The game bar dice is a staple at bars across Milwaukee as well as the state.
Never heard of bar dice?
No worries, I hadn’t either, that is until a few weeks ago when a listener by the name of Dave Schroeter wrote in to WUWM's Bubbler Talk — our series that allows you to ask us questions about Milwaukee —with a question:
Why are the rules for bar dice the same everywhere in Milwaukee, except the south side?
Now before I get to the answer, I should explain the game. But to do that, I had to learn the basics. We started out at a bar on the east side, fittingly called the Eastsider. To play, you need a rubber cup —like the one used to play Yahtzee, five dice and some money. The amount of money you need depends on your luck. If you roll the lowest score, you buy the round of shots. If you roll the anything but the lowest, Dave says you drink for free.
“I feel like people play it to get drunk,” he says.
At least, Dave says that’s why he plays.
To roll, you put the five dice into the cup, give it a shake and turn it over. The scoring can be a bit confusing, one’s are wild and you need at least one of them for your score to be in play. Besides rolling a one, you also want pairs. Your highest pair counts toward your score. So, if I roll two ones and three six’s my score would be 56. All five dice were in play, hence the 50, and I rolled a pair of six’s, hence the 6. Like I said, confusing, but you quickly get the hang if you’re actually playing.
So, what’s the big difference between how the game is played everywhere in the city and the south side? Dave says it’s simple.
“Here at the Eastsider, I get three shakes and it’s my high score that counts. If we were in Bay View or the south side, I’d only get one shake, and then when it was down to two people that’s when you start getting three rolls for your score,” he says.
It doesn’t really sound like a big deal, but Dave assures me it can be because it catches people by surprise.
Now, of course we couldn’t do this story without actually playing at a bar on the south side. We stopped by the Bubbler in Bay View where a guy named Justin Bashaw works a bartender. He says his grandfather has been playing for decades and says you don’t get three shakes until there are only two people left in the game.
“I don’t know. I mean I was taught it was down to two all day. I learned from my grandpa who is almost 87 that that’s the way it was done back in his day and he doesn’t understand why you’d go down to three. I don’t understand it, I guess,” Justin says.
Still, he admits that every bar will be different.
“Any bar you go to, the rules change. Like Junior’s Hook has different rules than the Bottle, the Bottle has different rules than the Bubbler. I mean Club Garibaldi doesn’t even play dice. I mean there’s places that don’t even do it,” Justin says.
While there is no real concrete answer, I’ve been warned by Dave that I might get a lot of comments saying I learned the game wrong. Dave wants you all to relax. He says there are lots of ways to play so everyone is right.
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