Happy Days in Milwaukee (even in snow and rain)

Milwaukee is not on a lot of travelers radars but we’re happy to say it’s worth the visit.

To the outsider there’s not much on offer. Mmm beer and Happy Days, possibly the only cultural touchpoints they’re familiar with – or possibly Weezer due to their timeless Buddy Holly music video which also happened to reference Happy Days. So why visit Milwaukee? Let’s start with beer and Happy Days, add in amazing cheeses and a great foodie scene – and did we mention Harley Davidson?

Where it is?

Situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan and by the Milwaukee River, this Wisconsin City has plenty to offer first time visitors. We have had the opportunity to stay here twice while on business, venturing out and exploring each night. The airport has a few interesting quirks, like a bar where you can pour yourself beers, a sausage shop with a rather risque logo and table tennis tables everywhere.

Milwaukee Airport offers a bar where you can pull your own beer – dangerous!
Possibly one of the strangest phallic logos we’ve seen on our travels

What’s worth seeing?

The Pabst Theater

15 years ago, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or PBR as it is most commonly known was only found in American dive bars. Its popularity grew as people saw it as a hipster drink, mainly because it was the cheap option. Hipster 101 aside, this was named after that guy. This theater is Milwaukee’s oldest and grandest performing arts venue and it’s where you can see big name pop acts and classical performances. If you have the time, be sure to visit the stately Pabst Mansion.

PBR and music venues is a natural connection since Pabst opened his theater in Milwaukee

The Historic Third Ward

Instead of imploding their old buildings, Milwaukee has done a fine job of preserving them. The historic third ward is a former industrial area full of red brick warehouses. Most have been heavily renovated and converted into restaurants, art spaces and upmarket loft apartments. Check out the Museum of Advertising for a different take and an idea of the creative energy in the precinct.

The Milwaukee Public Markets

Standing like a gateway into the historic third ward, the Milwaukee Public Markets is a historic market place that still does a roaring trade. You’ll be tempted by a plethora of international flavors from preserved meats to French pastries. Wisconsin’s European past is well represented in the hand wrapped Italian cheeses, German craft beers and range of delectable French breads on display.

As the cheese capital of the US, you have to try the fried curds or even just a grilled cheese. What’s most impressive is the range of seafood and we dined at the bar of St Paul Fish where you can get a whole lobster and a beer for $15.

The Milwaukee River Walk

The Milwaukee River Walk is a wooden walkway that sits above the narrow waterway and weaves from the historic third ward to the modern day business district.

In winter, the river freezes over
In summer the riverwalk comes alive

While the view isn’t particularly inspiring, the walk is peppered with modern art installations and sculptures to pique the curiosity. Easily the most famous draw to the Riverwalk is the Bronze Fonz, a brass statue of Henry Winkler’s Happy Days character, Arthur Fonzarelli.

Where we stayed

The Pfister Hotel

Built in 1893, the Pfister Hotel is easily one of the most stunning classic hotels we have stayed in. The hotel has walls of Victorian-era oil paintings and an artist in resident whose studio can be found on the ground floor.

A roaring fireplace in the lobby bar provides  warmth that is matched by a pianist playing jazz standards. On weekend nights, the top floor bar offers stunning city views and live jazz ensemble.

What we missed

Harley-Davidson Museum

If you’re a fan of motorcycles, Milwaukee is your Mecca. We didn’t have time in business hours to make it to the Harley-Davidson museum (the factory is in Milwaukee, just near the Miller Stadium), which honors one of the town’s most famous exports.

Miller Park

Miller Park (named after Milwaukee’s many famous beers) is home to MLB team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Only passing the red brick stadium en route to the countryside, we didn’t get a chance to stop in for a game, but if you do, you have to experience the antics of the team mascot, that slides down a spiral slide in the stands every time the Brewers score a home run.

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