Public Market’s Plentiful Bargains
Nehring’s has great food and beer and Thief has great wines, all at marked-down prices.
The Milwaukee Public Market (400 N. Water Street) is easily one of my favorite places in the city. You can find so much delicious food under one roof. From mouth-watering handmade chocolates to soul-warming, made-from-scratch soups, complemented by local craft beer and world-class wine — the Market has something for everyone. (Even fresh-shucked oysters!) But before buying your gourmet meats, cheese, bakery, produce, spices, flowers, fine oils and vinegar, or MKE-centric attire, you can get a discount buzz going on at a few establishments in the Market.
Nehring’s Family Market has the widest selection of food in the Public Market and one of the best bottle/can happy hours anywhere. Monday through Friday from 2:30pm to 5:30pm all bottles and cans are half-off, with pizzas and calzones $2 off. Enjoy a discounted, wood-fired pizza with the same high-quality ingredients you can buy just around the corner from your seat at the bar. Adam, the server, was generous with samples of the taps (10 available, $5-$7). Even though drafts are not part of the happy hour, it’s worth noting they’ll fill any 32oz. growler ($15-$22) and have their own for sale. In addition, you can sample four 5 oz. pours for $12. They make six intriguing craft cocktails ($7-$10), but those are also not involved in the happy hour.
The bar at Nehring’s has 43 beers and 6 ciders, most from Wisconsin. I went with the robust Founder’s Imperial Black IPA (8.9%), which retails at $7.50 and is a steal at $3.75. The food menu also features their grilled-to-order meats, sausages, burgers, pasta, paninis, and frites. Each day has a different $15 dinner and $8 hot sandwich and chips deal. The liquors at Nehring’s are limited to those used in their cocktails, so it’s essentially a beer bar, but a damn fine one at that. What they definitely don’t have is any wine, because they leave that up to their friends over at Thief Wine Shop & Bar.
Thief is the first wine bar I’ve sampled, but I already know it’s going to be hard to top. This is precisely because it’s located in the heart of the Public Market and you’re welcome to enjoy any food from other Market vendors at Thief with the purchase of a glass. If you don’t bring anything to munch on, they have small bites including olives, cheese and charcuterie. The main attraction is obviously their thoughtfully selected wines from regions around the globe, though they also have 34 12 oz. ($3.50) bottles of beer and 21 “bomber” (large format, various prices plus $3 corkage fee) brews for non-winos.
The wine menu at Thief (which has another location in Shorewood) changes every six weeks following a lively staff meeting. A few bottles hang around, mainly the popular ones and those their vendor gave them a great deal on. Phil Bilodeau, Thief’s proprietor and co-founder, tries to create a cohesive range of wine in each menu, which currently has 14 red, 12 white, 7 sparkling, 3 rosé, and 2 dessert choices. All of the reds and whites are available in 2.5 oz tastes ($2.50-$7.50), 5 oz glasses ($5.50-$16) and carafes (2.5 glasses, $12.50-$39). Some of the sparkling wine is available to taste but none come in carafes. They have 5 flights on the menu, but you can also create your own.
At this point you may be wondering, where are the bottles? (After all, a carafe only goes so far.) If you’re sitting at the Thief bar you need only to turn around to discover their impressive selection of bottles at the shop. Any of them can be enjoyed at the bar with a $10 corkage fee. On Thursdays from 4pm-6pm you can forget the corkage fee on bottles over $20, which brings me to their happy hour.
Thief’s happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, varying each day of the week. Monday is 10 percent off all wine at the bar and $1 off beer. Tuesday is 15 percent off all carafes. Wednesday is 15 percent off all flights. Thursday is the aforementioned no corkage fee on bottles over $20. Friday is their most beloved deal, a $4 glass of red and white selected by the staff. Any day, any time, you can get 10 percent off a bottle at the shop that you purchased by the glass or flight at the bar. Their free rewards program is worth enrolling in, with a $15 credit for every $200 spent, plus they keep your records, so if you can’t remember the name of that amazing malbec you bought back in September, they can look it up.
During my visit to Thief I enjoyed a glass of the luscious Garnacha Centenaria, made with grapes from century-old Spanish vines. I regret not making my own olive mix at Nehring’s Family Market and bringing it to Thief, but now I know. After the wine and olives at Thief, plus pizza and beer at Nehring’s, I had no room for a $5 margarita and Mexican food at Margarita Paradise, but those are also available from 4pm to close (8pm). It’s a shame St. Paul Fish Company doesn’t have a happy hour, because they have an excellent food and solid drink menu. Either way, the Public Market has more than enough options that are sure to leave you satisfied.