The great outdoors: 17 chances to enjoy some public intoxication this summer
Comedian Lewis Black once told the people of Wisconsin, “You are not alcoholics. You—and my hat is off to you—are professionals.” He wasn’t kidding—we love drinking, and there’s nothing more glorious than drinking outside (even better: drinking outside during the day). So instead of overwhelming your beer-soaked brain with 14 different lists of outdoor festivals, outdoor patios, and outdoor pog pick-up games, The A.V. Club has decided to roll all the open-air goodness up into one monster list. Looking to catch a nice 2:30 p.m. buzz in the great outdoors this summer? Look no further.
1. Jazz In The Park (June 2 through September 22)
What would summer be without Cathedral Square’s annual Jazz In The Park concert series, and its on-again, off-again alcohol policy? (FYI: The fest is once again strongly discouraging carry-ins.) Even if you’re stuck paying top-dollar for a fest-approved drink, there are still plenty of great people-watching opportunities (we love it when yuppies get tipsy), and some good music to boot. Some local highlights this year include Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound, King Solomon, and De La Buena.
2. Chill On The Hill (Every Tuesday, June 7 through August 30)
Entering its 7th year, this free, weekly Bay View festival will once again feature food and music every Tuesday night at the bandshell in Humboldt Park. The lineup is all over the map, and includes rock, blues, alt-country, reggae, and the Milwaukee American Legion Band. (Why not?) And even if a particular style or group doesn’t tickle your fancy, let’s face it: Is there anything better than drinking outside on a Tuesday night?
3. Patio break: BelAir Cantina
Now that the Humboldt Ave. bridge debacle is a thing of a past (aside from the occasional nearby sinkhole), the BelAir Cantina has become a go-to destination for Mexican food and ultra-hip ambiance. The restaurant’s patio is a far cry from the old “plastic-chairs-on-the-sidewalk-next-to-a-Dumpster” routine, and offers a terrific view of the Milwaukee River.
4. PrideFest (June 10-12)
Even though it’s held on the Summerfest grounds, PrideFest is far from your average picnic-table-dancing drunk-a-thon; instead, it’s one of the most enjoyable, flamboyant, and easy-going parties of the summer. This year, the LGBT-celebrating fest welcomes the no-holds-barred comedy of Monique, the early-’90s bump-and-grind of Salt-N-Pepa, and, um, LeAnn Rimes. (Did we miss a memo on that one?)
5. Locust Street Festival And Beer Run Or Walk (June 12)
The “best fest in Riverwest” celebrates its 35th year this summer, and it promises to be a doozy. Featuring the ever-popular 1.8-mile beer run/walk in the morning and a terrific lineup of local music throughout the afternoon, it’s a nice reminder of why Riverwest remains one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. (Just give the always-present drum circles a wide berth.) And if you’re worried about getting sunburned, duck into Linneman’s, where you can enjoy free entertainment—and one of the city’s best sound systems—all day long.
6. Patio break: Mad Planet
Riverwest’s premier dance and rock club has been going strong for over 20 years, and its outdoor patio was recently revamped to accommodate evil, evil cigarette smokers. If you can handle the smoke, the deck offers a great place to sip a drink and catch your breath during the always-popular retro Friday nights, or the bi-weekly Get Down dance parties.
7. Summer Soulsice Music Festival (June 18)
The East Side’s annual summer shindig features two stages on opposite ends of North Ave. and an impressive number of ways to get jiggled. On the Made In Milwaukee East Stage, you’ll find The Scarring Party, Call Me Lightning, Evan Christian and the Rusty Ps, The Wildbirds, and Kings Go Forth. Meanwhile, the Miller West Stage will feature The Twang Dragons, Ricky Ganiere, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, The Postelles, and Fever Marlene. And if that wasn’t enough, there’ll be demos from Division BMX, extra entertainment on Murray Ave., and the first installment of the East Side Green Market.
8. Summerfest (June 29-July 3, July 5-10)
Hey, have you heard about Summerfest? We hear it’s kind of a thing. But seriously: With huge Marcus Amphitheater headliners (Kanye West, The Black Keys, Britney Spears) and incredible festival-grounds acts (The Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, everything at the A.V. Club-sponsored Cascio stage), this is clearly the best Summerfest lineup in over a decade. As for beer, getting good and loaded at the Big Gig has never been a problem, though it can get a little pricey. (Not that we’d endorse the old “flask-of-rum-duct-taped-to-your-thigh” trick.)
9. Patio break: The Hotel Foster
The newest addition to the North Ave. bar scene is done up like a 1920’s hotel lobby, and it also has a great—if small—outdoor patio on the second floor. If you’re lucky enough to nab a spot on the deck, you’ll have a terrific bird’s-eye view of your fellow summer revelers stumbling their way around North Ave.
10. Bastille Days (July 14-17)
It’s no secret that Milwaukee is absolutely choked with festivals celebrating every culture known to man (they don’t call us the City Of Festivals for nothing), but the French-themed Bastille Days remains one of the best. Held downtown in Cathedral Square, it features truck-loads of great food, a 5k “Storming the Bastille” run, pleasant music, and plenty of chances to get plowed. Just don’t get too plowed and try to scale the inflatable Eiffel Tower. (Not that we’ve ever tried it ourselves...)
11. Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival (July 23)
Is there a better place to enjoy drinking beer in the open air than an actual festival devoted to, well, drinking beer in the open air? (Answer: No.) A staggering 80 local craft beers will be available for sampling at the Cathedral Square fest, which aims to celebrate Milwaukee’s unique brewing heritage. Expect plenty of awards, beer-inspired arts and crafts, and a presentation from renowned beer historian Len Jurgensen.
12. Patio break: Best Place
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unique spot to enjoy an outdoor beer than Best Place. This hidden downtown gem is located in the old Pabst Brewery and offers two gorgeous courtyards and plenty of old-school, beer-infused ambiance.
13. WMSE Radio Summercamp (July 27-July 31)
With dozens of local and national acts spread out over the entire city, WMSE’s annual Summercamp festival is akin to a more manageable (and tolerable) SXSW. Ted Leo kicks things off July 27 with a show at Turner Hall, and local heroes Jaill, The Uptown Savages, Conrad Plymouth, and Heidi Spencer And The Rare Birds (to name a few) will also perform throughout the week. It all concludes July 31 with the Backyard BBQ in Cathedral Square, which will feature even more local music.
14. Wisconsin State Fair (August 4-14)
No other Milwaukee-area festival packs a more gloriously absurd, deep-fried punch than the State Fair. Want to take in an afternoon pig race? Eat some unlikely crap on a stick? Risk your life on some rickety carny rides? Enjoy a bodybuilding competition? Renew your hunting or fishing license? No problem, the State Fair has you covered. And then there’s the music, which is always deliciously left-field. We’re looking at you, MC Hammer and ZZ Top. (The Whitesnake/Skid Row/L.A. Guns show, however, is gonna be sweet.)
15. Made In Milwaukee (September 3)
We celebrate all things Milwaukee every day at The A.V. Club, which is why we we’re looking forward to this year’s aptly-named Made In Milwaukee fest. The day-long blowout will find Cathedral Square lousy with local music, food, drinks, art, and fashion.
16. Patio break: Von Trier
The authentic German beer hall has scrubbed itself up recently, and its outdoor patio remains one of the best on the East Side. The high stone walls offer a nice sense of privacy, while still allowing you to enjoy the deafening noise of motorcycles, car stereos, and general North Ave. drunken hoots and hollers.
17. Global Union (September 17-18)
Alverno’s annual world music festival may be closer to fall than summer, but it’s still a terrific chance to enjoy some outdoor inebriation in lovely Humboldt Park. Expect a diverse and eclectic lineup that will melt the heart of even the ugliest of ugly Americans, and plenty of food and spirits.