Milwaukeeans want to set the record straight. Yes, they love their outdoor festivals, which probably began with the Algonquian Indians who named the area: Millioki, which means “gathering place by the waters”. Hardly a week goes by without some hoopla, which might be their Irish Fest, Polish Fest, Pride Fest, Oktoberfest, etc.etc.etc. or the granddaddy of them all, Summerfest- the “World’s Largest Music Festival” featuring over 700 entertainers on 11 stages during its annual 11-day run. They are immensely proud of their melting-pot heritage (hence great ethnic grub is readily available) as well as their new Riverwalk and iconic addition to the Art Museum.
This brings us to the little known fact that Milwaukee ranks as one of the top cities in the country for per capita donations for the arts. The results of this generosity is a world-class symphony, ballet, opera, as well as many theater venues, which include the First Stage Children’s Theater, the highly regarded Milwaukee Rep (known for off-beat yet compelling theatrical productions) and the gorgeously restored Pabst theater.
Milwaukee is also architecturally unique. Not only because of the golden “Cream City” brick made from local clay and used in many of the old buildings but also because, unlike many cities, they managed to create a happy marriage of preservation and progress with exciting re-purposing of historic old buildings and carefully planned revitalization projects.
The rapid development of hip, indie hotels, breweries, farm-to-table eateries, eclectic theaters and galleries all testify that Milwaukee residents are smart, hard-working, brimming with creativity and incredibly entrepreneurial. As a matter of fact, about the only thing small-town about Milwaukee is that they’ve managed to hang on to their mid-western strong family values and genuine niceness.
I recently returned from a surprisingly fabulous girlfriend getaway trip there, joined by my NYC big sis. When I invited her to join me she exclaimed, “Why would I want to visit Milwaukee? Isn’t that where Laverne & Shirley lived? Have you ever heard me say I’d really like more beer, brats and ballgames?”
A couple of days later she sure was singing another tune about this all to often-overlooked city. Here are just a few of her faves to get you started:
The Pfister Hotel:
Milwaukee’s Victorian grand dame may date back to 1893, but she carries her age extremely well, with a little help from a recent renovation. The impressive architecture and priceless Victorian art collection, the elegant, three-story high lobby filled with gold leaf, graceful sculptures and a stunning marble staircase, coupled with the impeccably trained staff transport you back to the golden era of gracious hospitality. Nods to a younger generation include a rooftop pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, the penthouse-level martini and wine bar, Blu, that offer spectacular skyline views.
The Pfister also deserves major kudos for their yearlong, Artist-In-Residence program. The hotel renovated a main floor space into a working art studio for the chosen artist and guests to enjoy. The artist selected the first year was Milwaukee native, Reginald Baylor.
According to Joe Kurth, The Pfister’s General Manager, “For decades, The Pfister has hosted the much acclaimed Victorian Art Collection, the largest of its kind in any hotel in the world. We want to expand on our reputation as a destination hotel for art connoisseurs by offering our guests and the public a glimpse into the world of art as it is being created – in real time, by amazingly talented artists.”
Tip: No girlfriend getaway would be complete without at least one appt (or better yet, splurge on a day of beauty) at their simply marvelous Well Spa. Each treatment room is a two-room suite, which includes your own private bathroom and shower, and some include a personal hamman. The pedicure room, with four chairs, is often reserved by a quartette of men who might be closing a big business deal over a footie massage. Could this be the new golf? When we were there, the distinguished gentleman getting a manicure turned out to be baseball commissioner, Bud Selig.
*Ask about their BFF package, which offers some great discounts for dining, drinks, spa treatments, and valet parking.