New Yorkers think the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge is, for all practical purposes, the abyss, and some Chicagoans seem to think Milwaukee may be just as dismal. From the Loop (via I-94) Milwaukee usually takes about two hours. There is a great deal to see and do, and, compared to downtown Chicago, parking is cheap and easy to find.
Long familiar with the Milwaukee north of I-794, Neil stumbled across the charms of Milwaukee’s Third Ward while on a business call. Lost and confused by the Ward’s higgledy-piggledy maze of streets (and running late for his appointment), he discovered it was easier to park and navigate on foot. He also found the Third Ward to be a great place to spend a day or an evening enjoying some upscale Bohemianism. By embracing adaptive reuse of abandoned commercial buildings, someone in Milwaukee had the imagination to see in the Ward’s 19th-century commercial architecture the core ingredients of a district like New York City’s SoHo, an idea dear to the Getaway Guys’ hearts.
Navigating to the Ward can be a challenge. Because it is hemmed in by I-794 to the north and east, and the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers and a jumble of former cow paths to the south and west, finding the Ward requires a good sense of direction — or a GPS. From Chicago take I-94 and exit at National Avenue south of downtown Milwaukee. Go east on National to First Street (WI 32), then north on First into the heart of the Third Ward. Once there, park — either at one of the numerous metered spaces on the street or in a parking garage — and walk.
With no particular itinerary in mind, we Getaway Guys checked out the following attractions: on Chicago Avenue, Bella Café coffee house (very nice); on North Broadway, the Broadway Theater Company, the Palms Bistro (good lunch) and Broadway Central (interesting shopping and browsing). Then over on North Water Street we visited the Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design, Milwaukee Ale House (hopping after dark) and, at the corner of Water and Erie streets, the Irish Pub (inviting). Down Erie is the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (worth a stop) and, on North Milwaukee Street, a French connection, Coquette Café (good evening fare).
To us, the highlight of the Ward is the Milwaukee Public Market on St. Paul between North Water and Broadway; it is a virtual Les Halles, the old Paris market, on the Milwaukee River. A feast for the eyes, the Market offers a wide variety of foodstuffs and culinary ingredients. Neil and Alan found it a great place to shop for any occasion or just to wander, dreaming of dinner parties they will never host. The Ward has much more, and its website, www.historicthirdward.org, gives a complete and current listing of culinary, cultural and mercantile offerings.
Antiquing can be a part of the Third Ward experience. It is Alan’s least favorite preoccupation, but he indulges Neil on occasion. The establishments devoted to the trade are dispersed, so a printed guide and a vehicle are recommended. Two of Neil’s preferences are Riverview Antique Market on Water Street and Blackhawk Antique Market on South 12th Street. The former has the feel of treasure hunt and the latter, the look of a museum.
Within a stone’s thrown of the Ward is the Milwaukee Art Museum. Take Chicago Avenue east (under the I-794 maze) to North Harbor Drive, turn left and end up practically in the museum’s parking garage. A jewel of the Midwest, the Museum has an outstanding collection of American and European art, with a special emphasis on German Expressionism (circa 1905-1930) and contemporary American art of the 1960s and ’70s. The recent Calatrava addition, with its lyrical (to Alan) but boring (to Neil) “flapping” wings, is world-renowned.