By Kristine Hansen | Photography by the Downtown Fond Du Lac Partnership

Most people already know about Milwaukee Irish Fest – the world’s largest celebration of Celtic music and culture – and every major town in Wisconsin boasts at least one Irish bar, if not half a dozen. Still, there are hidden gems around the state to further explore the luck of the Irish … if you know where to look.

Smaller towns host Irish pub crawls on or around St. Patrick’s Day. This is a great way to explore a new area while still getting your annual Guinness or Jameson sip in. Typically, how this works is you sign up and visit only participating pubs.

Monroe’s Celtic Crawl (11 a.m. on March 9) travels to eight bars and pubs, where you collect stamps, passport-style, for a chance to win prizes. Thirsty Shamrock Pub Crawl (1 to 5 p.m. on March 16, $25-$35) takes over downtown Wisconsin Dells, with drink specials at some pubs. Food and drink specials as well as a parade (at 3 p.m.) and run/walk (at 2:30 p.m.) are among the activities at downtown Fond du Lac’s St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl (March 16).

Or, if visiting just one Irish pub is more your style, check out one of the state’s newest. Madden’s Irish Pub in Elroy may have debuted last summer but its roots stretch back around 125 years, as evidenced by the original tin ceiling, back bar and mirrors. During the 1960s through the 1980s, owner Chris Madden’s grandfather operated it as a bar. Madden, who is a quadriplegic, is the visionary behind the premise, and ensures the food skews more elevated than what’s normally on the menu at an Irish pub – items include made-from-scratch Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake and hand-rolled Irish eggrolls. There’s even house-made Jameson aioli and Guinness ketchup for a new twist.

One popular souvenir on a trip to Ireland is a hand-knit sweater or other knitwear born out of the wool from countryside sheep. At O’Meara’s Irish House, an Irish-imports store in Fish Creek,  Aran Woolen Mills sweaters for men and women come in a rainbow of colors and you can even stay above the store in a cottage loft for the night. The shop’s owners have traveled to Ireland for several decades and are happy to help you plan your next trip there. Mystic Ireland relocated from Elm Grove and is now in Milwaukee, near Hales Corners. Belleek pottery, Aran sweaters, Guinness merchandise and Celtic jewelry are among the items sold. Another small business in Wisconsin that imports goods from Ireland is Irish Boutique in Cedarburg, stocking items like merino-wool Irish sweaters as well as wall art, trinity-knot jewelry and newsboy hats.

Irish Eats

Tired of corned beef and want to move beyond other typical Irish foods—shepherd’s pie and a Reuben sandwich? Fortunately, you’ve got options.

O’Malley’s European Foods, Milwaukee: Score Irish snacks and chocolate bars, such as a made-in-Dublin Cadbury Flake chocolate bars or an Irish soda-bread kit.

Classy Girl Cupcakes, Milwaukee: The Irish Caramel Bomb: this riff on the popular Irish cocktail folds chocolate milk stout into the batter, filling with Jameson caramel and topping with Irish cream.

ShaSha’s Bakehouse, River Falls: Owned by a Cork, Ireland, native, this custom bakery’s business debuted in 2021 and features Irish scones, Irish soda bread, Irish plum pudding and cupcakes and cakes infused with Jameson, Guinness and Bailey’s.

Paddy Coughlin’s Irish Pub, Fort Atkinson: Available on the lunch and dinner menus are Irish Tacos: corned beef stuffed into two corn tortillas and topped with coleslaw, cilantro and spicy aioli.

Bubs Irish Pub, Germantown: For a new twist on quesadillas, the Reuben Quesadilla features the pub’s slow-cooked corn beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.

Erin’s Snug Irish Pub, Madison: Kick off lunch or dinner with Corned Beef Shalaylee, essentially egg rolls filled with corned beef, cabbage and Swiss cheese.


Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer who calls Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood home.

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