MILWAUKEE, WIS.—It’s no secret that Milwaukee is a biker-friendly town or that it was once known as the “beer capital of the world.” Most of us are on a first-name basis with Miller, Schlitz, Pabst and Blatz, but the renaissance of craft beer and the amazing foodie scene in Wisconsin’s largest city are excuse enough to stay a couple of extra days before or after Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary celebration in August. I certainly can’t list every place to eat, drink, visit or stay, but allow me to provide a bit of orientation to the city and make some suggestions for places you might enjoy.
The Harley-Davidson Museum is located on the south bank of the Menomonee River only a quarter-mile west of the Milwaukee River. This is important because the city’s streets are divided into north, south, east and west depending upon their position in relation to these two waterways. You’ll hear reference to places like Westown, East Town, East Side, the historic Third Ward and Walker’s Point. Don’t be daunted; this city has just under 600,000 residents and is really quite compact. The major events for the 110th will be held in Veterans Park on the shore of Lake Michigan in East Town. Brady Street is a district located immediately north of East Town and a place where other Harley-sanctioned events will take place.
Departing the H-D Museum, if you continue straight on W. Canal St. you come to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. If you turn right and cross the Menomonee River, the traffic light is at W. St. Paul Ave.—I-740 E exits here (1H)—and the next street is Clybourn where a left will bring you onto I-740 W and a right leads to the ramp for I-40 N/S. Finally, if you turn left on 6th Street when leaving the museum you’ll ride south over the canal with the next building being the Iron Horse Hotel. This is the basis for orienting yourself to the city you will be exploring.
From the museum, a 15-minute walk east on W. St. Paul Ave. will bring you to the Milwaukee Public Market (400 N. Water St.) in the Historic Third Ward on the east side of the Milwaukee River. There are over 20 merchants—including a wine shop/bar, wood-fired pizza and brews on tap, Kehr’s chocolates, a sandwich shop, an oyster bar at the fishmonger and more—with ample seating upstairs. I highly recommend taking the Sunday Bloody Mary Tour (MilwaukeeFoodTours.com). The Wicked Hop (345 N. Broadway), Swig Milwaukee (217 N. Broadway), the ping-pong sports bar Spin Milwaukee (233 E. Chicago Ave.) and Rustico Pizza (223 N. Water St.) all have distinct ambiance, excellent food and a very wide selection of brews and beverages. This is also the place the do a little boutique shopping.
Both 6th and 2nd Streets go south into the district called Walker’s Point. This is a Latino district where the Great Lakes Distillery creates small batches of award-winning vodka, gin, a whiskey blend and genuine absinthe. Located across from the Iron Horse Hotel they have a bar, retail boutique and offer tours. The Milwaukee Brewing Co. (613 S. 2nd St.) crafts Polish Moon (black stout), Pull Chain (pale ale), Booyah (ale) and “Admiral” Stache (Baltic Porter), among others. Diagonally across the street is Clock Shadow Creamery (538 S. 2nd St.) the first cheese producer in Milwaukee, and Purple Door Ice Cream (138 W. Bruce St.) where amazing custom flavors are made in small batches. Chef David Swanson creates some of the best dishes in the city at Braise Restaurant & Culinary School (1101 S. 2nd St.) in the shadow of the Polish Moon, the second-largest four-faced tower clock in the world at the old Allen-Bradley factory. This landmark will keep you oriented while in the southern half of the city.
Continue past the Historic Third Ward on E. Clybourn St. and you end up on N. Lincoln Memorial Drive. This follows the lakeshore and goes past Veterans Park where many of the major events are taking place. At the north end of Veterans Park and the beginning of Lake Park is Alterra at the Lake (1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.), a popular breakfast spot in the old Milwaukee River Flushing Station. Continue riding—or not—past the beautiful sand beaches and make a left onto E. Water Tower Road to wind up the bluff to another landmark: the 175-foot-tall Victorian-Gothic North Point Water Tower.
The North Point Water Tower is located in East Side and you should continue through the traffic circle onto E. North Ave. and left at the second intersection onto N. Farwell Ave. This leads to the intersection of Brady St. where more festivities are taking place. The Oriental Theater, known for hosting the longest running of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, is the local landmark. Stretching southwest down N. Farwell Ave. and west on E. Brady St. are a plethora of bars and restaurants of diverse ethnic foods. Brady St. ends at N. Water St. which, following the Milwaukee River south, goes back to E. Clybourn St. and the Historic Third Ward. It’s a simple, easy motorcycle route around town.
Before going too far from Brady St., you might wish to take the first right off N. Water St., cross the bridge over the Milwaukee River and take the next right onto N. Commerce Street. Beneath the next bridge, Lakefront Brewery offers one of the best beer tours you’ll find in a city that’s renowned for them. Otherwise, continue south on N. Water St. and turn right on Juneau Ave. to cross the river. The next left will put you on Old World 3rd St.
The next three blocks feature the Wisconsin Cheese Mart—the world’s largest selection of Wisconsin cheese, Usinger’s Famous Sausage—4th generation of this German family in their original store, Mader’s Restaurant—perhaps the most famous German restaurant in the United States, and Buck Bradley’s—longest bar in Wisconsin at 75 feet. Venture into the Milwaukee Historical Society, once a Federal Reserve Bank and more recently one of the settings for Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp, to check out the amazing vaults. The Hyatt Regency is just another block south and Hampton Inn is one block farther.
West Juneau Ave. leads to the old Pabst brewery. Pabst stopped making beer in 1996 and now contracts production of their InBev brands—Pabst, Schlitz, Colt 45, St. Ides, Lone Star, Olympia, Pearl, Piels, Stroh’s and Heilemans. So Pabst and Schlitz are now brewed in Milwaukee at Miller. The old brewery just opened as the exquisite boutique Brewhouse Inn & Suites on N. 10th St. Best Place was the original Blue Ribbon Hall, styled after a 17th-century German gasthaus, and the corporate offices of Best and Pabst. Owned and operated by local beer history experts Jim and Karen Haertel, it’s a great place to kick back with a brew and locally-sourced food while learning how Empire Brewing evolved into the Best Brewing Company and finally was renamed Pabst in 1889.
From 10th it’s back to the intersection of W. Juneau Ave. and N. Water St. where the Coyote Ugly Saloon (1131 N. Water St.), famous for the Hollywood film and MTV show of the same name, and several other great bar & grills are located.
Milwaukee’s food scene is amazing and I must recommend Sobelman’s Pub & Grill (1900 W. St. Paul Ave.) for the best burgers in town, Café at the Plaza (107 N. Cass St.) for the best breakfast, The Rumpus Room (1030 N. Water St.) for supper, and Coquette Café (316 N. Milwaukee St.) for lunch or dinner. Some will enjoy Milwaukee’s only cigar bar, Shakers (422 S. 2nd St.), while Smyth’s in the Iron Horse Hotel and Motor at the H-D Museum are also sure to please.
The problem with Milwaukee is that if you are a Harley rider who likes great craft brews, fantastic food and a biker-friendly atmosphere, you just might not want to leave after the 110th Anniversary celebration winds down.