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5 No-Frills, Character-Filled Wisconsin Bars

By Daniel Rose
Special to TravelWisconsin.com

If you spent last Saturday night sipping a fragrant cocktail while the bartender gushed about artisanal, basil-infused brandy, then this article is not for you. This article is for anyone who appreciates a strong bourbon and coke, an ice-cold tap beer and a little bit of irreverence. This is for people who hear "dive bar" and think, "How soon can I get there?"

Though these bars aren't necessarily all "dives," none of them take themselves too seriously. They're all an excellent option for some humble Wisconsin drinking.

Northwoods to the Core

The Moccasin Bar in Hayward is beloved for its world-record muskie, "wildlife museum" and abundance of kitschy decorations. The prominently featured muskie is truly a sight to see. Weighing in at 67 pounds, 8 ounces, the enormous fish is one of the largest ever caught in Hayward and is distinctly a point of pride for the bar's patrons. The "museum" consists of a collection of stuffed woodland creatures arranged in hilarious and absurd scenes.

If you come for the bar's decorations, you'll almost certainly stay for the wonderfully cheap drink prices and excellent local company. And remember, if a fisherman tells you a story about catching a muskie so large he had to drag it ashore, he's probably telling the truth.

A Down-Home Bloody Mary

A list of Wisconsin's best dive bars that does not mention Del's Bar in LaCrosse would be nothing short of criminal. Home to one of the best Bloody Mary cocktails in the state, Del's is small, unassuming and instantly feels like home.

The long oval bar that runs down the middle of this watering hole makes it easy to get a drink no matter how big the crowd gets. And speaking of big crowds, if you want to see Del's in full form you have to stop by on the morning of the Oktoberfest parade.

They go through approximately 6,720 ounces of tomato juice during Oktoberfest alone. That's a lot of bloodies!

Martinis on the Cheap

Thanks to the University of Wisconsin's capital city campus, Madison certainly has no shortage of local watering holes, but if you're looking for a martini without an obscene price tag, Genna's Lounge is worth a stop. The bar perfectly pairs a dive bar-esque backdrop with an edgy bohemian atmosphere.

Located right on the Capitol Square, Genna's resides in a uniquely shaped corner building that feels more vertical than horizontal. The first and second floor each has a bar and seating area with its own vibe. The second floor is often hosting a band or open mic event, and the seating is limited to smaller, more intimate tables.

Drink Beer With Pirates

The Eagle River Pirates will gladly welcome you to their lakeside Tiki Bar during the summer months. Home to Wisconsin's only functioning pirate ship since 2004, the Pirates aim to delight. The Tiki Bar features live music a few nights a week, and the patrons can frequently be seen adorned in pirate costumes.

If you'd rather spend the evening aboard the pirate ship, then be sure to book one of their scenic fall tours or reserve the ship for a private p-aaarrrty.

Absinthe, Cigars and Ghosts

Shaker's Cigar Bar in Milwaukee boasts that they "put the sin back in Wisconsin." If that slogan alone isn't enough to convince you to spend a Friday night at Shaker's, their menu might. The prohibition-themed bar offers 1920s-style cocktails that kick like a mule, real absinthe and a selection of cigars. 

Amateur ghost hunters and horror enthusiasts also should check out one the bar's excellent ghost tours. You can explore Shaker's supernatural side as you walk amongst the ghosts that inhabit all four floors of this historic building.

Maybe you're looking for bars with a storied history, watering holes for after the game or maybe even places to paint and sip wine. No matter what you're drinking, Wisconsin can serve it up just the way you like!

This entry was posted in Pubs & Taverns Nightlife