Pictured From Quest for Immortality at the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum. Villa Terrace Fountain. The city's skyline. City Hal l, aerial view. Pics: Suzanne Kraus, MPM, and Milwaukee CVB.
Why visit Milwaukee now? You went there as a kid or with a past lover for a weekend fling. Or maybe you've never been —never had a reason. Whichever, if you haven't been to 'the Cream City' in the past few years you are in for a great surprise.
Milwaukee is the 19th largest city in the U.S., a small big city—actually much smaller than I realized, only 600,000. No wonder it is easy to get around! But just when you remind yourself that it is small, you bump into something that is very big city. Like Eve Restaurant/Nightclub ... or the wide range of cultural and entertainment events. And if you think this is a big city, you will suddenly find that it is like a small town when you need something, like a late-night kitchen that isn't pizza. Downtown streets feel wide compared to Chicago—so the light is bright. And right away you can see and feel the old. It's not Paris but there is a definite patina in the area with some great old architecture. The scale is smaller than in Chicago —the tallest building in Wisconsin is in Milwaukee, the Firstar Center stands 42 floors tall. So the streets and buildings are more people friendly, the details more visible. Downtown Milwaukee is experiencing a renaissance like downtown Chicago.
First settled by the Algonkian Indians who called the area 'Millioko' (which means gathering place by the waters), Milwaukee was founded in 1840. Milwaukee's development can be traced to the breweries and the empires of Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz and Miller. Today Miller Brewery offers free tours Monday-Saturday. Beer is still big and micro-breweries continue to emerge. So is the head on a mug of beer the source of the moniker Cream City?
The visitor to Milwaukee can find a wide variety of cultural, historical, and fun things to do, just like in Chicago. The Milwaukee Symphony offers a full season (k.d. lang joins them June 22). The fabulous Santiago Calatrava-designed expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum on the lake with its standing exhibit of hometown artist Georgia O'Keefe (the largest East of the Rockies) is even worth its own trip. Plus they always have special exhibits. See the Web site www.milwaukeeartmuseum.org .
The Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) is now presenting the largest selection of artifacts ever loaned by Egypt, plus a full-scale re-creation of the tomb of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Items are between 2000-4000 years old and you can get really close to many of them. 'The Quest For Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt' is in Milwaukee until Aug. 8, and this is the ONLY venue in the Midwest. The Curator states that: 'This is not a show about mummies but rather why mummies existed.' Tickets are required. Many dates are sold out so advance purchase is recommended. If you go, I also STRONGLY suggest seeing the Egyptian film at the attached IMAX—that is a separate ticket. There is also Puelicher Butterfly Wing, were you can walk amongst butterflies in a tropical setting. And the Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit will give you a taste of history. See the Web site www.MPM.edu, (888) 700-9069.
Smaller unique museums include the Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design—currently exhibiting 'Dream Girls: the Past 100 Years of Women in Advertising.' The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum is in a magnificent 1923 Italian Renaissance-style villa overlooking the lake. It showcases one of only a few Italian Renaissance Gardens in the U.S. And there are several other niche museums.
Theatre is also alive and very well with the $32 million renovation of the historic Milwaukee Auditorium now seating 4,100. Broadway in Milwaukee brings in four plays a season (better prices too). The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre troupe is well known for original and unusual presentations and is housed in a wonderful downtown theatre complex. There are many theater and music events happening this season. (See www.OnMilwaukee.com for more details on everything.)
OK, so a small city with culture and lots to do. What about the food? Sure there are brats everywhere (do the tour at Usingers) and fish frys on Friday are an institution. Milwaukee also gave us frozen custard. Like tastee-freeze but better! Several producers stand out—Kopp's has three locations and is known throughout the state. Then there's Culver's with their butter-burgers (imagine), which is growing and expanding into Illinois. Leon's on the South Side has just one location but it is pure retro-'50s with neon trim and a 'Happy Days' motif. Visit at night to get the full effect. Frozen custard is a rich, creamy delight. Is that where Cream City originated? Or all that milk and cheese from dairyland?
Next week: Details on gay Milwaukee and the June 5-6 PrideFest. For details on the fest, see www.PrideFest.com .