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

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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. 

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!

Tags: Milwaukee, beer, brewery, frozen custard, sausage