Congratulations, reader! You’ve made another lap around the sun, and 2016 is on the horizon. Now the only big decision left to make this year is where and how you’re going to celebrate.
In the spirit of the tradition that unites every NYE party, we’ve compiled a countdown of our own, listing some of our best NYE recommendations. So if you’re overwhelmed by all the possibilities, take a deep breath, count to 10, and then count back down to zero with our help.
And if your New Year’s plans include more than a Champagne toast, don’t drink and drive. Instead, take advantage of the free NYE bus service in Milwaukee and Madison, running all night. For more information, call 414-344-6711 or visit ridemcts.com in Milwaukee or 608-266-4466 and cityofmadison.com/metro in Madison.
10 Milwaukee adventures
Milwaukee gaming bar 42 Lounge will set its annual NYE bash in the world of Bioshock, with a masquerade ball taking place in the game franchise’s underwater city Rapture. But you don’t have to be a fan of that particular series to enjoy yourself — any fandom is fair game to dance the night away to tracks spun by DJs Shepard, Tony-Wan Kenobi and Tiny Bubbles. 8 p.m. at 326 E. Mason St. $5. 42lounge.com.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: the Best Place Formal Pajama Party. Show up in your fanciest suit and tie or cocktail dress, and switch into comfy ‘jamas at midnight and keep on partying. This year, the party will be held in the Historic Pabst Brewery’s Great Hall, so it’s going to be an even more memorable shindig than usual. 8 p.m. at 901 W. Juneau Ave. $5. bestplacemilwaukee.com.
Brand-new brewpub Company Brewing is hosting a NYE Blowout and packing the place with some of Milwaukee’s best musical groups, including seven-woman vocal group Ruth B8r Ginsburg, indie rock band Sat. Nite Duets, and The Fatty Acids Family Band, a local supergroup Frankensteined out of members of the aforementioned Acids as well as members of Ruth B8r Ginsburg, New Age Narcissism and Mortgage Freeman. Bonus: The bar’ll serve food late and even give away free beer from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. Doors open at 9 p.m. at 735 E. Center St. $10. companybrewing.com.
County Clare dubs itself the most cozy and chill place to spend New Year’s Eve in Milwaukee, and it’s hard to argue. Between the secluded location, warm fireplaces, traditional Irish music by Ian Gould (who performs at 6 and 10 p.m.) and hearty menu options, you’ll have to make sure you aren’t so content you drift off. If you think that’s a risk, County Clare is also offering hotel packages starting at $190. At 1234 N. Astor St. No cover. countyclare-inn.com.
If your favorite part of New Year’s Eve is watching that ball drop, Evolution MKE might be the place for you and your friends. The Ping-Pong bar still has tables available for its “NYE-volution” celebration, so if you can get at least nine friends on board, you can secure a reserved table, open bar and appetizer buffet for $50 each. 9 p.m. at 1023 N. Old World Third St. evolutionmke.com.
Bowl your way through the end of 2015 at Landmark, and not only can you stay later than usual, but you also get party favors, drink specials and a story to tell your jealous friends. At 2220 N. Farwell Ave. No cover. landmarklanes.com.
Energy 106.9 sponsors this Cathedral Square party with Cousin Ed and DJ Ekin joined by DJ Bone White. The “Bombs, BBQ & Beers” joint will become a booze and beats, all-you-can-drink until 1 a.m. joint for this special night. 10 p.m. at 811 N. Jefferson St. $65. mikeysmilwaukee.com.
Nomad World Pub
This Brady Street hole-in-the-wall was the place where Milwaukee cover band 5 Card Studs first performed 20 years ago, and it’s where they’ll be celebrating two decades of Vegas-lounge-style entertainment. Besides an intimate show with a great band, Nomad will also have raffles and giveaways, along with the customary Champagne toast. 10 p.m. at 1401 E. Brady St. $30. nomadworldpub.com.
No matter what time you show up at the Safe House, you’ll have a NYE countdown to join. The bar/restaurant will once again be holding its “Round the World” party, where the bar celebrates each successive midnight as the world spins Milwaukee closer and closer to 2016. This year’s event will be split, beginning early with a family-friendly gathering, before a “Shag-a-delic Dance Party” ($10 cover) begins at 8 p.m. The adult portion of the evening features open bar specials for short periods through the night. 11 a.m. at 779 N. Front St. safe-house.com.
Whether or not you’re a whiskey aficionado, Whiskey Bar might just be the right spot for your New Year’s Eve celebration. Just remember to pick up your tickets early, so you get VIP access and a free coat check. 8 p.m. at 788 N. Jackson St. $25 advance, $35 at the door. whiskeybarmilwaukee.com.
9 Madison hotspots
Radio station WORT’s annual Nasty New Year’s Eve benefit returns to Alchemy Cafe this year, bringing supporters together to ring in the new year with the help of seven-piece funk band The Mustache. 11:30 p.m. at 1980 Atwood Ave. $10. alchemycafe.net.
Salsa fans know Cardinal Bar is the place to stylishly kick up your heels. On New Year’s Eve, party with DJ Chamo Candela, who will bring his Venezuelan heritage and taste for Latin music to the dance floor from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. 418 E. Wilson St. $12. cardinalbar.com.
Gourmet burger joint DLUX celebrates in style on New Year’s Eve. An $85 admission provides access to a premium open bar starting at 9:30 p.m., hors d’oeuvres at 11 p.m. and midnight champagne toast, all to the sounds of DJ Eugene’s Rocking Beats. The full kitchen stays open until midnight. 117 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Essen Haus / Come Back In
Once again, adjoining bars Essen Haus and Come Back In join forces to produce a NYE party with double the food, double the bands and at least double the fun. The all-inclusive “extravaganza” will feature buffets that swap out food throughout the evening, from appetizers to dinner to second-dinner, as well as polka act The David Austin Band at Essen Haus and classic rock band Live at Nine at Come Back In. Festivities start at 6 p.m., while bands arrive at 9 p.m. At 514 E. Wilson St., Madison. Tickets are $70 before Dec. 23, $75 after. essen-haus.com.
This year’s NYE Bash at The Frequency is a little more devilish than usual — thanks to headliners Devil to Drag. The local alt-rock group, defining themselves as “glamour meets demon rock” will perform a set leading up to the big ball drop, with opening acts including garage soul band Cowboy Winter. 9 p.m. at 121 W. Main St., Madison. $10. madisonfrequency.com.
Gib’s is the ultimate Madison hole-in-the-wall: a classy cocktail bar concealed in a nondescript Willy Street home. This New Year’s Eve, though, they’re willing to shine bright with their Gold Party, featuring music, complementary Champagne punch and hors d’oeuvres, glitter bottle service and gourmet grilled cheese from Melted food cart. Cover is $15, or $10 if you’re wearing gold, and 30 percent of that goes to support nonprofit movement Dressember’s efforts to end human trafficking. 8 p.m. at 1380 Williamson St. gibs.bar.
High Noon Saloon
It’s a night of cover bands at the High Noon Saloon, with local Madison acts taking on new monikers and covering the work of famous artists. For example: Funky alt-rock group The Earthlings will perform music by The Smashing Pumpkins as “The Smashing Pumpklings,” while musicians from Meghan Rose and the Bones, The Mascot Theory and Deuce Bag will perform the music of Wilco as “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Hotel.” Hors d’oeuvres and a midnight champagne toast included. At 8 p.m. at 701A E. Washington Ave. $10. high-noon.com.
This fall, coffee bar A-OK, wine bar Barolo, and Southern-style restaurant Julep quietly opened their doors in the new development known as Robinia Courtyard. But the triple threat won’t be staying quiet much longer. Their inaugural New Year’s Eve party will be spread among all three venues and the shared courtyard, with food from each of the restaurants’ menus, four different music options and gift bags that might include a lucky golden ticket. 8 p.m. at 829 E. Washington Ave., Madison. $65.
This popular downtown gay bar plans to rock out 2015 with “Ascension,” a New Year’s Eve Black Party — think masks and dark house music. Go deep and dark with DJ John Murges all night long until the 5 a.m. breakfast buffet. 114 King St. No cover charge. madwoofs.com.
8 dance parties
Club Icon NYE Party
Kenosha’s premier gay bar and club will get extra festive for its annual New Year’s Eve party, stocking up with a buffet, door prizes and a champagne toast to cheer the departing year. General admission is $15, while a $55 VIP package adds an open bar until 12:30 a.m. At 6305 120th Ave., Kenosha. club-icon.com.
Dance in the new year at the Majestic annual NYE celebration. The theater itself is a vaudeville house-turned-concert venue, and DJs Nick Nice and Mike Carlson will mirror that evolution by spinning 100 years of music from the 1920s through the 2010s. From Louis Armstrong to Daft Punk, the later the evening goes, the newer the music gets. 8 p.m. at 115 King St. $20. majesticmadison.com.
The Get Down
It’s the longest-running dance party in Milwaukee, so perhaps you’ve already attended this annual funk and soul celebration at Turner Hall Ballroom. If you haven’t, consider making this the year for this all-inclusive event, where real 45s will form the soundtrack to the last hours of 2015. For $60, you get the regular all-inclusive package, with an open bar, champagne toast and an ice bar/luge. VIP guests get to skip the line and grab food at an exclusive buffet on the VIP balcony, for $85. 9 p.m. at 1040 N. Fourth St.
Iron Horse’s Sweet NYE 2016
If you’re looking for a more stylish dance party, look no further than The Iron Horse Hotel. The venue’s “Sweet NYE 2016” bash will open the hotel’s doors to any and everybody, with DJ Fred X presiding over the evening and hotel packages available if you want to make a weekend out of your celebrations. 7 p.m. at 500 W. Florida St., Milwaukee. No cover. theironhorsehotel.com.
Jazzin’ Up The Joint
Don’t be fooled by the title of this party at Capitol City hotspot Madison’s. Every track’ll originate from a lot closer in time to 2020 than 1920, even if the dance party, hosted by DJ Brook, is a little more sophisticated than usual. 9 p.m. at 119 King St., Madison. $20.
NYE Retro Dance Party
Lots of these NYE dance parties will be spinning the best tunes of the year, but if you want the best tunes of yesteryear, there’s no place like Mad Planet. Its weekly Friday night dance parties are just practice for this year-ending bash. 9 p.m. at 533 E. Center St. $15 cover. madplanet.net
Oak NYE 2016
Oak Lounge prides itself on offering a big-city nightclub experience, and it’s that sort of aesthetic that can make NYE great. The club’s year-end festivities will be curated by Chicago DJ Willy Joy. 8 p.m. at 231 E. Buffalo St., Milwaukee. $25.
It’s considered Madison’s hottest dance club, and New Year’s Eve is the time for Plan B to prove it. Hours of dancing at this Willy Street bar will be topped off by a late-night buffet, though you’ll have to pull yourself off the floor to find it. At 924 Williamson St., Madison. Cover TBA.
7 arts events
‘Ball Drop Blitz 2’
On Dec. 30, actors, directors and writers from Madison theatre troupes Mercury Players, OUT!Cast Productions and KnowBetter Productions will pick each others’ names out of a hat. As teams, they have the next 24 hours to create the last theatrical mayhem and magic of 2015. Catch it at 8 p.m. at the Bartell Theatre, 113 E. Mifflin St. $20. bartelltheatre.org.
‘A Blast from the Brass’
Sunset Playhouse is best known for its stage productions, but for New Year’s Eve, it’s going for something a bit more orchestral. BtW, an 11-piece show band, will perform music by revolutionary artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s like Chicago, Van Morrison and Blood, Sweat & Tears, with a particular emphasis on the force of their brass and percussion sections. A raffle and champagne toast will follow the show. 9 p.m. at 800 Elm Grove Rd, Elm Grove. $45.
All-you-can-drink Champagne and all-you-can-eat hors d’oeurves are just a trick to get you in the door of ComedySportz for New Year’s Eve. After that, you’re trapped — enjoying some of the company’s best improv comics as they say goodbye to 2015 with whatever they can think of off the top of their heads. Luckily, that’s their speciality. Two consecutive shows, at 8 and 10:30 p.m., will conclude with a NYE countdown; after the real one, ComedySportz’s bar will stay open until you’re ready to face 2016 and head home. At 420 S. First St., Milwaukee. $35, reservations recommended.
‘A Funny Thing Happened on
the Way to the Forum’
True, a Roman New Year’s Eve would have been March 31, but Dale Gutzman and Off the Wall Theatre won’t make you wait three months to see their final production of Sondheim’s Forum. This rousing musical sendup of ancient Roman farces is a particularly good way to send off 2015, but get your tickets fast — space in this jewelbox theater always goes fast. 7:30 p.m. at 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. $45. offthewalltheatre.com.
Milwaukee Comedy Cafe
Wisconsin native Shane Mauss is home for the holidays, and celebrating a successful year that included the release of his new comedy album, My Big Break. He’ll be doing so in a new location, though, as this year also marked the Milwaukee Comedy Cafe’s migration to a second-floor loft space at 1033 N. Old World Third Street, Milwaukee. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are $15, $20 for preferred seating; 10:15 p.m. seats are $20, $25 preferred, and come with a Champagne toast. milwaukeescomedycafe.com.
‘Ring in the New’
After a year filled with rock ’n’ roll from the ‘50s and ‘70s and classic works of theater including The Wizard of Oz and West Side Story, the Fireside Theater is taking everything and throwing it into a blender for the 2016 edition of their Ring in the New revue. An original production, the show mixes songs old and new along with a few New Year’s surprises to keep frequent visitors guessing. The company will perform both a matinee at noon and an evening show at 6 p.m., which is followed by a New Year’s Eve party. At 1131 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson. firesidetheatre.com.
Splash Studio’s Silver and Gold NYE
Looking for more creative New Year’s Eve options? Consider dropping into Splash, the Milwaukee painting bar, for an evening in which you’ll recreate “Titanium,” one of the bar’s signature paintings. This tissue paper and gold and silver paint-constructed work won’t be the only thing that glitters — visitors can also look forward to gold-rimmed cocktails, party favors, a dessert bar, and a balloon drop at the end of the night. At 184 N. Broadway. $65 admission.
6 sparkling wines
Toast the New Year in regal style with Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil” Champagne ($54), a favorite of Winston Churchill and England’s current royal family. The wine pours a pale gold with delicate bubbles and light, toasty aroma, delivering a creamy palate with complex fruit and a harmonious finish.
Italy weighs in with Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut Franciacorta DOCG ($41), an impressive new entry wrapped in amber cellophane said to block UV rays from prematurely aging the wine. The exuberant golden wine offers a nose of apple, pear and honey, leading to a brightly balanced palate that finishes with a touch of almond on the tongue.
A delicate palate and fine sparkle pour from the bottle of Henkell Blanc de Blancs ($13), Germany’s favorite effervescent wine. Balanced and boasting a vibrant bouquet, the wine pours golden with a greenish cast, offering fragrant fruit on both the nose and palate.
Spain is the source of some fine, inexpensive sparkling wines, and Mas fi Cava Brut NV ($10) is one of its best. Made in almost equal parts from native xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada grape varieties, the wine boasts a light effervescence and a floral-citrus nose, delivering flavors of stone fruits and a creamy texture to your palate.
Chardonnay makes up the lion’s share of Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs ($15), another “white of whites” from California’s Sonoma Valley. The dry, full-bodied sparkler offers a memorable collection of tastes, textures and aromas that ultimately satisfy.
Korbel may make Wisconsin’s favorite brandy, but the Sonoma County winery also creates one of the country’s favorite domestic sparkling wines: Korbel Natural ($17). Produced in a “fruit-forward” style from a blend of Russian River Valley pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, Natural offers a refined collision of apple, citrus and raspberry aromas and flavors designed to put the sparkle into every holiday gathering.
5 family ideas
The Harlem Globetrotters are currently celebrating their 90th anniversary, so what better time to catch their traditional NYE appearance at the BMO Harris Bradley Center? In what must truly be seen to be believed, these basketball acrobats will show off their one-of-a-kind skills on the court. 1 and 6 p.m. at 1001 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. $21 to $137.
Ice Skating at Red Arrow Park
As long as El Niño doesn’t keep temperatures from dipping below freezing, a trip to this ice skating rink is the perfect New Year’s Eve outing for families. And, on Dec. 31, the rink is open extra late, meaning if you’d rather spend midnight circling the ice, you can do so up until 1 a.m. At 920 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Skate rentals are $8 for adults, $7 for kids 17 and under. county.milwaukee.gov.
Madison Children’s Museum Dance Party
Teach your kids how to rule a rave early at the MCM’s New Year’s Eve Dance Party. They may not be able to stay up until midnight yet, but they’ll certainly enjoy the glow bracelets, sparkling juice and confetti-filled dance floor at this event. 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at 100 N. Hamilton St. $8 admission.
Mitchell Park Domes
The weather outside is probably going to be frightful, but in the Domes, it’s always delightful. This annual fundraiser for the Mitchell Park Conservatory is bigger than ever, with a DJ dance party in the Conservatory annex joining live music by the Garlic Mustard Pickers, a magician, arts and crafts for kids and a stylish light show to close out the evening. 6 to 9 p.m. at 524 S. Layton Blvd., Milwaukee. $15 admission, $5 for kids 3 to 17.
Noon Year’s Eve
When the clock strikes 12, it’s the new year, right? That’s what you should tell the kids when you drop in for the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum’s daytime NYE bash. Families can celebrate by making party hats and other festive goodies, and count down to the big ball drop and juice toast at 12 sharp. 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 929 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. $8 admission. bbcmkids.org.
4 fancy shindigs
If you’d rather feel like a king or queen overseeing your domain on New Year’s Eve, the only place to be is Blu, the Pfister Hotel’s 23rd-floor lounge. Its “Window to the World” party will offer Champagne, desserts and cheeses and a performance by Janet O’Mahony. 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Packages are $300 to $500. blumilwaukee.com.
The Edgewater Hotel Gravity Ball
Funkmasters Bumpus and dance band The Hot Sauce Committee help revelers ring in the New Year at Madison’s dramatically renovated lakeside hotel with multiple levels and environments. $95 buys you access to two party locations, three drink tickets, appetizers, party favors and a Champagne toast at midnight. 9 p.m. at 1001 Wisconsin Place. theedgewater.com.
Ivory Room Midnight Masquerade
If your ideal NYE comes with a dose of ivory tickling, grab a mask and head over to the Ivory Room. $90 gets you in for an open bar and the dueling piano show you love, performed by Josh Dupont and Peter Hernet. If you’ve got the best mask, you might even pick up a $200 Noble Chef gift card. 8 p.m. at 116 W. Mifflin St., Madison. ivoryroompianobar.com.
Milwaukee Athletic Club’s Brew Year’s Eve
It’s hard to find a NYE experience that offers more than Brew Year’s Eve: five hours of open bar, complementary appetizers and champagne, two floors of music from indie classical band I’m Not A Pilot and DJs Mighty Thor and Tyler Curran, lots of dance space, entry to afterparties at Oak Lounge and Dick’s, and even free shuttles from Bay View and Wauwatosa and hotel discounts. You’ll pay for the privilege — $99 individually, or $179 for couples — but if bar hopping isn’t in your game plan, this price might be right. At the Milwaukee Athletic Club, 758 N. Broadway. brewyearsevemke.com.
3 delicious dinners
Graze and L’Etoile
Side-by-side restaurants L’Etoile and Graze will both offer prix fixe dinners under the direction of James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Tory Miller. L’Etoile (French for “The Star”) is serving a five-course dinner for $110 with course-by-course wine pairings for an additional $65. The more casual Graze has a three-course dinner priced at $65 with an additional $25 for wine pairings with each course. 1 S. Pinckney St., Madison. letoile-restaurant.com and
Look for a special New Year’s Eve menu and cocktails at The Icon Restaurant and Tapas Bar. Executive chef Omar Falcon will take the Spanish tapas menu in new directions on Dec. 31, along with bright Champagne cocktails, live entertainment and a free taste of the bubbly at midnight. 206 State St., Madison.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Dinner in the heart of MAM’s winged Calatrava expansion? It’s a no-brainer. MAM will be saying farewell to 2015 with a three-course dinner prepared by new executive chef Jason Gorman, followed by the dance-friendly melodies and rhythms of local big band Swing Nouveau. Plates are $195 per person, $175 for museum members. 700 N. Art Museum Dr. mam.org.
Brooks Whelan was one of the many cast members hired-then-fired from Saturday Night Live during its tumultuous 2013–14 season, but the show’s loss is your gain. He used the material and experiences gained in that year as fodder for his debut comedy album, This is Cool, Right? — recorded right here at Madison’s Comedy Club on State. He’ll return there for three sets New Year’s Eve, and it will, in fact, be cool. 5:30, 8 and 10:30 p.m. at 202 State St. Tickets are $20, $30 and $40, respectively.
If you’re still trying to figure out where to go this New Year’s Eve, consider going where Jim Gaffigan always goes — the Pabst Theater. Gaffigan has been performing a de facto NYE residency in Milwaukee for almost a decade, and you don’t go the same place year after year unless it’s a really good gig. Gaffigan’s NYE show is at 10:30 p.m. at 144 E. Wells St.; two other shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 29 and 30. Tickets are $85 or $55, with VIP packages $150. pabsttheater.org.
1 chilly resolution for 2016
Plunging for a good cause
We know you’re going to break your actual resolution by Jan. 12, so funnel all that positive thinking into something more altruistic — like jumping into really cold water. Polar bear plunges have become a New Year’s Day tradition across the country, a way to start the new year fresh with a slap of cold water right to the face.
But this year, consider a plunge that doubles as a fundraiser for a charitable cause. In Milwaukee, your best bet is the Polar Bear Dash, a 5k run starting in Grant Park in South Milwaukee and heading to a dip in Lake Michigan. The Dash supports the Wisconsin chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Registration is $30 online through Dec. 29 and $35 on race day.
Already have New Year’s Day brunch plans or are worried about that hangover? Then at least make Jan. 1 the day you start raising funds for a different plunge. A statewide Polar Plunge campaign supporting Special Olympics Wisconsin will host frigid jumps in 14 locations this year, from Jan. 30 to March 5, which means there’s at least one in your neck of the woods. Planned jumps include Green Bay, Jan. 30; Kenosha, Feb. 6; Madison, Feb. 13; Milwaukee, Feb. 20; Wausau, Feb. 27; and LaCrosse, March 5. polarplungewi.org.