2016 was the year I got to know Chicago better than I ever had before, and certainly better than I’ve ever gotten to know Milwaukee, which is frankly kind of silly. I’ve been trying to get to Milwaukee more often, just to see how things are going, because there’s no excuse not to, really. Plus, on the food and drink tip, there’s a lot more back-and-forth going on between Wisconsin’s two biggest cities lately.
Case in point, the announcement last week that a BelAir Cantina will arrive in Madison later this year, joining the four Milwaukee-area locations already serving tacos and other border-straddling southwestern fare. I was just across the river from the Water Street BelAir location, sipping beers on the patio at Stubby’s Gastropub.
Yeah, it was a bizarre February weekend, with 60-degree temperatures and clear skies driving a lot of Wisconsinites into spring mode. Though the icy late-winter flotsam and jetsam on the Milwaukee River was less than scenic, the sun and sky were more than making up for it. It was a perfect day to order a gigantic plate of nachos and a few beers from the extensive Stubby’s tap list.
Stubby’s is one of the handful of beer locations in Milwaukee that even sheltered Madisonians should recognize by name. Along with Burnhearts, Champps, the Sugar Maple and others, Stubby’s brings in big-name brewers for tap takeovers and other beer events throughout the year. If you follow brewery accounts on Twitter, prepare to see Milwaukee events getting announced soon for April’s upcoming Milwaukee Beer Week.
There’s Saturday and Sunday brunch service at Stubby’s in addition to the sandwich and burger-heavy lunch and dinner menu. Brunch is sweet and savory, and everything is large. The beer menu is even bigger, with a few dozen tap lines and a bottle list that isn’t just American macros. Think Almanac Cherry Vanilla Dogpatch Sour and Perennial 17 Mint Stout. While it was an inconvenience for me as a drinker, it was reassuring to me as a beer fan that no fewer than five beers I tried to order had just recently run dry. The assurance of turnover is never a bad thing when there are so many tap lines to keep flowing.
With its location right on the river, the patio at Stubby’s is probably three stories off the riverside path below. There are bar games and plenty of TV screens inside, but there was no way my wife and I were going to miss the chance to breath the springlike air. A Perennial Hommel Bier and an Epic Big Bad Baptist — short-ish pours, since our orders killed the kegs for both — were supremely satisfying.
Less than a mile north from Stubby’s, in the Riverwest neighborhood and only two blocks from Company Brewing (mentioned in a previous column), sits the new Black Husky Brewing taproom and brewery. It’s a heck of a lot easier to get to, now that it’s in Milwaukee and not Pembine, but this was still my first trip. The taproom has that realistic northwoods feel, simply designed and decorated, like the owners could have built it themselves as a workshop on their land up north. And there are dogs, the actual dogs like you see on the Black Husky bottle art, just chilling behind the bar.
There’s a cooler for to-go bottles of Sproose (finally with a new label design), Three Scrutineers, and a small handful of other Black Husky brews. Growler (ahem) fills are available as well as pints of Black Husky’s uncomplicated stylings, like Howler, Vain, and the recently renamed OIHF milk stout. It’s a nice, casual little bar, not too crammed full of beer geeks for a local to just wander in for a drink.
I’m not gonna lie, there’s still a lot about Milwaukee I don’t understand. Mostly, how can even the popular areas feel so quiet during the day on weekends? Compared to how Madison usually is during brunch hours, it was a breeze to wander into every place we visited and get seated immediately. I do like, however, how neatly I can pop into Milwaukee and hit a couple spots in quick geographic succession. I may not get Milwaukee yet, exactly, but trying is a rewarding endeavor.