Mil­wau­kee

Wis­con­sin’s largest city wel­comes vis­i­tors with lake views, stel­lar food, never-end­ing brews and a hearty dose of Mid­west­ern nice­ness

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY KATE SIL­VER

There’s al­ways some­thing to cel­e­brate in Mil­wau­kee. And I’m not just talk­ing about the mu­sic, food and art fes­ti­vals that fill the sum­mer, or the azure views of Lake Michi­gan, or even the city’s beer-steeped his­tory. I’m talk­ing about the jovial bands of peo­ple walk­ing the streets of down­town ev­ery time I visit — bach­e­lorette par­ties (so many bach­e­lorette par­ties!), bach­e­lor par­ties, wed­ding par­ties, fa­ther-daugh­ter dances. Re­ally, any oc­ca­sion is good there to pack the flask and break out the party gear.

I un­der­stand why they choose the Brew City. My hus­band and I love mak­ing week­end trips here from our home in Chicago. It’s small enough that it’s easy to get around and feels safe, but big enough that we dis­cover a new neigh­bor­hood, quirky shop, res­tau­rant or bar ev­ery visit. While the drinkingand-din­ing scene has long moved beyond its beerand-brats rep­u­ta­tion, you can still find plenty of that beer and those brats (in­clud­ing in craft and ar­ti­sanal forms), along with frozen cus­tard and squeaky cheese curds ga­lore. (It’s the Dairy State for a rea­son.) Plus, it’s af­ford­able (com­pared with Chicago prices) and there’s truth to that whole Mid­west­ern kind­ness thing. Don’t put on airs, and it’s likely that you will be wel­comed with open arms.

Go Lo­cal Faves

When in Brew City, do as the Brew Cit­i­zens do and raise a pint. A quench­ing place to start is 1 Pabst Mil­wau­kee Brew­ery and Tap­room, which is one of the new­est craft brew­eries to open in the city and sits in an old Gothic Re­vival Church that also for­merly served as a Pabst-owned bar and res­tau­rant. “New” and “Pabst” sound con­tra­dic­tory, con­sid­er­ing that the Pabst name has deep his­tory in Mil­wau­kee, dat­ing to the 19th cen­tury. But it moved its brew­ing oper­a­tions out of town in the 1990s. And the lat­est in­car­na­tion isn’t brew­ing hip­ster PBR (al­though you can buy that here), it’s cre­at­ing small-batch beers with more depth and in­trigue than the canned red­white-and-blue clas­sic. For a DIY Pabst tour, take a stroll around the block and you’ll see Best Place at the His­toric Pabst Brew­ery, which walks vis­i­tors through the his­tory of Pabst; you’ll pass the Brew­house Inn & Suites, a ho­tel built in­side the old Pabst plant. About a mile from there, you might get a deeper feel for the fam­ily’s his­tory with a visit to Pabst Man­sion, where Fred­er­ick and his fam­ily lived.

For Frank Lloyd Wright, it wasn’t all Falling­wa­ter and Taliesin. The Wis­con­sin-born ar­chi­tect be­lieved that beau­ti­ful homes should be af­ford­able at all in­come lev­els, and in the early 1900s he cre­ated a se­ries of de­signs for small homes, known as Amer­i­can Sys­tem-Built Homes, the pieces of which could be cut in ad­vance and as­sem­bled on site to save on waste and cost. You can see six of them on W. Burn­ham Street, and do­cents with the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion 2 Wright in Mil­wau­kee lead tours of one of the homes. (The tours are of­fered on Fri­days and Satur­days in the sum­mer and early fall but be­come more spo­radic as win­ter sets in.) Travel tip: One of the pri­vately owned Wright-de­signed homes on the street is beau­ti­fully re­stored and avail­able for overnight stays via VRBO.com.

Guide­book Musts

Is it meta that the build­ings that house the 3 Mil­wau­kee Art Mu­seum are works of art as well? My fa­vorite is the white pavil­ion de­signed by ar­chi­tect San­ti­ago Cala­trava, which looks like a mod­ernist bird, a cathe­dral or maybe a yacht de­pend­ing on the time of day you see it and whether its wings — which are ac­tu­ally 72 steel fins that act as a sun screen — are open or closed. Save a cou­ple of hours for ex­plor­ing the mu­seum’s wide-rang­ing col­lec­tion, which in­cludes dark por­traits from Baroque Europe and brighter pop pieces such as one of Andy Warhol’s Camp­bell’s Soup paint­ings, as well as ex­ten­sive Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe col­lec­tion (she was from Wis­con­sin), swanky fur­ni­ture by Her­man Miller, vin­tage cam­eras — and con­tin­ual nat­u­ral art in the form of sparkling Lake Michi­gan views through the mu­seum’s floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows.

The dou­ble-decker 4 Mil­wau­kee Boat Line Sight­see­ing Cruise toots along the Mil­wau­kee River out to Lake Michi­gan, alert­ing bridge op­er­a­tors to raise ’em up and let it pass. Dur­ing the 90-minute cruise, the guide re­galed us with sto­ries of Mil­wau­kee’s in­dus­trial his­tory while pass­ing old brick tan­ner­ies, brick ma­sonry fac­to­ries, and cold stor­age ware­houses; ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory via the sky­line and es­pe­cially that winged Mil­wau­kee Art Mu­seum; and Great Lakes in­sights such as the fact that the five lakes hold about one-fifth of all the fresh­wa­ter on Earth. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear some traces of lov­able Mid­west­ern aw­shucks earnest­ness. Our guide was talk­ing about a light­house there that’s now pow­ered by so­lar. “Which,” she said, “I think is pretty darn neat.”

Eat Lo­cal Faves

Tubu­lar meats — in­clud­ing some ve­gan ver­sions — are the draw at 5 Van­guard. Go global with the Guzman, which is sea­soned Yu­catan veni­son with pork fat, sour or­ange and achiote. Or keep it lo­cal, like I did, with a jalapeño ched­dar bratwurst topped “Mil­wau­kee-style,” slathered in cheese spread, shred­ded ched­dar cheese and squeaky fried cheese curds. It’s nap-in­duc­ingly de­li­cious. This isn’t your av­er­age cor­ner bratwurst joint; it’s also a bustling craft cock­tail bar, and spe­cialty sausages come with beer/cock­tail pair­ing sug­ges­tions.

Frozen cus­tard isn’t the ex­cep­tion in the Dairy State. It’s the rule. Ask some­one to name the best and you may spark an all-out war (which this rec­om­men­da­tion also could lead to), but I stand firm in my love of the but­ter pecan frozen cus­tard at

6 Leon’s Frozen Cus­tard — with its rich, creamy base and crisp, salty pecans — handed to you from a neon-cov­ered walkup joint that dates to 1942. This cus­tard, alone, is worth the 90-minute drive from Chicago. As you are wait­ing in line (and you are likely to be wait­ing in line), you can watch as ma­chines gur­gle out reams of the frozen con­fec­tion while staff in white caps and bow ties scoop it up to serve.

Guide­book Musts

My three Chicago com­pan­ions and I were blown away by 7 Braise, which cre­ates its sea­sonal menus based on what’s avail­able from Wis­con­sin farms us­ing all parts, from “root to leaf” and “nose to tail.” Of­fer­ings change reg­u­larly, but what’s con­sis­tent is global in­flu­ence, depth of fla­vor and al­lur­ing tex­tures — such as the chick­pea pan­cake made with sum­mer squash and topped with salty whipped feta or the rich, steamed pork buns with chive vinai­grette and crushed, spicy peanuts. With a mix of share­able small and not-so-small plates, there’s an im­pres­sive va­ri­ety for car­ni­vores, veg­e­tar­i­ans and pesc­etar­i­ans, as well as an eclec­tic craft cock­tail menu. I had a rum cock­tail with straw­berry, ba­nana and, oddly, as­para­gus cream that tasted much bet­ter than it sounds and is served in a skull mug with a toasted nose. Fun fact: Braise even cre­ated a ser­vice to act as a food hub so that other restau­rants and cus­tomers can eas­ily ac­cess pro­duce, baked goods, meats and dairy items from the farms and ar­ti­sans it works with.

Mil­wau­kee is a town that loves brunch, and the Euro­pean-style 8 Cafe Benelux — named for Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Lux­em­bourg — draws crowds for its al­fresco seat­ing (rooftop and street-level pa­tio) and eclec­tic of­fer­ings such as the pret­zel Bene­dict (pret­zel bread, ham, poached eggs and hol­landaise), ba­nanas Foster liege waf­fles and a sa­vory waf­fle made with hash browns and topped with steak. Break­fast is also served nightly, as are mus­sels, frites and burg­ers. Save some time to read through the 50-page “bier­book,” which is up­dated sea­son­ally and high­lights unique craft beers from Bel­gium, Hol­land and the United States.

Shop Lo­cal Faves

If you’ve ever thought, “Where in the heck do I get an owl pel­let to dis­sect?” Mil­wau­kee has your an­swer. It’s 9 Amer­i­can Sci­ence and Sur­plus, where you may also find dis­sec­tion tools, in­clud­ing those waxy trays from mid­dle school. This large, brightly lit sub­ur­ban shop of­fers aisle af­ter aisle of ex­per­i­ments, mi­cro­scopes, tele­scopes, lab glasses, gy­ro­scopes and just about any­thing a STEMlov­ing per­son could want or need. Plus, there is a solid se­lec­tion of toys, tools, mil­i­tary items, mo­tors and even the oc­ca­sional hatch­ing di­nosaur-egg novelty. Be­cause it’s a sur­plus store, you never quite know what you’re go­ing to find, so you’ll prob­a­bly have more fun if you go with­out a spe­cific need in mind (and just hope to walk out with that owl pel­let).

Fe­do­ras, porkpies, cadet caps, cloches, derby hats, church hats, in­tri­cate fas­ci­na­tors — the spec­i­mens are stun­ning at two neigh­bor­ing hat shops: 10 The Hen House for her and 11 Brass Rooster Hat Com­pany for him. Ma­jor brands are avail­able, as are cus­tom cre­ations made with equip­ment that dates to the 19th cen­tury. You don’t hear the words “hat­ter” and “millinery” much th­ese days, but th­ese two shops will make you ap­pre­ci­ate the crafts­man­ship that goes into a qual­ity cha­peau.

Guide­book Musts

12 Mod Gen — short for Modern Gen­eral Store — had me at “arugula can­dle.” This gift shop, lo­cated amid blocks of bou­tiques in the re­claimed ware­houses of the His­toric Third Ward, is packed with gifts and trin­kets — art­fully dis­played sta­tionery, stick­ers, bird­houses, hand­made soaps, hun­dreds of house­plants and a sec­tion ded­i­cated to items made lo­cally — that maybe you didn’t need but sud­denly re­al­ize you can’t leave with­out. Like the hedge­hog trivet that came home with me.

Fol­low the gi­ant red neon sign that says 13 “Mil­wau­kee Pub­lic Mar­ket” and ex­plore this gourmet/re­tail in­sti­tu­tion. There’s a seafood counter, restau­rants, bak­eries, pur­vey­ors of wine, cheese and sausage, kitchen ac­ces­sories — and, one of my fa­vorites, Brew City Brand Ap­parel, where T-shirts pay homage to in­sider Wis­con­sin tid­bits. The “Call Me OldFash­ioned” shirt is a nod to the Badger State’s of­fi­cial cock­tail, and the “Where’s the bub­bler?” tee flexes a piece of whenin-Wis­con­sin vo­cab­u­lary: bub­bler means wa­ter foun­tain. (My mom is from Wis­con­sin, and now also hap­pens to be the proud owner of a bub­bler shirt.)

Stay Lo­cal Fave

The smell from the wood-fire oven hits as I walk through the doors of 14 Kimp­ton Jour­ney­man Ho­tel, one Mil­wau­kee’s new­est, and im­me­di­ately scores on the cozy front. (The com­ple­men­tary wine happy hours in the lobby’s liv­ing room area add to that, as do a fire­place and pool ta­ble.) The rooms here have a play­ful res­i­den­tial feel. And wait un­til you see the bath­tubs: Yuge! Beyond the rooms, the whole ho­tel is a win­ner. The first­floor res­tau­rant, Tre Ri­vali, is lucky to have chef Heather Ter­hune, who is a fa­vorite of mine from her Chicago days work­ing at Sable and makes pitch-per­fect Mediter­ranean fare rang­ing from wood-grilled ar­ti­chokes and pizza to hand­made pas­tas and in­spired seafood dishes. One of the best parts of be­ing a guest: I didn’t have to stand in the 20-per­son-deep line to get up to the ninth-floor rooftop lounge, the Out­sider (a.k.a. the it spot in town). I just hopped in the el­e­va­tor us­ing my key card, hit No. 9 and ducked through the tight crowd to take in the glim­mer­ing rooftop views.

Guide­book Must

Built in 1927, the art deco 15 Hil­ton Mil­wau­kee City Cen­ter is be­decked in mar­ble and chan­de­liers. Its lobby seat­ing nooks are a great place to hun­ker down in the op­u­lence with a lap­top. Fea­tur­ing more than 700 rooms, the Hil­ton is the largest ho­tel in the city, which means you can of­ten nab a com­fort­able room for a bar­gain. But I have to say, the pri­mary rea­son I’m rec­om­mend­ing the Hil­ton over other ho­tels (there are some great ones in Mil­wau­kee) is the ser­vice. I once fell ill af­ter a long, hot cy­cling trip and I needed to go to the emer­gency room. The ho­tel’s cheer­ful shut­tle driver trans­ported me to the hos­pi­tal at 2 a.m. and picked me up and brought me home the next day. That’s the kind of treat­ment you don’t for­get when trav­el­ing.

Ex­plore Lo­cal Faves

It took all of 10 min­utes walk­ing up artsy S. Kin­nick­in­nic Av­enue — the main drag in the 16 Bay View neigh­bor­hood — for my hus­band and I to nod and agree, “Yep, this is where we’d live if we moved here.” We wan­dered into Tip Top Atomic Shop eye­ing the vin­tage cloth­ing, peeked in­side the his­toric Avalon Theater, con­sid­ered a game at an old-school bowl­ing al­ley and took in an ar­ray of tempt­ing bars and restau­rants (Sugar Maple, Odd Duck, Good­kind, Van­guard, Honeypie) as well as a solid mix of record shops, comic shops, tat­too par­lors and tire stores along with places with words like co-op, col­lec­tive and em­po­rium in their names. It was a lit­tle bit hip­pie, a lit­tle bit hip­ster, and we’ ll be back next time.

Guide­book Musts

The ware­house district, known as Mil­wau­kee’s 17 His­toric Third Ward, has found new, trendy life. Now, the old brick build­ings — which are in­cluded on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places — are filled with bou­tiques, galleries, art stu­dios, restau­rants, bars and other ver­sions of vis­i­tor cat­nip. With hun­dreds of busi­nesses in about 10 square blocks, there’s an ur­ban den­sity and en­ergy that I haven’t yet felt else­where in Mil­wau­kee. Bor­dered by the Mil­wau­kee River and Lake Michi­gan, this neigh­bor­hood is an easy launch­ing point for ex­plor­ing the River­walk, at­tend­ing the an­nual Sum­mer­fest (an enor­mous mu­sic fes­ti­val that lasts 11 days and draws nearly 1 mil­lion peo­ple), hop­ping on a Bublr (the bike share pro­gram) or just tak­ing in the sights of the old ware­house struc­tures, some ren­o­vated, some a lit­tle spooky. Sil­ver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twit­ter at @K8Sil­ver.

PHO­TOS BY GARY PORTER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mod Gen — short for Modern Gen­eral Store — in Mil­wau­kee’s His­toric Third Ward; the crispy chicken slid­ers at Cafe Benelux in the Mil­wau­kee Pub­lic Mar­ket; a rooftop fire pit at the Kimp­ton Jour­ney­man Ho­tel; a sky­line view via the Mil­wau­kee Boat Line Sight­see­ing Cruise.

PHO­TOS BY GARY PORTER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

FROM TOP: In Mil­wau­kee, Kate McLaugh­lin puts her touch on a fas­ci­na­tor at the Hen House, part of a pair­ing of cus­tom hat shops with its next-door neigh­bor, the Brass Rooster Hat Com­pany. Ben Smith plays his sax­o­phone for tips out­side Leon’s Frozen Cus­tard. A statue of King Gam­bri­nus, the pa­tron saint of beer (this is the Brew City, af­ter all) stands in the court­yard of Best Place at the His­toric Pabst Brew­ery. With its gi­ant sword­fish and in­flat­able crab, St. Paul Fish Com­pany has a big foot­print at the Mil­wau­kee Pub­lic Mar­ket. Ron Mis­cav­ige is the man with the horn — a trum­pet this time — out­side Santino’s Lit­tle Italy in the Bay View neigh­bor­hood. Kacil­lia Jack­son and Donelle Sims get in some bar time at Mar­garita Par­adise in­side the pub­lic mar­ket.

GARY PORTER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

At the Brass Rooster Hat Com­pany, John McLaugh­lin makes lids by hand at the shop he owns with his wife, Kate.

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