Nine Things to Do, Eat, and See in Milwaukee

TRAVEL + LEISURE
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To explore the area east of the Milwaukee River is to know the heart of the city. For a perfect afternoon, check out Yankee Hill’s distinguished hotels and apartment buildings before walking through Juneau Park to Lake Michigan. Along the way, here are some of the most compelling things to eat, see, and do in Brew City.

1. The Plaza Hotel

As Milwaukee’s premier Art Deco hotel, the Plaza has a lovely, secret garden–like outdoor courtyard that’s the perfect place to sit with a glass of rosé. The charming rooms are appointed with Parisian posters from the Belle Époque and the bathrooms retain their original 1920s-era tiles. Don’t miss brunch, which includes chive hash browns and Wisconsin-style poutine complete with chorizo gravy and cheese curds.

2. Milwaukee Food Tours

A tour that brings together thoughtful conversation and really good food is always a win-win. Theresa Nemetz, the founder of Milwaukee Food Tours, has crafted seven different walking tours that will take you through the world of pierogis, pizza, and other Milwaukee specialties. You won’t leave hungry. Top honors go to the Old World 3rd Street Tour and its array of German offerings, including schnitzel, sausages, and local microbrews.

3. Milwaukee Art Museum

With its soaring, cathedral-like postmodern architecture, the Santiago Calatrava–designed Milwaukee Art Museum has a wealth of fascinating galleries, from Abstract Expressionist paintings to the decorative arts of colonial New England. Don’t miss the folding and unfolding of the Burke Brise Soleil, a stunning sun screen, which happens twice a day.

4. AJ Bombers

If you can imagine a B-17 bomber factory that also serves up a veritable cornucopia of hamburgers delivered with piles of peanuts, well, then you know what to expect at AJ Bombers. The concept works largely because the organic grass-fed beef is excellent and the atmosphere quite congenial. Step up and order the Colonel Mustard (complemented by tangy mustard and chipotle cheese), and wash it down with a New Glarus Spotted Cow.

5. Jewish Museum Milwaukee

Opened in 2008, this museum does a lovely job telling the story of the Jewish experience in Milwaukee and beyond. Exhibits include explorations of wedding traditions, the influence of llezmer music on rock and roll, and the stories of Holocaust survivors. A visit offers an illuminating look at a lesser-known aspect of the city’s history.

6. Grohmann Museum at the Milwaukee School of Engineering: Man at Work

Housed in a former Cadillac dealership, the Grohmann Museum features more than 1,000 paintings and sculptures that explore the world of humans at their various labors. My favorites here include C. H. Hart’s painting The Hop Pickers (we’re in Wisconsin, right?) and the rather busy The Peasant Lawyer by Old Master Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

7. Watts Tea Shop

Tucked above a tony china and crystal store, this welcome holdover from another time boasts a proper afternoon tea service along with a daily quiche and a genteel atmosphere (don’t worry, you don’t have to whisper). If you come for breakfast, try one of the seasonal omelets (cross your fingers and hope for the “Walk in the Woods,” which features sautéed cremini mushrooms with tarragon and garlic).

8. Buckley’s

The antique bar (borrowed from a former Manhattan watering hole) is the centerpiece for the smart folks who wander into Buckley’s. Sit down and have a signature drink, like the Nutcracker Manhattan (made with Fee Brothers black walnut bitters, naturally) or the Last Word, which brings together Wisconsin’s own Death’s Door Gin and green chartreuse.

9. Tour the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center

If you hear war memorial and think “ponderous Neoclassical architecture you’ve seen a million times before,” think again: this Modernist building by Eero Saarinen on Lake Michigan features a floating cruciform with a reflecting pool and a million-plus-piece mosaic that commemorates World War II and the Korean War.