Ole’n’Rick’s Northside Inn, located on Sherman Avenue, first caught my attention this past summer. At first I was drawn by the name, which is unique. Upon closer inspection, I noticed their sign, which featured a mischievously smiling Bucky Badger drinking a beer. That was the clincher for me — I must go to this place!
Perhaps the easiest way to describe the Northside Inn is to invoke images of practically any bar in rural Wisconsin. These bars leave a lasting impression, and even if you have never been to one, you have heard of the type.
Here is the basic scene — the bar is mostly filled with men, many drinking beer from cans or very strong Jack’n’Cokes. There are patrons in camouflage or Day-Glo orange, and there are never fewer than a dozen or so conversations going on about the Packers or the Badgers, regardless of the season. The few women around have deep voices, moustaches, are chain-smoking Chesterfields, and are anxiously waiting for one of the male guests to buy them a drink. It is a blue-collar atmosphere, but let us not underscore a very important component — there is serious drinking going on.
On the surface, such an assessment might not appear to form the most flattering impression. Quite the contrary is true. This is a real slice of Wisconsin with extra cheese. Consider some of the signs scattered throughout the bar: “If you’re gonna act like a turd, go lay on the lawn,” or “Order a drink and have a seat — you’re better off here than across the street.” This is a place where you check your attitude at the door.
The clientele similarly lacks pretension or generational barriers. On any given night, you might find a father-son or mother-daughter combination enjoying a cold Michelob. You might also find a group of buddies who have been coming to the Northside Inn for years for their usual nighttime drink, perhaps a brandy Old Fashioned.
You might find a middle-aged lothario with gold chains showing no signs of slowing down, working his best (or worst) to take a similarly aged female home. “You are, seriously, the hottest f*cking babe I’ve ever seen in my whole life — how about a shot of tequila?” he asks in a whisper so loud that it is hardly a whisper.
You might find the bartenders enjoying a few drinks themselves, and you most certainly will find them calling many of the customers by their names. The atmosphere is positively family-like.
The bar itself at the Northside Inn is U-shaped, which provides excellent exposure to the bartenders. Customers can order the usual variety of drinks, along with the standard staple of beer on tap, in bottles or in cans. Pabst Blue Ribbon is available for two bucks a can, and although it is hard to quantify, I would say that the Northside Inn sells more PBR in a can than any bar in the city.
True to the drinking spirit in the bar, shots are very generous. By generous I mean large, at about one and a half times the size of a standard shot, and available at very affordable prices.
To accompany your drinks, the Northside Inn offers a variety of diversions. The jukebox is stacked with country and classic rock. There are a number of table set video games, and the bar also happens to offer food and snacks. There is a fish fry on Friday evenings; the bar also maintains a nice variety of chips and beef jerky. If the drinking gets to be too much, you can kindly ask for an aspirin from the giant bottle underneath the cash register.
It is almost an understatement to call the Northside Inn hardcore. Consider one final fact — the bar opens every day at 6:00 am, to satisfy the graveyard shift on their way out of the nearby Oscar Mayer plant. The bar closes at bartime, which means that one could actually spend an astonishing 20 hours a day at the Northside Inn if he so desired.
The world seems to be on pause, or at least far from the city, at the Northside Inn. If you are looking for your own urban escape, look no further.
Bartime will be at Sweeney’s Living Room tonight, Friday, Nov. 16, at 9:00 p.m. The Living Room is located at the corner of University and Frances. Cheers!