While beer, bikes, and the beloved Brewers will always be at Milwaukee’s soul, this city on the western shores of Lake Michigan has been reinventing itself as a hub for artisans of all kinds. This current wave started over a decade and a half ago with the resurgence of the Historic Third Ward, a once-industrial neighborhood that began drawing gallerists and artists in the early aughts, soon followed by fashion and industrial designers, many of them graduates of the expanded Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. The opening of the Milwaukee Public Market in 2005 and the steady influx of businesses and residential units in the last couple years have since cemented the neighborhood’s status.
Today, the Third Ward buzzes with activity, from restaurants and retail to regular events, including the quarterly Gallery Night and Day walk featuring over 50 area venues. The Public Market (400 N. Water St.; 414-336-111; milwaukeepublicmarket.com) remains a go-to for local fare; pick-up cheeses, baked goods, or spice blends (from the nationally recognized The Spice House) to go, or order from one of the gourmet food stalls and grab seating at Thief Wine, where you can create your own flights from a long list of vintages. As of summer 2016, the neighborhood is also home to Kimpton’s Journeyman Hotel (from $150; 310 E. Chicago St.; 414-291-3970; journeymanhotel.com), its first full-service hotel. There, the 158 rooms have a playfully contemporary style, the rooftop bar and lounge buzzes year-round (thanks to retractable glass walls), and the programming, artwork, and amenities are hyper-local (including the use of leather backpacks crafted by local designer Heather Hambrecht). Top Chef alum Heather Terhune helms the onsite Tre Rivali restaurant, a fast favorite for its Italian cicheti, homemade pastas, and wood-fired pizza.
Other notable destination dining spots in the city include Ardent (1751 N. Farwell Ave.; 414-897-7022; ardentmke.com) from James Beard Award finalist Justin Carlisle, and San Francisco-transplant chef Gregory Leon’s Spanish-Portuguese-accented Amilinda (315 E. Wisconsin Ave., 414-369-3683; amilinda.com), a pop-up-turned-brick-and-mortar award-winner that often offers space to other pop-up trials. Savor more tastes of the city—from traditional German spaetzle and bratwurst to homespun Brandy Old Fashioned-flavored ice cream, small-batch absinthe, and handcrafted chocolates paired with wine and cheese—on one of the year-round Milwaukee Food and City Tours, which include both walking and driven options.
The growth of the Third Ward has also inspired regeneration in other areas: In Walker’s Point, for example, a 100-year-old mattress warehouse was relaunched last year as the Four Diamond-awarded Iron Horse Hotel (from $250; 500 W. Florida St.; 414-374-4766; theironhorsehotel.com), featuring 100 loft-style rooms, weekly live music (in its indoor or outdoor bars), attentive service, and the regional farm-driven Smyth Restaurant, beloved for an abundant Sunday brunch that spills out to the lobby. The hotel also often partners with the nearby Harley Davidson Museum (400 W. Canal St.; 414-287-2784, h-dmuseum.com), one of the most-visited stops in town. (This November’s three-night Dream Experiences package includes VIP access to the archives and motorcycle storage areas, a behind-the-scenes guided tour of the Museum and Harley-Davidson Motor Company HQ, a private dinner at a Harley dealership, and more.) Also a short walk from the hotel are diversions of a liquid kind: Great Lakes Distillery (616 W. Virginia St.; 414-431-8683; greatlakesdistillery.com) uses old world methods to create small-batch gin, vodka, whiskey, and absinthe; Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. (224 W. Bruce St.; 414-73-1143; anodynecoffee.com) pairs its organic blends, which have been caffeinating Milwaukee since 1999, with live music on the weekends; and father-daughter-owned Lost Valley Cider Co. (408 W. Florida St.; 414-885-5678; lostvalley.com)—the city’s first hard cider taproom and bottle shop—serves dozens of ciders from around the world, from the berry-infused to the habanero-spiced, as well as cider-based cocktails and small bites.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Milwaukee if there weren’t beer. Considering the city’s 150-year history with the brewing business, it’s unsurprising that it’s now at the forefront of a beyond-craft movement that celebrates even smaller local producers. New places to sip include Black Husky Brewing(2872 N. Bremen St.; blackhuskybrewing.com), set in a converted 1920s garage in the River West district, and Third Space Brewing (1505 W. St. Paul Ave.; thirdspacebrewing.com), opened by two local boys who decided to return home to pursue their sudsy dreams. Fall festivals like Brewers Mini Marathon (September 10; Miller Park) and Oktoberfest (September-October; various locations) offer a great opportunity to sample the goods.