Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, 1579 S 9th St. , Milwaukee, WI 53204 (https://www.bryantscocktaillounge.com/)
Last week, we had a chance to check out a Milwaukee institution, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, on city’s south side. It is a cocktail lounge only, with no food being served. That is not uncommon in Milwaukee. What is uncommon is that they don’t have any sort of drink menu. They don’t believe in them. Their thinking is that if you give someone a menu, you are limiting the selection of cocktails, and that people will gravitate towards the popular ones.
They claim to have 450 drink recipes in their repertoire, which would be way too many menu pages to look at in any case. And they also have beer, wine, soft drinks, etc. But somehow their formula works and has worked for 75 years.
The overall experience should be savored for what it is. Instead of using a drink menu, the bartenders and servers will help you find a cocktail that fits what you are looking for. They suggest that you just ask the bartender to surprise you. And here’s the best part – when you ask what’s in the drink, they won’t tell you. They have a lot of proprietary ingredients that they won’t reveal, making it practically impossible to describe in writing.
They have two floors for beverage service. The Friday night we ventured in, the top floor (The Velvet Lounge) was being used as a site for making the classic holiday drink, the Tom & Jerry. (https://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/tomjerry.htm). And the reason for putting the Tom & Jerry station upstairs is (I kid you not) that is the only place in the building that has running hot water. The hot water is needed to make the T&J. So there was a constant stream of patrons heading up stairs for T&J’s and back with the eggnog like hot drink in tow. After you’re seated, you place your order with your server. They will give you a drink ticket and save your seat while you visit the Tom and Jerry Room upstairs. The second floor is open Friday and Saturday nights, when not serving as the Tom & Jerry room.
We sat near the bar and our server was great. He had several suggestions, based on the question “What type of drinks do you like?”. It’s a mixologist’s dream come true. I ordered a Vodka and Ginger Beer. Our server suggested their version of a Moscow Mule. So when I asked what was in their version, he replied “I can’t tell you”. But, I trusted that it would be good and it was. Very gingery. But it does crack me up that they won’t tell you what’s in the drinks. It’s not off-putting, it actually made the entire experience mysterious, and increased the chances that we would return.
Bryant’s has won its share of awards. They were a semi-finalist in the 2013 James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Bar Program. It’s been on the best bar lists, including Best of Milwaukee (2011, 2012, and 2013), as well as Esquire’s Best Bars in America (2012), Eater’s 38 Essential Cocktail Bars Across the U.S. (2012 and 2014), and Thrillist’s 33 Best Cocktail Bars in America. If you haven’t, you should check it out.
Open 6 Days a Week, Tuesday-Sunday, 5pm-2am