We are wrapping up a three-night visit to Milwaukee before shifting gears and heading off to play some golf in nearby Kohler. We didn’t have a specific agenda for the visit, unlike in Cleveland and Detroit, but we enjoyed our stay, this time bunking in a B&B called the Muse Gallery.
Milwaukee has a strong German heritage and in the 1800s was the beer brewing capital of the U.S., led by brands like Pabst, Stroh’s and Blatz. The first two brands I know are are still brewed, but were long ago surpassed by other names. But like elsewhere around the country there are plenty of craft brewers taking up the slack. Pabst was the biggest brewer in the county at one time and Ferdinand Pabst left his imprint on the city. There is a theater named for him. His mansion is also open for tours, but we opted not to take one.
Milwaukee is a city of neighborhoods and is influenced by three rivers — the Milwaukee, the Menominee and the Kinnickinnic — and of course Lake Michigan. We stayed in the Bay View section, with Kinnickinnic St., “KK” for short, the main drag. It was a seedy area in the late 20th Century but is now rapidly gentrifying with numerous bars and restaurants. We were able to stroll to an eatery in the area each night.
The most entertaining spot was Barnacle Bud’s, a simple seafood joint on the nearby KK river. It’s located in a warehouse district and somewhat difficult to find if you aren’t arriving by boat. We went on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and not surprisingly the place was jammed. Everyone is there for the same thing: fish fry, aka fish and chips elsewhere in the country. Your only real choice is which fish to have fried. We opted for grouper, which is popular but not local, and walleye, native to the Great Lakes. Both were tasty, and we only had to wait 30 minutes for a table,
Unlike our prior stops there wasn’t a specific thing we planned to do in Milwaukee, and we kept the agenda loose. We did take a guided walking tour on our first day that focused on the many old and interesting buildings in the downtown area. It ended at the art museum, seen in the opening photos. It is reported to have a solid collection, but it was a beautiful day, and we just didn’t feel like spending a couple hours indoors.
We instead walked along Lake Michigan for a while, then cut into town and strolled about some of the other neighborhoods. One was near a spot known as Black Cat Alley. It features several outdoor murals that evoke what we saw on the remaining part of the former Berlin Wall.
On our second day we started off with a visit to a juried arts and crafts festival near the downtown Public Market in the “historic” Third Ward. Everyplace considers itself historic for some reason; don’t know why this part of Milwaukee is considered such, but it seemed like a cool spot and was near the downtown Riverwalk. It was a good show with about three blocks worth of vendors. Given it was the Saturday of a long weekend it was hopping. We stopped for a drink at a tiki-bar operated by a seafood vendor in the Public Market, which was good for a dose of local color.
The day was overcast, with a threat of rain. While we never got wet, the weather definitely turned from summer to more fall-like that day. Since it was getting chilly, our next stop was to visit the Haggerty Museum on the campus of Marquette University. This is where our inner nerd comes out: we went to see manuscripts created by J.R.R. Tolkien as he wrote his Lord of the Rings opus. It was interesting to us as fans of his work, and it makes us want to reread the books, but clearly you have to be a fan to find this stuff interesting. Why is it in Milwaukee? Because a former library director focused on acquiring works by Catholic authors reached out in the 1950s, not long after the books came out, and negotiated a deal to buy it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Overall, Milwaukee was a very fun city, with a resurgent but still somewhat mellow downtown. If traveling this way, especially if heading to the Kohler resort as we are, then it’s definitely worth a visit. We also recommend staying at the Muse Gallery B&B if that type of accommodations appeal to you.