Forget what you think you know about Milwaukee. The Dairy State’s largest city may cling to its cheese-y heritage, but it’s about more than brats and Miller beer, brewed here since 1855. Though the city welcomed a dozen or so craft breweries in the last two years, visitors also celebrate its food and cocktail culture, Lake Michigan vistas, bucolic hikes and world-class art at the Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum.
Pink Squirrel cocktails served in 1930s-styled lounges still rule in Milwaukee. Be part of the tradition at At Random, where you can slip into a curvy booth and order a Tiki Love Bowl, and Bryant’s, where there is no printed menu—bartenders have hundreds of drinks memorized. Milwaukee continues to build on its beer-baron history, as at least 15 craft breweries have opened in the last two years. At City Lights Brewing Co., in the former Milwaukee Gas Company warehouse, pair an IPA or Coconut Porter with grilled cheese sandwiches or a Friday fish fry. One of the state’s first craft distilleries when it debuted in 2004, Great Lakes Distillery’s tasting room offers tours, food and, of course, spirits. Many are farm-to-glass offerings, like its award-winning Good Land Cranberry Liqueur.
Justin Carlisle’s intimate Lower East Side eatery, Ardent, certainly has a familial feel to it. His father supplies the beef from the family’s farm, while mom’s hand-knit Afghans drape over chair backs. The chef’s tasting menu, from beer-cheese pretzel to bone marrow, is paired artfully with a fine selection of wines. Carlisle also owns Red Light Ramen, a Japanese-style ramen joint that’s open late.
What’s in a name? At DanDan, more than you think. Sure, its chef-owners are both named Dan, but the name is also an ode to the Sichuan noodles dish and its Chinese-fusion menu. Wine Director Sara Nardi scores small-production gems like California Grenache Blanc or German Pinot Noir. Glass-walled Harbor House juts into Lake Michigan and channels Nantucket with an extensive raw-bar selection. Start dinner in an Adirondack chair gazing out at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Pick up a Bublr bike and explore Milwaukee via the Hank Aaron State Trail and Oak Leaf Trail. Short on time, but yearn to hike? Lakeshore State Park hugs Lake Michigan near the Milwaukee Art Museum. Get out on the water with Milwaukee Kayak Company, then come ashore and visit breweries on the Milwaukee River, like Lakefront Brewery and Milwaukee Ale House. Catch a glimpse of more dairy production at Clock Shadow Creamery.
Savor the taste of victory and purchase a World Championship Cheese Contest winner at Milwaukee Public Market, and then bring it into the food hall’s Thief Wine Shop & Bar, launched by two transplanted Californians. Also in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood: Asian antiques at Elements East and artisan rings sure to stimulate conversation from 3rd Ward Jewelry. Check out the vibe in the hip Bay View area, and grab some vinyl at Acme Records and Rushmor Records. You can also browse desert-chic décor from macramé to air plants at URSA.
Four Hour Getaway
The town of Kohler, birthplace of the famed kitchen- and bathroom-fixture manufacturer, is an hour north of Milwaukee. It’s a golfer’s paradise and will host the 2020 Ryder Cup. It’s also a haven for fans of style and food. Celebrity designers’ vignettes at the Design Center’s showroom flaunt the brand’s toilets, tubs and sinks, while Kohler Waters Spa offers myriad luxury treatments. Top-notch dining at The Immigrant Restaurant, inside the American Club Resort Hotel, is served in six rooms that pay homage to early settlers of Wisconsin. Stretch your legs on a short hike through Kohler-Andrae State Park’s bluffs and sand dunes.