Milwaukee, Wisconsin constitutes the remnants of a few industries long gone and the emergence of others that render the city somewhere between a resurgence and an evolution. It certainly never faded completely, but there’s undoubtedly something new to it all. That doesn’t mean the best parts of the city are those that opened recently though. Milwaukee adores its longstanding bars (Bryant’s) and fast-food joints (Kopp’s Frozen Custard), but is proud of its newly opened arts hotel and a Santiago Calatrava-designed addition to the city’s Milwaukee Art Museum.
To best experience the city is to indulge in its offerings that actively amplify and reference the businesses that came before them. That may be in a hotel that features works by local artists or by sipping a beer made a few miles outside of town, but these suggestions are mere starting points for delving into the city’s comprehensive network of restaurants, bars, creameries, breweries, museums and much more.
Saint Kate Arts Hotel
Created “by artists for artists,” the Saint Kate Arts Hotel in downtown Milwaukee emphasizes artwork by local and international artists and pledges 1% from each guest bill, from June through October, to Sculpture Milwaukee, a public installation of sculptural works throughout the city. The 219-room hotel—with an interior designed by Stonehill Taylor—also features five Canvas Rooms, suites with either a king or two queen beds outfitted (from floor to ceiling) by selected local artists. Lon Michels’ Leopard Room incorporates an all-over pattern of varying colors and proportions, and Rosemary Ollison’s The Beauty of Integration uses textural elements—ruffles, stitched patterns and more—to fill the square footage. Standard rooms come adorned with their own unique pieces and pamphlets placed bedside offer explanations for the works there as well as elsewhere in the hotel. Downstairs, adjacent to a lobby bar, two galleries present rotating exhibitions, and host weekly tours and performances in an attached black box theater.
A handful of Milwaukee’s most acclaimed restaurants can be attributed to chefs Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite (from contemporary Chinese DanDan—a play on their names—to the French-inspired Fauntleroy) and their experimental offering situated in a private room inside DanDan, EsterEv, is no exception. EsterEv riffs on the names of the two chefs’ grandmothers, Evelyn and Ester, and references their cooking through an ever-changing tasting menu. From a confusingly crisp deviled egg to delicious dumpling dishes, the typically 10-course meal offers insight into the local scene, the types of dishes the chefs offer at their other restaurants, and bites that pay homage to their families’ matriarchs.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Founded in 1888 as the city’s first art gallery, the Milwaukee Art Museum—and its more recent buildings, designed by Eero Saarinen, David Kahler, and Santiago Calatrava—comprises four floors of gallery space, and 341,000 square feet in total. Some 30,000 works exist in their permanent collection, which includes 15th to 20th century European works and 17th to 20th century American pieces. Unbeknownst to many, this museum also bears one of the largest collections of Georgia O’Keefe’s artworks—she’s a Wisconsin native. Also, for fans of artist Kehinde Wiley, his 2006 piece “St. Dionysius” hangs here.
Hacienda Beer Co.
The Hacienda Beer Co. location within Milwaukee’s city limits serves the brewery’s experimental beers, but their Door County location handles all of the production. There, they use the natural landscape around them as inspiration, relying on state-grown ingredients whenever possible. Their beer list isn’t as IPA-heavy as those that dot the east and west coasts, but those they do produce are pleasantly bitter and boast a smooth mouthfeel. Other rotating beers include sours, porters and saisons—as well as a few that rest in their oak vessels stored in their fermentation facility. Plus, their North Ave taproom is by far the most pleasant-looking beer bar in the city.
Clock Shadow Creamery
Milwaukee’s first urban creamery—and one of the few left in the country—Clock Shadow Creamery produces all of its cheeses in-house, in a production facility located just feet from its shop. Visitors can peruse the offerings—chèvre, cheddar and other cheeses—and watch as they’re being made. Regardless of whether you plan to purchase cheese or not, there are samples (including variations of their curds) situated near the register, and a panini press that the staff can use to craft a grilled cheese for customers looking for a to-go snack.
Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern
Officially opened in 2018, the family-owned Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern serves, as its name suggests, breakfast. But the restaurant’s subtle tweaks encourage diners to carefully consider what they’ll order; for example, the Eggs Benedict, a delectable staple at most morning spots, comes with pulled ham and a massive helping of smashed, twice-fried potatoes. House-made treats range from their delicious gravy (poured atop biscuits) to a signature chorizo sausage. All dishes are fairly priced and can be paired with any number of drinks included on the extensive list of morning cocktails, coffee drinks and juices.
Hero image by Evan Malachosky