Authors Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz recently set out to find Wisconsin’s most historically and architecturally unique bars, taverns and breweries in the state. The book “Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars and Breweries” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press is what grew out of their six month journey criss-crossing the state. Not only do they share 70 places across the state in beautiful detail in the book, they’ve created the Bottoms Up Map to help you discover these hidden gems on your own.
Get your journey started with some of their favorites:
For some taverns, the journey itself is a reward. Madeline Island is a car ferry ride from Bayfield. Once there, disembark the ferry boat and walk up the hill where you will be greeted by Tom’s Burned Down Café a carnival of a bar—open air, under a circus tent, just exploding with fun and irreverence.
Little Bohemia, one of the more famous bars in the state, it was a hideout of John Dillinger and the site of a shootout between his gang and the FBI.
In the 1950s, not many women operated bars, but Emma Johnson was a notable exception. She ran Emma's Bar bar for over thirty years before retiring, at which point her son Lynn took over.
The Casino Tavern is well-known for its unique marketing tactics, including touting its "lousy service" with a large neon sign. LaCrosse native Fritz Kircheis gave the building its current striking design in 1938
Nelsen's Hall also involves a ferry ride but is well worth the trip. The winding, loopy road to and from Gills Rock to the ferry landing is just as memorable. This pub is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest purveyor of bitters in the world, a tradition stemming back to Tom Nelson, who popularized the drink there a century ago.
The Safe House caters to fans of espionage with a spy-themed environment complete with plenty of memorabilia. Its very location is part of the mystery, as it is tucked away in an alley.
Opened in 1908, Wolski's Tavern has long served the Polish neighborhood between the Milwaukee River and East Brady Street. Today, it shares its unique history with the larger community, and new additions include an outdoor beer garden. If you manage to stay until closing time, you’ll earn an “I Closed Wolski’s” bumper sticker to signify that you've closed the bar.
Heine’s Tavern - Minnesota Junction
Minnesota Junction was an isolated town at the turn of the 20th Century, but this made it a perfect tavern spot during Prohibition. Alice King's Inn was a roadhouse and brothel until a federal raid in 1938. It survives today as Heine's Tavern located just on the edge of the Horicon Marsh.
The Bunker is a jaw dropping military-themed bar that is both wartime scrapyard, and a touching and personal tribute to veterans’ lives. Despite the ominous sign on the door reading “University of South Vietnam School of Warfare,” expect to receive a warm welcome.