story and photos by Joey Amato
One of my lifelong friends, Steven Binko, is a Milwaukee resident so I had a permanent tour guide for my visit. Our first stop was the famous Miller Brewery Tour, where we learned about the ghost of Frederick Miller who haunts the historic Miller caves. Throughout the tour we were forcefully fed samples of Miller beer products. They weren’t stingy on the free samples either.
Grab a cup of hot cocoa from Colectivo and explore the Historic Third Ward, which recently underwent a drastic revitalization and now boasts trendy boutiques, art galleries and specialty stores.
Not too far away is the iconic Milwaukee Art Museum, considered Wisconsin’s
premier arts institution as well as Milwaukee’s lakefront masterpiece. The museum houses more than 30,000 pieces in its permanent collection which includes works by Monet, Warhol and Picasso, in addition to one of the largest Georgia O’Keeffe collections in the world. The museum’s breathtaking moveable brise soleil “wings” soar against the backdrop of Lake Michigan, spanning the width of a Boeing 747 when extended.
Milwaukee has a really great gay scene. It is always voted as one of the best gay cities to visit, so I decided to head out on the town for my first night in the MKE. My first stop was DIX, a trendy bar with some really cute bartenders and strong drinks.
Not too far away is This Is It, the oldest gay bar in the city. The narrow space is warm and welcoming, although I heard the current owners are looking to expand. Walker’s Pint is the place for ladies to gather, while Kruz is the ‘daddy’ bar with really cool lighting and a nice patio space. If you’re looking to dance, head to LVL, but be advised there is a cover charge most nights.
Start your next morning by visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum. This spectacular one- of-a-kind museum celebrates the rich history of Harley-Davidson and has become the Mecca for Harley riders throughout the world. More than 350 motorcycles are displayed, along with exhibits devoted to engines, racing, customized bikes and the company’s influence on American pop culture. As someone who has never ridden a motorcycle, I still found this museum interesting and one of the most Instagram- able places in the city.
Just a short drive from the Harley-Davidson Museum is the Pabst Mansion, constructed by Captain Frederick Pabst, founder of Pabst Brewing, in 1890. The Gilded Age mansion is located on Grand Avenue, just outside of downtown and was designed by George Bowman Ferry and Alfred Charles Clas. The mansion was nearly torn down to make way for a parking lot but after a three- year crusade for its preservation, it was spared demolition and went on to become an award- winning house museum. The Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 21, 1975.
For drinks, I recommend SafeHouse, a downtown speakeasy that is quite fun from the moment you walk in the door. First-time visitors are asked for the password…and yes, most don’t know it. I had to hula-hoop for thirty seconds in order to gain entry. The bar itself is incredible; filled with secret passageways and hidden items throughout.
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, Hamburger Mary’s hosts a fabulous buffet brunch complete with bottomless mimosas, and a cast of divine divas. The food was surprisingly good. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a brunch buffet, but there was a nice selection of both breakfast and lunch items to choose from.
One of the coolest activities this visit was taking part in a Milwaukee Food & City Tour. Privately owned by a husband and wife duo, the business idea was inspired while on a walking tour in SoHo 11 years ago. Today, they now run a total of 21 bus, walking, and neighborhood-themed tours that cover everything from Bloody Mary’s to pizza to tapas. Our guide was a hoot and knew a lot about the city as well as history of the businesses. Each of the six bakeries were privately owned (no chain establishments), so it was really nice to get a look at the hidden gems only the locals know about.
At one point, we drove by the Henry Maier Festival Park along the lakefront and briefly learned about the inane number of cultural festivals Milwaukee hosts – two in particular that draw people from all over the world. Summerfest is an annual music festival that lasts for almost two weeks and hosts over 1000 performances on 11 stages. Last year, they had artists from every genre of music ranging from Kesha to Steven Tyler. Then there’s PrideFest which is one of the largest LGBTQ festivals in the Midwest welcoming nearly 50,000 visitors annually.
Enjoy the Journey!