Joey Grihalva
Weekly Happy Hour

Vista King Offers Great Lake Cruises

And on certain nights, the cruise has a happy hour. It’s my favorite bar.

By - Sep 3rd, 2015 04:40 pm
Happy Hour Cruise. Photo by Joey Grihalva.

Happy Hour Cruise. Photo by Joey Grihalva.

The summer heat never fails to put our city on edge, as crime and violence spikes. If you stop in the parking lot of a liquor store in a poor neighborhood any day of the year, your car is liable to being robbed. My doors were locked but one of my back windows must have been down just low enough for the thief to snatch two bags off my backseat during the three-minute window that I ran in to grab something cold to drink. Nothing like a robbery to put a damper on your day.

I was in no mood to coach tennis or ride the Milwaukee Boat Line happy hour cruise right after. During the tennis match my girls cheered me up and when I took stock of what I’d lost, I realized it wasn’t as damaging as I initially thought. Luckily I had taken out my writing notebook, my phone charger and my beloved Ecuador soccer jersey from the bags I lost. The upside, I guess, is that somewhere in the Rufus King neighborhood there’s a backpack with a WebsterX button, a 91.7 WMSE messenger bag with MKE Film, Platinum Boys and Lorde Fredd33 buttons, and hopefully someone enjoyed the house special bahn mi sandwich from Xankia that would’ve been my dinner.

When it was finally time to board the happy hour cruise (101 W. Michigan) I was in a better headspace. More than anything I was looking forward to a heavenly lake breeze as a break from the sweltering humidity. It would not be my first trip aboard the Vista King this summer. In addition to their happy hour and sightseeing cruises, the Milwaukee Boat Line runs a concert cruise during summer weekends. On July 4 my lady and I swayed to the sounds of some of Milwaukee’s best hip-hop and R&B/soul acts, including Lex Allen, Reggie Bonds, Siren, BLAX, Skotty Benz and DJ Moses. You may have heard Siren’s infectious anthem “Queen Medusa,” but there’s nothing like hearing it on the lake while eight different fireworks displays explode above the city.

On August 21 my lady and I returned to the Vista King for the Group of the Altos annual voyage. All of the amps, pedals, stands and instruments needed for the 16-member band took up about half of the back deck. The rest of the space was occupied by friends, family and fans who witnessed one of the most wonderful live performances of the year. As the Vista King made its way out of Downtown onlookers along the Riverwalk took pictures and video. Others stood in awe. When we left the breakwater the boat shook just as Klassik began rapping his verse on “Fucks with Us.”

The drink of choice aboard the Vista King is without a doubt the house-made margarita. At only $4 regularly, it’s a dangerously delicious concoction made in bulk and served on tap. The rest of their drinks are reasonable priced, with 12 oz. cans of Miller Lite and Pabst at $4, and tallboys of MKE Louie’s Demise and Hop Happy at $6. Cocktails are $4 for a single rail, $6 double rail, $5 single call, and $8 a double call. Merlot, chardonnay, white zinfandel and sangria are all $4. All alcoholic drinks are $1 off on the happy hour cruise. Juice runs $3 and soda/lemonade/water are $2.

With the concert cruise ticket ($23) you get one drink token. Drink tokens are good for anything at the $4 level. On the happy hour cruise you have a few more options. To get on board it costs $18 for adults and $9 for kids. For $22 you can get two drink tokens (a 2-for-1 deal), and for $26 you get a two drinks tokens plus a hot dog or bratwurst ($4). Chips and pretzels run $2, cookies and laffy taffy are $1, and a Slim Jim is $3.

Let’s be honest, you don’t get on board the Vista King for the drink specials or the snacks. The main attraction isn’t the liquid in your plastic cup, but the water beneath you, the views surrounding you, and sometimes, the live music in front of you. When someone asks me what my favorite venue is in the city, I say the Vista King. How many other cities with a flourishing local music scene are regularly hosting concerts on their waterways? If my lady and I didn’t already have out-of-town plans this holiday weekend we would most definitely be on the “Soul Surf,” the penultimate Vista King concert cruise this Friday featuring heavy pop/surf rock outfit Soul Low. They’ve promised classic jams, deep cuts, choice covers and new material. The Vista King’s featured cocktail is the fitting “Soul Boxer,” a homemade Old Fashioned recipe ($6).

There’s nothing like sipping a margarita out on the lake while one of your favorite bands play their rhythms diving into the dark abyss. And there’s nothing like toasting with a friend while a red sun retreats behind the city skyline. Not even some stolen bags can spoil that slice of happiness. 

The final Milwaukee Boat Line concert cruises are this Friday (Soul Low) and Saturday (Grasshoppers), with boarding starting at 8:30 p.m. and departure at 9 p.m. The final weekday happy hour is this evening, boarding begins at 5:40 p.m., departure at 6 p.m. Happy hour cruises continue on Fridays and Saturdays through Halloween.

On Thursday September 10 at 8 p.m. there will be a very special Milwaukee Boat outing hosted by Matthew J. Prigge. Entitled “The Mondo Milwaukee Boat Tour,” this “adults-only” sightseeing tour will tell of long-forgotten vice districts, spot scenes of famous disasters, and feature trivia prizes. Tickets will go fast for this unique history of Milwaukee. For tickets and more information visit

Happy Hour Cruise

3 thoughts on “Weekly Happy Hour: Vista King Offers Great Lake Cruises”

  1. Barbara K says:

    I do not understand why Joey had to include a detailed description of a robbery in his article to promote boat rides in Milwaukee. We enjoy our visits to Milwaukee very much but I could see someone from out of town being dissuaded from visiting after reading about his experience. I read UrbanMilwaukee regularly to see what is going on in the city and find it to be interesting and informative. This article was informative in that it described the trips, food, fares and music (“Fuck with Us” may have been too much info however) but the overall tone of the piece was not inspiring.

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    A barber I know stopped at a gas station in a poorer section of town and (inadvisedly!) left his keys in the ignition, since he saw no one and thought he’d be out in a second. Result: no car! But he’s glad that he wasn’t robbed at gunpoint or injured. I’ve never been on a Vista King boat tour but you’ve certainly convinced me that it can cheer a person up (and all of us have times when we need to be cheered up!).

  3. DL Thompson says:

    Navigating any metropolitan/urban area requires one to be aware of their surroundings. I have lived in Milwaukee’s central city since I was 14 years old. I have never been a victim of crime. I’ve also lived in the Bay Area, Kansas City, and Denver. I made the mistake once of leaving my purse on the table while I was drinking with 4 friends. A guy who must have been waiting for an opportunity, walked by, grabbed my purse and ran out the door. I was in a rather upscale bar/restaurant in Berkeley. It only takes a minutes for a thief, no matter if it is in a city or suburb (yes, it can happen there too). Leaving one’s windows down or leaving the keys in the ignition (even though just for a minute or two) is an invitation to any thief. But it is nice to know there are places we can go when something like this happens to make us feel better.

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