Wisconsin has more than its share of bars, but this place serves up a different kind of spirits along with your favorite cocktails. Stop in for a drink, stay for a ghost tour – this may be the most unusual bar experience you’ll ever have.
Shaker's Cigar Bar in Milwaukee's Third Ward is one of the most interesting spots in the whole state. The stately building is tucked between renovated lofts, old school bars and fancy new restaurants. As a cigar bar, it's the only place you can legally smoke inside in the city and there's a haze and scent to everything here that just feels really, really old-school.
From the Shaker's website: "Located in the Historic Walker's Point Area of Milwaukee, the building was constructed in 1894, to serve as a Schlitz Brewery cooperage house – making huge barrels for beer brewing and transport. It was sold in 1905, and used as a distribution center. Sold again in 1922, the patina of coal dust and oil was kept on the front windows, the front door remained locked, and entry to the city's newest speakeasy was through the alleyway entrance."
That speakeasy was owned by Al and Frank Capone. Starting in 1924, they opened a soda bottling operation that served as a cover for the liquor being produced and consumed on site. There was also a brothel housed on the second and third floors. All kinds of not-exactly-on-the-up-and-up stuff happened here during that time. This covert part of the building's history lasted into the 1940s.
While there was a brothel on site, there are rumors of a murder of one of the sex workers by a jealous man. Those rumors are certainly bolstered by the fact that when the building was remodeled in 2001, human remains were found in one of the walls and tests said the bones were 70 years old. Whether or not you buy in to the idea of ghosts, it's hard to deny that this story is chilling and probably didn't lead to a happy afterlife for the woman involved.
There are, of course, no guarantees of paranormal activity, but the owner says that as soon as they moved into the building it was clear they weren't alone. Naturally, staff started telling those stories to patrons and the legends sort of grew. The ghost tours are a natural extension of that.
It's hard to imagine one single building having such a fascinating story, but what you learn on the ghost tour here is that it's not just about possible other life, but about the history of the city, how the building has changed hands, who's passed away here and how the building was built over one of the three original cemeteries in Wisconsin for non-indigenous people.
Those who think they're truly immune or who are open to the scare of their lives can actually stay in the third-floor penthouse for the night. Estimates say that only about 1/4 of those who attempt it actually make it through the night. Apparitions, voices, cold feelings, the sound of footsteps and so many more things make it a super creepy stay that's only for those not faint of heart.
There's a stellar menu of both drinks and food here and if you're just looking for a hip and swanky spot that's unlike anywhere you've ever been, Shaker's is perfect for that. Just know that you may be unknowingly sharing your chair with someone else.
The bar itself is a gorgeous throwback, though almost none of the pieces are original to this building; most of it was salvaged from other, time-appropriate spots. Some say that's why there seem to be so many spirits here - they came with the mishmash of historical pieces from long-destroyed Wisconsin homes and buildings and they've found a home now at Shaker's.
Shaker's says they're the fifth most haunted bar in Wisconsin and they do a number of ghost tours that have received national recognition. They've added a Jeffrey Dahmer tour and do not shy away from any of their infamy. While they play up their checkered past and reputation, they also don't go in for gimmicky haunting bits. There's no eerie music or opened ended questions meant to shake you up. It's clear the tour guides here believe what they're telling you.
Shaker's is a fun, funky, unique spot with a ton of history and enough of a questionable past that it's easy to but in to what it is they're selling. This is that old-school speakeasy, updated for the 2010s. It's swanky and fun, funky and probably at least a little haunted.
Shaker’s Cigar Bar is located at 22 S 2nd St., Milwaukee, WI 53204.
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