My Office and Swinging Door
Two venerable downtown bars keep the beer flowing at very low prices.
It was only a matter of time before I stopped in at Urban Milwaukee’s “neighborhood bar,” My Office, adjacent to the UM retail store and a stone’s throw from the shared office where we UM writers toil. When I come Downtown to write, My Office is just below my office. It’s one of the last dive bars east of the river and the drinks are cheap, especially during happy hour.
I met fellow UM scribe and long-time observer of Milwaukee taverns Michael Horne for discounted beverages after work on Monday. In keeping with the vibe of the bar, the happy hour is straightforward: $2.50 Lite drafts ($7 pitchers), $3 domestic bottles, and $3.50 Smirnoff mixers from 2:30pm to 7pm, which is a nice chunk of time during and after office hours.
My Office opens at 7:30 am during the week, which is rare these days. If you require a side of nourishment with your liquor, they serve breakfast and lunch, prepared fresh by Debbie. Her top breakfast items are the biscuits and gravy, and french toast. For lunch there is a different special each day and that’s what most folks order. She wraps up in the kitchen around 2-2:30pm. Saturday and Sunday they open at 6 pm, unless the bartender working Sunday feels like opening early for a Packers game.
The second stop on my mini-tour of East Town bars with Horne was Swinging Door Exchange, which is a little too classy with too much good food to be considered a “dive,” but is as unpretentious as My Office. Once a Western Union in the 1890s, home base to the city’s first bike messengers, it’s been a bar since the repeal of Prohibition. Horne waxed historical regarding the adjoining and gorgeous old Grain Exchange, inside what used to be the Chamber of Commerce building, before we got 3 cans of Pabst for $5.
Anytime of day at Swinging Door you can get 3 cans of Pabst, Pabst Light, Point or Coors Light for just $5. During their happy hour (3pm-6pm, M-F) they feature $4 cocktails of Tanqueray, Captain Morgan, Stoli and Smirnoff products, which can be made tall for fifty cents extra. They also have a variety of good beers on tap and in bottle, with a few fine whiskeys for the smoking jacket types.
Swinging Door is a small, cozy wood bar with plenty of historic pictures hanging on its walls, which Horne described in detail. On the other side of the bar there is a dining room, though it often hosts spillover from the bar. Their food menu packs a punch, especially considering what nearby establishments charge for similar plates. Each day has its own food special: Monday it’s hot dogs, taco Tuesday, Wednesday mussels ($5 for a pound, even cheaper than Balzac’s, which I reviewed last week), shrimp and ribs on Thursday, Friday fish fry, Saturday steaks (5-10 pm, Black Angus NY strip for just $13), and Sunday is a bargain pasta plate. During the Doors Open Milwaukee weekend a friend and I grabbed lunch at Swinging Door and I loved Shelly’s Tofu. Had Horne and I not been on our way to a party at the Public Market (with loads of free grub) we’d surely have grabbed a bite at Swinging Door, one of Downtown’s true gems.