Charlies is Perfect Pre-Fest
Club Charlies is great for grabbing a bite or having a few drinks before visiting the Summerfest grounds.
The first half of Summerfest 2015 is in the books and what a week it was. All the archetypes were there: the high schoolers excitedly greeting each other at the main gate, the bucket drummers, the people watchers posted up, the Ecuadorian flute band, the guy with no shirt trying to hug speakers, the hippie running and dancing along the front row, the street magician, the couple making out under a stage sign, the sleepy kids, the people sitting outside the grounds waiting for the fireworks, the diehards donning official merch from the 80s, and the newbies overwhelmed by the crowds. And there was the music, so much music.
On Opening Day I arrived in time for Twin Brother’s afternoon performance at the U.S. Cellular Stage. Afterwards I grabbed an order of Saz’s sour cream and chive fries, a Summerfest staple. Then I met up with the guys in Twin Brother and invited them to Club Charlies before the evening shows started. I mentioned they have $3 Point beers until 8pm, which intrigued them, but they thought I was referring to a bar inside the Summerfest grounds. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to sell beer that cheap at Summerfest, though I did get a free can of Miller Lite at the Opening Ceremonies cheers.
Club Charlies (320 East Menomonee) is the closest bar to the Summerfest main gate, only about five blocks away from the grounds. It’s the perfect place to catch a cheap buzz before entering the Big Gig, no shuttle bus required. I originally stopped by Charlies last Monday evening and it was somewhat slow. When I biked past on Wednesday en route to Summerfest the patio was packed. As mentioned, I went back for the tail end of happy hour, which runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. All Point beers are $3 so I ordered a bottle of Onyx Black Ale, one of the best of its kind. They also carry Point’s Coast Radler, Amber Lager, Belgian White, and Drop Dead Blonde in bottle. On tap they have their Cascade Pale Ale, Special Lager and Nude Beach Summer Wheat. The happy hour also includes $3 Smirnoff short cocktails and $5 Smirnoff martinis, any flavor.
If you can prove you work in the service industry you can enjoy great deals anytime at Charlies. That includes $3 Point taps, $4 mystery beer, $4 Smirnoff+Redbull bombs, and $4 Smirnoff short mixers. Another popular choice at Charlies is the $5 big bottles (24oz) of Miller Lite, High Life and big cans of PBR. The rest of the taps include Riverwest Stein, Spotted Cow, Goose Island 312 Wheat, Ciderboys, Leine’s Summer Shandy, Guinness, Stella Artois, Kentucky Bourbon Ale, and Point’s “Whole Hog” high-octane limited edition 6-hop IPA and Espresso Stout (not included in the $3 deal).
The vibe at Charlies is laid back casual. It attracts downtown business types, Third Ward artists and shoppers, blue-collar workers, and this time of year, loads of Summerfest attendees. It features a big wrap around bar, comfy booth seating, tables in the back and a large patio that overlooks Catalano Square. There are two unobtrusive TVs and darts inside for entertainment. Charlies bills itself as an “Adult Beverage Establishment,” and their “Naughty Shots” play on that theme using RumChata and Van Gogh Vodka as their main ingredients. If you want to keep your shots simple, cheap and cream-free, they offer $3 shots of Seagram’s 7 Honey Whiskey. The rest of the liquor selection is standard, with Door County Distillery Vodka as the one local rarity. Dewar’s is my go-to blended scotch, and it wasn’t until Charlies that I discovered Dewar’s Highland Honey. It’s not as thick or as sugary as other honey whiskeys, going down smooth with a slightly sweet aftertaste.
The daily specials at Charlies include 2-4-1 rail cocktails on Monday, $4 big bottles of Lite and High Life on Tuesday, $4 featured martini on Wednesday, half-off bottles of wine on Thursday, $4 Smirnoff bombs 5pm to close on Fridays, and 2-4-1 Bloody’s from 11am to 2pm on the weekend. They also have six reds and five white wines, $7-$8 for a glass.
Charlies has a few foods specials including a lunch menu with over a dozen choices plus fries from $6-$9. Their homemade black bean beet burger caught my eye. They also have crunchy garbanzo beans, tempura fried veggies and a “1lb. tater tot extravaganza.” Their meat burgers are made with their Top Secret “Must kill you, if we tell you” spices. Whether you’re grabbing a bite or having a few drinks before the Big Gig, Club Charlies is a great call, and will be open for an encore after the music.