Last weekend, we travelled up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a holiday gift trip for my boyfriend to see the Milwaukee Admirals (the Nashville Predators’ AHL team) in a two-night stand. It’s not your typical vacation locale, but Josh and I were both really excited to visit Milwaukee and the closer the trip got, the more we started to crave authentic cheese curds, beer and pretzels.
The night before we left, a snowstorm left about 6-8 inches across the city. Our flights were delayed, then rerouted, and I was afraid we wouldn’t make any of the events we wanted to go to. Alas, we did make it – a few hours later, and if you don’t live in the north, the way they deal with snow is a thing to behold. One inch would’ve shut Nashville down for at least two days, but 6-8 inches hardly delayed us at all. The airport runways were mostly clear and being plowed continuously, the roads were mostly clear and being plowed continuously and people were out and about, there was no run on milk and bread.
We stayed at the Brewhouse Inn & Suites in downtown Milwaukee, in the Harambee neighborhood – within the former Pabst Brewery. While Josh and I aren’t huge beer connoisseurs, we love history and we’ll drink beer, so it was fascinating to stay within a truly American historical site. The original stills used to house the Pabst beer are still here; from the lobby, you can look up to see inside the copper interior and on the second floor, a whole row, as it existed (although, cleaned up) in the early 1900s. The place is also decorated with black and white portraits of the brewery as it existed in the mid-90s — when it officially shut down as a brewery and laid empty until the hotel began the restoration and opened in 2013.
While the main purpose of the trip was to see the Milwaukee Admirals, we still had two whole days for exploring – and, in attempting to be true Milwaukeeans – we were not going to let the snow stop us. So, of course, we immediately made our way the next morning to the MillerCoors Brewery – and it did not disappoint.
The tour runs about an hour – starting just outside the gift shop (chock full of anything you can imagine of all the MillerCoors brands), a ten-minute film intro’d by the “Miller High Life Lady” (or, Lady in the Moon), then a walk through the shipping part of the factory, a tour of the one remaining cave where beer was originally stored pre-refrigeration, and finally, a stop in the bar for free samples. If there’s one thing these breweries in Milwaukee don’t skimp on, it’s samples. In the photo below, you’ll see us toasting with an average-size “sample” – that was one of three we were given on the tour, plus a token for a free pint at a list of local establishments.
Later, the first of two hockey games – a win! – at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena – to see the Milwaukee Admirals! What’s great about AHL games is that they’re not nearly as expensive as NHL games – so you can get really close – like, real close, for a quarter of the price of NHL seats. Since hockey is booming in Nashville, this was a great way for us to see not only some of the newer players (who routinely play in Predators games), but also have a lot more fun as AHL games are notoriously more raw (read: more fighting!).
After the game, we walked over to 3rd Street, a fun strip of bars bookended by Benihana’s and Usinger’s. (We stopped at a corner on our walk from the game and at least three people said “Ohhh, Benihana’s” while waiting for the light to change) We particularly loved the Milwaukee Brat House, and the Oak Barrel Public House.
Our third day, was a stop in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. The Third Ward was originally Milwaukee’s premiere center of commerce as it sits next to the Milwaukee River to the west and Lake Michigan to the east, and was filled with factories and warehouses. It was also home to a devastating fire in the late 1800s, which, then rebuilt to become a mixed-use area, and remains so today. It’s also home to the much-loved Summerfest – I’m not sure we met a single local who didn’t encourage us to come back in the summer to enjoy the better weather.
Limited to winter activity however, we were excited to find several ice bars. Yes, full-on bars made up of about 150 blocks of ice weighing about 23 tons and designed by Max Zuleta of Art Below Zero. We stopped at one outside The Wicked Hop, where Josh was served in an ice-mug. Just adjacent was a small fire pit with a s’more set-up. If you know me, you know I do not pass up on s’mores.
A quick stop at Riverfront Pizzeria was exactly what we needed after trudging through the snow. Plus, it was another chance to try another local beer, the Spotted Cow – which came highly recommended and, for one of the few “cream ales” I’ve had, it was pretty good. Then, we were off to Lakefront Brewery, which I specifically wanted to see because they were supposed to have the old bottling line from the Schlitz Brewery, famous for the opening sequence in Laverne & Shirley – where Laverne places a glove over a bottle. Just like the MillerCoors tour, you get several decent samples of their beer, plus tokens for more, a free pint glass with another coupon for a free pint at other local establishments. The tour was about an hour and since it ended with a reimagining of the opening sequence, we were all asked to sing the theme song to Laverne & Shirley, making it a trip highlight for me. Only bummer part, 6-7 months ago, they finally upgraded their bottling line so the hand-me-down from Schlitz is no longer a feature.
And lastly, another trip to see the Admirals. Another win! And an up-close-and-personal view of one of our favorite players, Harry Zolnierczyk. And naturally, a final trip to the Milwaukee Brat House for the post-game Brat sampler including Usinger’s bratwurst, and a trio of Polish, Italian and Bunzel’s Hot Hungarian sausages with pretzel bun. I’m not sure we ate anything the entire weekend that wouldn’t be classified as hardy. A last stop at Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub (we actually went there every night for a nightcap) – it’s attached to our hotel – helped us cash in the last of those drink vouches and filled us up with more local beer than we could possibly have imagined.
It was a great, albeit brief, trip; exactly the kind you want to do if you can only take a short period of time off. While I did a fair amount of research, we didn’t plan much more than the traveling logistics of this trip. We relied exclusively on Lyft to get around town, recommendations from locals and a fair amount from just walking around populated areas. I hope we’ll be able to make another trip in warmer weather, at the very least, to finally get a picture with the Bronze Fonz.
Have you been to Milwaukee? If so – what’s your favorite part?