A city that is home to an award winning brewery? An award winning distillery? An American icon motorcycle company? The world biggest music festival? Try Milwaukee.
Beer (and other alcohol related places & activites)
Once called the "beer capital of the world", some of America's biggest brewers used to call Milwaukee home: Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz. Miller is still brewed there, and the less known Lakefront Brewery. You can tour the facility located at 1872 N Commerce St. Josh, our tour guide, was extremely funny. The hour long tour costs only $7 and includes a souvenir Pint glass and four 6oz pours beer. You can "win" more beers if you are selected as a "volunteer" in the tour guide's funny games and demonstrations. If you only swear by "big brand" beer, Lakefront's selection of beer will help you dip your toes into the world of microbrewery. The Wheat Monkey beer would be a good choice to start.
Want more of Wisconsin beer? You like cheese? You like to discover locally made product? Head to 215 W Highland Avenue. At the Uber Tap Room, you learn the art of pairing beers and cheeses. They have a selection of 175 Wisconsin cheeses and 36 Wisconsin beer. The possibilities are endless.
The Uber Tap Room is located in the Third Ward district, an amazing warehouse district that 450 businesses call home. You can stroll and discover an amazing architecture and a variety of specially shop like The Spice House (they only sell spices from all over the world), the Milwaukee Brat House (typical german sausages) or the Milwaukee Public Market.
In the Third Ward district, you will also find Mader's restaurant, a more than 100 years old establishment voted the most famous German Restaurant in North America. The number of celebrities and politicians who dined there is impressive. The decor will blow you away; The items scattered around the place are evaluated at more than 3 millions. Weren't we talking about beer? The Mader's offers an interesting selection of German beer and you can order the 6 beer sample to discover the one you like best.
Milwaukee is not only a great beer destination. If you prefer stronger liquors, Milwaukee can help you with that. The Great Lakes Distillery tour (616 W. Virginia) might not be as funny as the Lakefront brewery one, but it is however very instructive. You will also have the possibility of testing some of their products, like the honey-flavored Vodka, the Reyhorst gin, the Kinnickinnic whiskey and, most importantly, their Amerique 1912 Absinthe Verte. Yes, absinthe is now legal in the USA. No, it will not cause you hallucination. Yes, you will understand why "the green fairy" was so popular in early 1900's Europe. It taste that good, and you will probably want to buy a bottle to bring back home.
Do you prefer cocktails? Milwaukee got you covered for that too. Try first the Iron Horse Hotel (500 West Florida St.), an amazing red-brick hotel full of americana to have a fine dinner at Smyth. Before you have a bite, head outside on the patio at The Yard for their famous home-made cocktails. I was very satisfied with my RUM.KICK.PUNCH. made of pineapple-infused rum, fresh-squeezed lime juice, vanilla simple syrup and a dash of cayenne.
If the Iron Horse Hotel's cocktail selection is not enough, what about 400 of them? A little bit off downtown at 1579 S 9th St, Bryant's Cocktail Lounge is a truly unique bar, the kind of places you wonder why you don't have something similar back home. The place is a blast from the past with the small booths, a weird lighting and the velvet walls. Don't ask for a cocktail menu, they don't have one. You can order something that you know, or you can tell the waiter your mood or what flavour you feel like to and they will come back with something specially crafted for you. Some of their drinks are so secret that only 2 persons know how to make them. It is the case for the Black Magic, a drink that is a little bit dangerous: It's really light and you drink it like if was juice. Its's easy to forget that you can get drunk if you have too much of it! When I told the waiter I used to drink something called "red devil" when I was young, she suggested a "blue devil". I was impressed, and I was stumbling a little bit when I walked back to the vehicle (don't worry, I was not driving).
Is their anything more american than Harley-Davidson? Ok, maybe baseball. But the famous motorcycle company would be a close second. They still have their corporate headquarters in Milwaukee and they opened a museum dedicated to the company in 2008. 20 acres, three buildings, more than 450 vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles, hundreds of thousands of artifacts and a full afternoon of discovery. I will let the photos do the talking.
Rock N' Roll
"Summerfest: The World Largest Music Festival". That is how they brag about it, and they might be right. With more than 800 bands showcased on 11 stages, the Summerfest is now a destination event, just like the Daytona 500 or the Kentucky derby, attended by 930000 people each year. They distance themselves from other important music festival with their world class permanent setup. You will not have to suffer in an overflowing Johnny-on-the-spot. They have permanent "real" bathroom". You will not wait hours in line for a beer or a bit. They have a HUGE selection of food vendors and bars all over the 75-acre Summerfest grounds.
Sommerfest offers various pricing option, but the basic fee is 17$ per days. This will give you access to all the stages except the Marcus Amphitheater where the main band is playing. You will have to spend the ticket price of a regular gig to have access to this one. This years headliners at the Amphitheater included Violent Femmes, Tom Petty, New Kids on the Block, Rush and The Eagles. To give you an idea of what you can expect with you 17$ day pass, artists playing in the 10 others stages at the 2013 edition included Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, Imagine Dragons, Dropkick Murphys, Bad Religion and Styx.
The Summerfest targets diversity. Each stages aim at a specific genre. For instance, the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage will showcase, you guessed it, world music. You just waltz in to discover a new artist you never heard off, and leave to another one if they are not up to your taste.
Other place we liked
Located near downtown, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino is you gambling destination in Milwaukee. I can't really tell you about it since we only walked in to go to the Dream Dance Steak, the upscale restaurant located within the premise. The four-diamound restaurant is known for its steak and seafood option and its selection of 600 wines offered at an unbeatable retail-price. You read that right: they don't take a margin on wines. We opened with a surprising molecular champagne. Before the waiter arrived with my 12oz New York Strip Steak with my choice of Black Garlic Aioli sauce, we tried the cheese curd fritter (liked it!), the trio of surf and turf with curry rice (this was the best), kangaroo, and shrimp cocktail and an impressive salad that I enjoyed with my blueberry old-fashioned drink. It is an high-end restaurant so expect to pay around a minimum of $50 before wine. A good option if all member of your party wants to participate is the Five chef-selected courses for $65 (reservation needed). The wine pairings option will bring the tab to $95.
Back to the lakefront area, the Milwaukee Art Museum is probably the most amazing building I ever laid my eyes on. Even if you are not a lover of the arts, I urge you… No, I command you to go and look at the spectacular architecture details and even get inside, for free, to look at the amazingly huge lobby and corridors. That said, the art collection is as varied as it is immense. If you are even slightly interested in painting and sculpture, the Milwaukee Art Museum will please you and keep you busy for many hours.