What to Do in the City That Puts Beer Gardens in Public Parks

August  4, 2015

Our COO Bridget on the places to go (beer), see (the Bronze Fonz), and eat (beer) in Milwaukee.

Photo courtesy of Lakefront Brewery via Flickr

Having lived in Milwaukee through college, marriage, the births of my children, my first job, and my first home purchase, it’s hard not to wallow in nostalgia and frequent old haunts when I visit. Lucky for me, my friends there have evolved—despite my protests—and with each visit comes a slew of fantastic new things to do and eat and drink. Here are some of my picks, both old and new:

First and foremost: BEER.
Milwaukee birthed the American beer industry. Beer culture there is real, yo. Skip the fancy cocktail clubs and find yourself a bar stool in a corner tavern. Head to Palomino Bar, a neighborhood classic that just happens to serve vegan bar food. Or 
Koz’s for mini-bowling with your beer. If you're after the archetype, perfectly executed, go to Wolski's—and yes, by all means, get the "I Closed Wolski's" pariphenalia. It's only cliché if you live within 100 miles. 

Shop the Story

Milwaukee was way out ahead of the craft beer movement (sorry Brooklyn and Portland), and one of the first breweries is still one of the best: Lakefront Brewery. And if you’re going to visit, make it on a Friday for a very-Milwaukee fish fry, complete with a polka band and a bubble machine. (BUBBLE MACHINE!) If you want to try them all, go to Sugar Maple, a great, newer bar in Bay View neighborhood serving over 60 American craft beers on tap. 

Oh, and in Milwaukee, they put beer gardens in the public parks. Beer Culture. Real.

Photo courtesy of Michael Newman via Flickr

First beer, then sausages (and other food):

  • Check out mighty Usinger sausages, established in 1880. You can go to the store right in downtown Milwaukee—or just find a decent restaurant (or nationally, any Shake Shack) serving sausages and chances are it’s a Usinger. Just ask. My friends also tell tale of Vanguard Sausage, a new, dare-I-say hipster establishment in the Bay View neighborhood, serving homemade delicious sausage...and beer. 
  • Frozen custard is the frozen dairy treat of Milwaukee, and you should have one at Kopp's. But when I want to leave my nostalgia at home, I visit Purple Door Ice Cream. With flavors like lemon cardamon and whiskey, this place gets me; it also pays attention to sourcing ingredients locally and sustainably, and giving back to the community. Go eat their delicious ice cream and tell them they are awesome.  

Photo courtesy of Bill in STL via Flickr

More food stops to add to your list:

  • Go to Glorioso’s, an old Italian deli on the ever-changing Brady Street. For a while I asked about the well-being of Glorioso’s each time I visited, sure it would be pushed out by a fancy condo development or some such horror. I didn't need to fear: Thriving and newly-expanded, Milwaukee loves its cured meats. And all is right with the world.  
  • Milwaukee Public Market. Head to the Historic Third Ward for a market chock-full of higher-end indie food vendors and purveyors.
  • I almost caused a brawl when asking my friends to name the best farmers market in Milwaukee. There are many, but I like Fondy Market the best (shhhhhh).
  • For a huge variety of high-quality spices and a great atmostphere, go to Spice House—an institution established in 1957.
  • Don't miss Clock Shadow Creamery, which brings the Wisconsin cheese-making tradition to urban Milwaukee. 

Want to read more about Milwaukee's restaurant scene? Head to Milwaukee Magazine for the latest.

Photo courtesy of straightedge217 via Flickr

To do!

  • Did you know Milwaukee has a gorgeous lakefront? Enjoy Bradford Beach or take a bike ride along the lake (there are plenty of bike rentals, or use the fantastically-named Bublr Bikes)
  • If you think you’ve heard about the Milwaukee Art Museum and you don’t know why, the answer is Santiago Calatrava! In 2001, the Quadracci Pavilion of the museum opened to the public, designed by this renowned Spanish architect. It features distinguishable, beautiful “wings,” and it's most definitely worth a visit based on this addition alone.

Photo courtesy of clarkmaxwell

  • I would be lying to you if I said the Harley Davidson Museum was a personal favorite. But people seem to like it. You know who you are. 

  • For great neighborhood walk-throughs, head first to Historic Brewer’s Hill. Just north of downtown and steeped in Milwaukee (beer) history, you’ll see some stunning Victorian houses and gardens. Make sure to stop by Sangerhouse Gardens, or as I used to call it when I lived there, “Steve and Angela’s house." Also take a stroll through the Historic Third Ward, Walker’s Point, Bay View, and East Side—they all offer interesting architecture, shopping, and a variety of restaurants and bars.

Photo courtesy of longigonzalez via Flickr

Other random coolness not to be missed:

  • The Bronze Fonz! Locals hate it. I adore it. Sing it with me: “Sunday, Monday, Happy Days…”

  • People-watch from the top—or giant swings hanging from below—of the Marsupial Pedestrian Bridge. In the summer, check out bike-in movie nights.
  • The Safe House: It’s cheesy. It’s weird. It’s fun. Don’t eat anything. Have a drink and a giggle. 

What are your favorite places to visit (and eat) in Milwaukee? Share with us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SpinachInquisition
  • Stephanie Pampel
    Stephanie Pampel
  • Kelly Riolo
    Kelly Riolo
  • Annie stader
    Annie stader
  • alison_sherwood

Written by: BrooklynBridget

Flawless mother, sublime cook, zippy biker, COO at Food52


SpinachInquisition August 10, 2015
This is, by far, the best list I've ever read for true, authentic where-the-locals-go Milwaukee haunts. I'm not a native (NY), but I've been here for over a decade and this article is spot-on. I'd add "throw a rock and you'll hit a phenomenal restaurant anywhere in Walker's Point", but that's about it. Thanks for representing MKE so well!
Stephanie P. August 8, 2015
I got so excited when I saw you featured Milwaukee! I may be biased, but as the pastry chef for the newest addition to a popular Milwaukee restaurant group, I highly recommend Story Hill BKC. We have a wine shop with over 300 bottles built in to the restaurant and feature classic Midwestern fare with a twist for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you're looking for a great brunch spot, our sister restaurant Blue's Egg is consistently written about in both local and national publications and always has a long line out the door on weekends (totally worth it though-definitely get the monkey bread).
Beyond the people I work for, I further recommend Sugar Maple and Bryant's cocktail lounge as mentioned above. We also have a lot of great coffee roasters in the city, but my favourite is Stone Creek coffee. Check out their location near the Third Ward that shares space with local alternative public radio station 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. If you're lucky you might catch a free studio session with a local or national band while sipping your excellent cold brew that they serve from a tap in the summer.
Kelly R. August 8, 2015
Thank you for writing such a lovely piece on the city I love! If you haven't been to Goodkind yet go check it out! While Milwaukee loves its beer brews don't forget all of the locally roasted coffee too!
Annie S. August 7, 2015
I love Milwaukee! But as far as Farmers Markets go take a short trip to Madison. I love that market! I know some do not like the " happening" type markets but this market has everything produce/ food wise and it is so much fun! The choices are astounding.
BrooklynBridget August 7, 2015
Very true! Madison needs it's own post.
alison_sherwood August 6, 2015
Milwaukee in summer is so perfect it just about makes up for Milwaukee in winter :) Walking the lakefront is a dream. I'll take out-of-town friends to AJ Bomber's for a good burger and fun atmosphere (equally fun for adults and friends with little kids). There's also food tours -- Growing Power is especially fascinating for anyone interested in urban agriculture and aquaponics:
Jenna August 5, 2015
Another off-the-beaten-path restaurant to check out: Conejito's! It's cheap, straightforward Mexican food that's good and not complicated! They serve it on paper plates. Margaritas come served in a pitcher with no ice, just straight up.
nomnomMKE August 5, 2015
As a Milwaukeean, it's so lovely to see my city featured on one of my favorite food sites! I second the suggestions for the Milwaukee Brewing and Great Lakes Distillery tours. And in addition to Sugar Maple, another great, funky beer bar is Burnhearts, also in Bay View and just a few blocks from The Vanguard and its fantastic sausages.
AntoniaJames August 4, 2015
Miller Park! Where they have tailgating totally figured out . . . guess that's not surprising, in Packers-land . . . . e.g., enormous concrete bins spaced about every 10 parking places for putting your ashes before heading in to see the game . . . . incredibly easy access into the park, even on a Friday night . . . . best ballpark brats anywhere (sorry Cincinnati, yours are really good, but not as good as the Brew Crew's) . . . great fans . . . gorgeous park . . . . yes, go to Miller Park.

I strongly recommend planning a day trip up to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's estate, about 2 hours northwest of Milwaukee (stop in Madison on the way!). You'll be so glad you did. You should buy tickets in advance as they strictly limit the number of people there at any time. ;o)
Mark E. August 4, 2015
Yes to all of the above! Couple additions to note: Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, brandy manhattans, Oak Leaf bike trail. Uecker, Yount and Aaron statues outside of Miller Park.
Juli K. August 4, 2015
Spot on my friend. You can leave Milwaukee, but you can never take the beer out of the girl. I'd add a kayak trip right through downtown on the Milwaukee River with Milwaukee Kayak Rentals. Or, if you do take a Bublr bikeshare, hit the Oak Leaf Trail - a gorgeous bike ride that takes you right through the heart of all the greatest neighborhoods - and straight to two beer gardens at Hubbard Park Lodge Park or Estabrook Park. Also, try the tours at Brenner Brewing Company and Milwaukee Brewing Company in Walker's Point, and maybe also check out Central Standard Distillery and Great Lakes Distillery too. Remember, its Milwaukee, so while they don't have beer, you can be sure to get some very "not" trendy cocktails, like a Bloody Mary or Milwaukee Mule. Oh, don't even get me started, just come visit!
Kenzi W. August 4, 2015
Oh heyyy Juli! We'll be on the next flight out.
Lindsay-Jean H. August 4, 2015
I've enjoyed a game at the ballpark (and giggled through the sausage race that cv mentioned), touring breweries by boat, and brunch at Trocadero.
702551 August 4, 2015
I've never been to Milwaukee but how about the ballpark? Isn't that the one where they have that goofy sausage race somewhere during the middle of the game (fifth or sixth inning)?
BrooklynBridget August 4, 2015
Yes Sausage race FTW! How did I leave that off?
AntoniaJames August 4, 2015
More on the Wiener Race, as a dear friend from Racine calls it: Goofy, yes. So, so fun. Worth a trip to the park just for that. I visit Major League parks whenever I can (I plan business trips with a game schedule in hand), and I can tell you that Miller Park is one of favorites, hands down. ;o)