Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room
Almost a half-century has passed since a new bar opened on the corner of Pittsburgh Avenue and Second Street. That changed in November, as The Ball Game, Milwaukee’s first and oldest gay sports bar, recorded its last out. The owners of nearby Ten Bells totally renovated the site to make way for Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room. While “winter” and “Walker’s Point” are neither the season nor the neighborhood that immediately come to mind as prime island-bar settings, the promise of strong drinks, wacky mugs, and a temporary escape from the snow were enough to get The A.V. Club out of the house.
The space: In stark contrast to the crumbling, vacant eyesores surrounding it, the exterior of Lucky Joe’s has been repainted brown and spruced up with drawings of tiki mainstays including masks, plant life, and bamboo that cover both the Pittsburgh Avenue and Second Street facades.
Upon entering, the care put into completely renovating the site becomes even more apparent. An Easter Island-esque stone statue and fake plants welcome customers immediately. From there, the room narrows into a corridor with the bar and elevated booths on the sides, before widening into a spacious back room with a host of booths that range from intimate two-seaters (some of which resemble miniature surf boards) to massive 10-to-12-person tables. Fittingly, tiki masks are present on virtually every wall. The tiki theme continues to spill into the décor with posters of hula girls, bamboo, and fake grass—even overhead light fixtures are made to look like inflated puffer fish.
The service: We were immediately welcomed by both bartenders with a friendly “How are you?” As one departed to help another customer, the other stayed put. After we placed our order, he engaged another patron while still seeming to put care into our concoctions.
The A.V. Club’s drinks: Lucky Joe’s serves the usual suspects in terms of beer and wine, but the real draw comes by way of its 10 craft cocktails. Stacking even more appeal atop the specialized (primarily rum-based) drinks is the ability to pay an extra $5 to upgrade to a wacky mug that’s yours to keep. Enticed by the shark mug—and, to a lesser extent, our affinity for ginger—we first sprung for Lucky Joe’s rummy take on a Moscow mule, the “But Dad! It’s Shark Week!” which was a tasty and more tart rendition of the mule. Adding a cat to our new mug collection, we chased Shark Week with a “Papa’s Polydactyl Daiquiri” ($12), a stripped-down blend of rum, simple syrup, and lime on the rocks. Both were tasty, with the former coming out ahead, both in terms of mug and taste. Other mug options include hulu girl, Fu, and a skull mug.
The verdict: Like its predecessor did for more than 40 years, Lucky Joe’s satiates a very specific niche market. It might not match 43 years, but between its atmosphere, unique drinks, and souvenirs, Milwaukee’s newest tiki bar is off to a great start.