A visit to milwaukee means a step into the past and a look to the future. You can trace the city’s industrial history and cultural heritage in everything from architecture to beer to motorcycles. At the same time, it’s a bustling metropolis, with world-class art and innovative restaurants.
As you explore the city, you soon discover that the modern and the historic overlap. Many of the city’s revered arts groups—the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Ballet Company, Florentine Opera Company and First Stage Milwaukee—thrill audiences at the sleek Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, while the Pabst Theater, a city, state and national historic landmark built in 1895, welcomes today’s hottest bands and comedians.
Sometimes what’s old becomes the cool new place to hang out. That’s the case with the Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood of historic warehouses that are now home to boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars. You’ll also find the Milwaukee Public Market, a two-story indoor market brimming with wine, flowers, seafood, cheese, sausages, a coffee shop and a taco bar.
A symbol of the city—its roaring Harley—is honored in the Harley-Davidson Museum. Opened in 2008, it celebrates more than a hundred years of the famed cycles and the free-spirited life on the road they represent.
Speaking of icons, Milwaukee is synonymous with beer for good reason. Start with a guided tour at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery for a sample of Pabst or Schlitz and an overview of the city’s brewing history. Then stop by Lakefront Brewery to get a taste for modern-day beer making. A tour includes four pours: Choose among the microbrewery’s Riverwest Stein flagship beer, Lakefront Cherry fruit beer, Lakefront Organic E.S.B. (extra special bitter) and the new, gluten-free New Grist.
Read on for ten more ways to experience the two sides of this fascinating city.
The Pfister Hotel preserves the elegance of a bygone era, but when it opened in 1893 it debuted such cutting-edge technology as full electricity. A grand lobby showcases a soaring, muraled ceiling and a lounge with a fireplace and live piano music. The Pfister houses the largest collection of Victorian paintings of any hotel in the world—and hosts an artist-in-residence. Guest rooms are well appointed, with floral carpets, crown molding and large windows. Stop up to Blu on the twenty-third floor for panoramic views of the city and formal afternoon tea; come evening, the sophisticated space is an ideal spot for cocktails.
A hundred-year-old warehouse has a new life as the hip Iron Horse Hotel. The boutique hotel mixes industrial, rustic and modern elements. Loft-style guest rooms feature exposed pipes and brick, tiled and muraled walls, as well as leather headboards, concrete-topped desks and black-tiled bathrooms. Cool public spaces range from a library with a fireplace and a leather sofa imprinted with a faded American flag to a bar with a red pool table and industrial-style stools. In the lobby, sink into leather sofas and peruse motorcycle memorabilia—a nod to the hotel’s biker clientele and the nearby Harley-Davidson Museum.
Karl Ratzsch’s honors its German American heritage without kitsch. Opened in 1904, the restaurant features dark wood ceiling beams, with artwork, steins and antiques on display. The menu ranges from strudel, schnitzel, spätzle to fish, salads and vegetarian dishes. Staffers treat both regulars and newcomers like old friends.
Set within the stately Cudahy Tower near Lake Michigan, Bacchus opened in 2004 as part of the Bartolotta collection of restaurants. A small but diverse menu of small plates and fish, lobster and steak entrees is accompanied by an expansive wine list. Ask for a corner banquette in the elegant, contemporary dining room for a romantic meal.
Open since 1938, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge is a blast from the past, with velvet walls, cozy booths and old tunes playing on a McIntosh hi-fi. The bar doesn’t bother with menus. Simply tell the bartender what you’re in the mood to drink.
On the top floor of a brick building in the Historic Third Ward, Cuvée celebrates the bubbly. The champagne bar offers a hundred different varieties of sparkling wine—by the glass or bottle, or in flights or cocktails—all served up in a sexy space with low, intimate seating.
Set in a Tudor-style mansion built in 1911, the Charles Allis Art Museum boasts an impressive art collection. Among beautiful marble fireplaces, silk carpets and wood furniture are paintings from the French Barbizon and Hudson River School groups, as well as works by Winslow Homer, Thomas Gainsborough and Albrecht Dürer. Changing exhibitions showcase the work of contemporary Wisconsin artists.
While the Milwaukee Art Museum’s roots trace back to the 1880s, its 2001 Quadracci Pavilion addition—a soaring, sail-like structure—designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava made it a modern marvel. Inside, thirty thousand works of art range from antiquity to the present day, with significant collections of folk art, German Expressionism and works by Georgia O’Keeffe.
Since 1870, George Watts & Son Luxury Tabletop & Gift Emporium has sold fine tabletop products and home décor accessories. Stop in for dinnerware, table linens or a unique gift for a wedding, anniversary, new baby or holiday.
At Broadway Paper in the Third Ward, wood shelves brim with greeting cards, candles, books and gifts, plus paper and supplies for art and craft projects. Don’t miss the hanging racks of decorative papers boasting colorful, modern prints.