vox was never the East Side’s best bar (that title will forever be held by Landmark Lanes, duh), but it had a funky atmosphere and a kick-ass jukebox that leaned heavily on Brit-pop. When the bar on Kenilworth and Prospect became Vintage in 2010, however, it lost a lot of its charm. Vintage, despite its name, is seriously wanting for character. Say what you will about classy, upscale cocktail bars, but this is a space that cries out for a classy, upscale cocktail bar.
Down & Over Pub
Originally erected as a Masonic hall in the late 19th century, this gorgeous and historic relic of a young Milwaukee has devolved into an unkempt eyesore with interior decay and crumbling steps—which is now being addressed, actually. It alternates from dance hall, concert venue, anime appreciation meeting spot, and (until recently) comedy club. Let’s not even get into the daycare upstairs. Backing off nightly themes, then funneling focus to repairing wall holes and moving clutter are all for the best.
Axel’s Inn has two great things working in its favor: its proximity to UW-Milwaukee’s campus and being the neighbor of Milwaukee late-night dining institution Oakland Gyros. Somehow, that head start isn’t enough to spare Axel’s from requiring considerable work to get up to snuff. Even for a proud dive bar, the place needs extensive cleaning. The cleaning should start at Axel’s tap lines. A $2 beer isn’t a good deal when it’s flat and metallic.
Who’s On Third
With a name that’s a callback to a stale joke and an acknowledgement of the its location, Who’s On Third is already off to an unfortunate start. Still, this new downtown establishment that’s not a sports bar, isn’t a lounge, and doesn’t have a big menu or offer dick for drink selection can be saved. If a much-needed name change isn’t in the cards, Who’s should at least put on airs as a sports bar. That would help forgive the basic food selection and having 10 percent of its beer selection being different varieties of Miller Lite. Between location, classic lounge feel, and massive projection screen, a change of identity—from “absolutely no” to “an”—could help keep Who’s on Third Street for a second year.