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36 Hours in Milwaukee

By Maura J. Casey
October 5, 2008
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THERE’S plenty about modern-day Milwaukee that would be unrecognizable to Laverne and Shirley from the sitcom about the late 50s and 60s. Oh, the area still appreciates its beer and bratwurst: delis carry a mind-boggling variety of sausage, and bars are known to have 50-plus brands of brew. But Milwaukee also has 95 miles of bike lanes, lush parks lacing the shores of Lake Michigan and a revitalized riverfront where sophisticated shops coexist within sight of the city’s industrial past. Modern Milwaukee isn’t so much defined by the Rust Belt anymore, but rather by its lively downtown and a signature museum so architecturally striking that it competes for attention with the art it holds.

Friday

4 p.m.
1) HOG HEAVEN

The city’s newest tourist attraction, opened in July, is the museum that celebrates the 1903 invention of Milwaukee residents William Harley and Arthur Davidson and the American icon it has become. The Harley-Davidson Museum (400 Canal Street; 877-436-8738; www.h-dmuseum.com; admission $10 to $16) has 138 motorcycles on display, including the first two models, from 1903 and 1905, a 1920 Sport model marketed to women and the 1932 Servi-Car used for commercial deliveries and credited with keeping the company solvent during the Great Depression. Harley-Davidson began setting aside at least one motorcycle every year since 1915, and the resulting collection tells the story of a machine, America and the open road in the 20th century — an absorbing tale whether or not you ride.

6 p.m.
2) SNAKE CHASERS

Sure, there’s more to Milwaukee than beer, but the frothy beverage undeniably helped build the city. At one point in the 19th century, 150 breweries flourished there, many established by German immigrants whose names were Pabst, Miller and Schlitz. So to better appreciate all that history and perhaps take a sip yourself, tour the Lakefront Brewery (1872 North Commerce Street; 414-372-8800; www.lakefrontbrewery.com), housed in a century-old former utility building with soaring, 30-foot-high ceilings. You’ll learn about how beer is made and taste a few of Lakefront’s winning brews, including the Snake Chaser, an Irish-style stout made in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The guides are very funny, so for the laughs alone, it’s worth the $6 admission.

8 p.m.
3) SLAVIC FOOD AND STORIES

For authentic Eastern European flavors, you can’t do better than Three Brothers Bar and Restaurant (2414 South St. Clair Street; 414-481-7530; www.3brothersrestaurant.com), a Milwaukee institution that has been serving Serbian cuisine since 1954. Where else could you order roast suckling pig with rice and vegetables, served with home-pickled cabbage ($16.50)? Or a chicken paprikash ($15.50) followed by an incredibly light seven-layer walnut torte ($6)? The dining room has the unpretentious feel of a neighborhood tavern. If you’re lucky, the energetic 85-year-old owner, Branko Radicevic, may come out of the kitchen and regale you with stories of resisting the Nazis.

Saturday

10 a.m.
4) BIBLIOPHILE’S DELIGHT

The first floor of the Renaissance Book Shop (834 North Plankinton Avenue; 414-271-6850) looks like a book collector’s attic, with boxes of used books lining the floor of this century-old former furniture store. But it’s more organized than it looks, with about a half-million books parceled among dozens of categories (“animal husbandry<object.title class="Movie" idsrc="nyt_ttl" value="164030;358;164031;304632;234833;163305;162439;163295;46303;174356;342063;325217;163293;163283;185849;352931;112401;100409;224461;306139;136085;339169;164028;2364;327710;159059;101912;159260;377697;329145;164029;163284;164033;162418;163303;163297;133976;173057;391729;163289;112584;159060;384983;313261;339042;163288;163287;142558;163290;164027;152208;174355;286034;163291;163278;310382;146332;344549;157088;163299;163306;163304;302911;163279;133490;163300;137815;39516;163302;90624;377740;355;163307;163301;163280;157562;163296;163298;90623;334563;163292;147725">” “</object.title>theater practices and problems”) spread across three floors and a basement.

Noon
5) SAUSAGE AND CHEESE

Before taking your new books to one of the city’s lovely waterfront parks, pack a picnic on Old World Third Street, the center of German life in 19th-century Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Cheese Mart (215 West Highland Avenue; 888-482-7700; www.wisconsincheesemart.com), which opened in 1938, sells hundreds of varieties of cheese. Favorites include the cave-aged cheddar or any of the Gouda cheeses produced by the Penterman Farm of Thorpe, Wis. A few doors down is Usingers (1030 North Old World Third Street; 800-558-9998; www.usinger.com), sausage makers since 1880. There are 70 varieties, including the lean summer sausage.

2 p.m.
6) SPREADING WINGS

The Milwaukee Art Museum (700 North Art Museum Drive; 414-224-3200; www.mam.org; $8) may have opened in 1888, but the eye-catching Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2001, has become a symbol of modern Milwaukee. With its movable wings expanded to their full, 217-foot span, the building looks either like a large white bird landing on Lake Michigan or the tail of a white whale emerging from the water. There’s art, too: extensive collections of folk, central European and Germanic, and post-1960 contemporary.

4:30 p.m.
7) A WARD UPDATED

Many cities have warehouse districts that have become revitalized; Milwaukee has the Historic Third Ward (www.historicthirdward.org), which constitutes the blocks between the Milwaukee River and Jackson Street. A century ago, this was a manufacturing center. Now it is a magnet for shoppers, with old brick warehouses converted into boutiques and restaurants. For distinctive fashions, search no farther than Lela (321 North Broadway Street; 414-727-4855; www.lelaboutique.com), for designer clothing on consignment, or Three Graces (207 East Buffalo Street, 414-273-3350; www.threegracesonline.com), for women’s clothing and accessories, including hats.

7 p.m.
8) POPOVER DELIGHT

If you need to give your arteries a rest, try some lighter fare at Coast (931 East Wisconsin Avenue; 414-727-5555; www.coastrestaurant.com), an elegant seafood restaurant. Try the baked local walleye served on a cedar plank with roasted red potatoes and haricots verts ($26). The warm popovers are to die for. If you are ready to throw your cholesterol numbers to the wind, have the praline pyramid ($8): layers of pecans, meringue wafers, Grand Marnier butter cream and chocolate ganache glaze.

9:30 p.m.
9) BLUES IN THE NIGHT

East Brady Street, which stretches for about eight blocks from Lake Michigan to the Milwaukee River, was a hippie hangout in the 1960s. Today, its well-preserved buildings and 19th-century Victorian homes are a backdrop to one of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods. During the day, boutiques and small stores are open for lingering shoppers. At night, restaurants and bars keep the street lively. A good spot for music is the Up and Under Pub (1216 East Brady Street; 414-276-2677), which proclaims itself the blues capital of Milwaukee. With high ceilings, an antique bar and 24 beers on tap, it offers live blues, rock and reggae until 2 a.m. There’s usually a $5 cover and, with no city smoking ban, the air can get a little blue late in the evening. If you’d rather avoid alcohol, Rochambo Coffee and Tea House down the street (1317 East Brady Street; 414-291-0095; www.rochambo.com) offers dozens of teas and stays open until midnight.

Sunday

10 a.m.
10) LAKESIDE BRUNCH

The Knick (1030 East Juneau Avenue; 414-272-0011; www.theknickrestaurant.com) is busy and breezy on Sunday mornings, with an outdoor patio near Lake Michigan overlooking Veterans Park. The food is mouth-watering, the service attentive. For a memorable breakfast, try the crab hash, a mixture of crabmeat, onions and hash browns topped with two eggs ($11.99), or the banana pecan pancakes, dripping with whiskey butter and served with maple syrup ($10.99).

1 p.m.
11) WISCONSIN TROPICS

Rain or shine, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (525 South Layton Boulevard; 414-649-9800; www.countyparks.com; $5) offers perennial respite. Affectionately known as the Domes, the conservatory is housed in three 85-foot-high, beehive-shaped buildings with different climates: the Floral Dome has more than 150 floral displays; the Arid Dome mimics the desert, with an oasislike pool surrounded by cactuses; and the Tropical Dome has 1,200 rain-forest plants, tropical birds flying overhead and a 30-foot waterfall. The Domes closed in June for repairs, but is to reopen Oct. 20.

3 p.m.
12) AAAAY!

Milwaukee became “cooler” on Aug. 19 when it dedicated a life-sized statue of the Fonz, the iconic television character from <object.title class="Movie" idsrc="nyt_ttl" value="304353;280337;94292;444353;227032;211272;417743;156551">“Happy Days.”</object.title> The Bronzie Fonzie (www.visitmilwaukee.org/visitors/fonzie), as fans are calling it, stands on the west side of the Wells Street Bridge, in the Riverwalk section. It’s quickly becoming the most photographed spot in the city, so smile and remember: two thumbs up for the camera.

THE BASICS

General Mitchell International Airport, about 10 miles from downtown Milwaukee, is a hub for Midwest Airlines and is also served by Delta, United, US Airways and others. In late October, AirTran flies nonstop from Newark to Milwaukee starting at $207, according to a recent online search.

Downtown is easy to get around by foot or car. In the summer, a free trolley loops around the area’s major attractions.

For pampering, stay at the grand old Pfister Hotel (800-472-4403; 424 East Wisconsin Avenue; www.thepfisterhotel.com), a throwback to Victorian elegance and within walking distance of the waterfront and attractions. In fall, doubles can start as low as $199.

For a less expensive option, try the Hilton City Center (414-271-7250; 509 West Wisconsin Avenue; www.hiltonmilwaukee.com), especially if you have young children. The Paradise Landing Tropical Waterpark is in the hotel. Rooms start at $167.

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