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Take me to Milwaukee
By Kathleen Ostrander

Mix a strong ethnic heritage, spectacular lakefront views, festivals for everyone and anyone, and world-class museums. Add a dash of glamour, some great shopping ... that's Milwaukee.

Since American Indians settled in the land where many waters came together, Milwaukee has cultivated a strong tradition that embraces diversity, history and hospitality. Just short of five hours from Springfield, Milwaukee is the perfect weekend getaway. Since it has so much to offer, why not stretch the weekend into an extra day or two?

Milwaukee boasts a vast array of historical and architectural landmarks, including: the magnificent Capt. Frederick Pabst Mansion, home of one of the city's influential beer barons; the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, originally built during the 15th century in Lyon, France; the Charles Allis Art Museum, a stunning English Tudor mansion and former home of the first president of Allis-Chalmers Co.; Villa Terrace, an Italian Renaissance-style villa with a sweeping view of Lake Michigan and breathtaking lakefront gardens; Milwaukee's City Hall, a landmark of Flemish Renaissance design built in 1895; and Basilica of St. Josaphat's, an architectural masterpiece and the first Polish basilica in North America.

The Milwaukee Art Museum's $110 million expansion, designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, is a signature masterpiece on Milwaukee's lakefront. Described as a moving sunscreen with a span larger than a Boeing 747, the wing-like brise soleil is a dynamic addition to Milwaukee's skyline. The museum has earned national acclaim in publications such as Smithsonian, Conde Nast Traveler and Time magazines.

Milwaukee is home to a world-class symphony, ballet and opera. A wide range of theater venues and an exciting schedule of touring Broadway productions round out a performing arts scene that's second to none.

Milwaukee's Third Ward Arts Association features the fabulous Broadway Theater, an 18th century replica of an Italian Baroque opera house. Audiences may enjoy performances by the Milwaukee Chamber Theater, Milwaukee's "enterprising theatre" company for world and Midwest premier productions, and the Skylight Opera Theatre.

The Downtown Theater District is home to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Also located in this district are the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Pabst Theater, a lavishly renovated historic landmark, and the Milwaukee Theatre. Milwaukee is also home to Ko-Thi, the nationally celebrated African dance company.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is Wisconsin's premiere arts institution. The museum's more than 20,000 holdings span antiquity to the present, and include works by masters such as Monet, Picasso and Warhol.

The acclaimed Milwaukee Public Museum invites visitors to stroll through the Streets of Old Milwaukee and then on to the lush, tropical gardens of the Puelicher Butterfly Wing, where more than 600 butterflies from around the world take flight.

Milwaukee also is home to Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson aficionados consider Milwaukee a mecca for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Discovery World is a spectacular 120,000-foot museum complex on Milwaukee's lakefront that connects innovation, science and technology with exploration, environment and our Great Lakes freshwater resources.

The Historic Third Ward is home to The Eisner, America's Museum of Advertising and Design, the only museum in the country exploring the synergy of advertising, design and culture.

The Betty Brinn Children's Museum, located on Milwaukee's beautiful lakefront, provides interactive, hands-on fun and learning for children ages 1-10.  

Visit Menomonee Valley and find your favorite slot or bingo game and win big at Potawatomi Bingo Casino. The entertainment center features 3,100 slots, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker and bingo.

Don't miss a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo, home to more than 3,500 exotic mammals, birds and fish. The 200-acre zoo is consistently ranked among the finest zoological gardens in the world. The Mitchell Park Conservatory, "The Domes," comprise three geodesic domes offering visitors a tropical rain forest, an arid desert or a seasonal floral display.

The Pettit National Ice Center, the only facility of its kind in the Midwest and one of only 11 in the world, offers public skating along with a 400-meter speed skating oval and two international-sized ice sheets for Olympic training. Boerner Botanical Gardens in Whitnall Park and Villa Terrace Museum of Decorative Arts offer spectacular gardens and Wehr Nature Center features peaceful nature trails.    

Miller Park, the home of the Brewers, is the only ballpark in North America boasting a state-of-the-art, fan-shaped convertible roof and a natural grass playing field.

And don't forget about the breweries and microbrewing operations. MillerCoors provides an inside glimpse at the fascinating history of brewing in Milwaukee with free tours, as well as an opportunity to sample.

In the heart of downtown, the two-mile long RiverWalk winds along the Milwaukee River with access to some of the city's best restaurants, brewpubs, shops and waterfront nightlife. Eye-catching public art gives the RiverWalk the feel of an outdoor gallery. It's the site of many Milwaukee events, including Riversplash! River Rhythms, River Challenge and more.

Sea Dog Sailing provides a comfortable and relaxing journey aboard "Blue Chip," a Catalina 34-foot sailing yacht. See the scenic shoreline from Lake Michigan or enjoy a sailing excursion in the Milwaukee Harbor offering day sails or sunset cruises.

Edelweiss Cruise Lines allows your family to enjoy a custom-designed European canal boat. The public cruise packages fit every budget and occasion, while offering lunch, brunch and dinner sightseeing cruises throughout the summer season.

Milwaukee Boat Line-Iroquois allows visitors in Milwaukee to enjoy the skyline from the jewel of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. The vessel can carry 150 passengers.

Milwaukee's shopping opportunities, from quaint to sophisticated to Renaissance charm, are mind-boggling.

The Historic Third Ward is home to hip art galleries and boutiques with everything from ultra-urban stationery to updated housewares to designer kids' clothes. Shopping here includes: Fred Boutique - here fashion divas can find sassy, stylish clothes from big-name designers without  the lofty price tags. Milwaukee's newest posh boutique hosts "Martinis with Fred" the last Thursday of each month with complimentary drinks and massages.

Make-up artist to the stars, Sarah Brucker, shares her expertise at Blush Beauty. Customers get tips from make-up pros as they learn about and try upscale cosmetics in a relaxing atmosphere. Blush's one-of-a-kind brow bar provides a luxurious twist to a humdrum beauty regimen. Participants sip Blush champagne as an expert brow artist works her magic.

Lela Boutique offers stylish consignment merchandise including shoes and accessories and local designer clothing. Cranston offers home accents with a traditional blend of contemporary and transitional pieces to create chic style in every room of the home.

Broadway Paper is the source for fine stationery, handmade papers, gift wrap and innovative ideas. Exotic souvenirs of journeys to the Far East line the walls of Artasia Gallery & Museum.

At Milwaukee Public Market, 20 specialty vendors sell fresh food that honors Wisconsin's agricultural heritage and features ingredients to delight the most discriminating gourmet.

Downtown shopping options includes: The Plankinton Arcade, one of four historic buildings to house The Shops of Grand Avenue. The splendor of yesteryear endures with the Arcade's luminous glass rotunda, terra cotta balustrade and quatrefoil filigree. Once the famed Schlitz Palm Garden, the lavish palms and opulent architecture were the picture of Victorian luxury at this landmark. Today, mallgoers can peruse 130 specialty shops and kiosks linked by a network of skywalks.

Uhle Tobacco Co. is the fruition of former owner Jack Uhle's rags-to-riches tale. The German immigrant worked as a janitor for $1 a night at the Greyhound depot until he opened a concession stand at the bus station, the predecessor to today's pipe shop. Tobacco enthusiasts cherish Uhle's fine tobacco blends, which garner national attention.

At East Town, visit George Watts & Son Inc. Shoppers can browse 1,000 fine tableware patterns in an elegant gallery setting. David Barnett Gallery, Wisconsin's premiere gallery, showcases 6,000 artworks by more than 400 artists in the historic Button Mansion. DeLind Art Gallery offers a changing collection of artwork of the  18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Roger Stevens Menswear at the Pfister Hotel is the home of impeccable menswear. Find designer clothing and accessories and sportswear there.

Old World Third Street is the only remaining portion of Milwaukee's original German Retail District. Italianate, Victorian Gothic and Romanesque Revival buildings lining the cobblestone street retain the splendor of the past.

Don't miss The Spice House. Premium ingredients, small weekly batches and old-world techniques create spices of the highest quality and superior taste. The spice blends, like the best-selling Old World Third Street Seasoning, are versatile additions to any kitchen.

Historic Walker's Point offers a large concentration of Latin American artists, musicians and photographers. Some of the area's hottest Mexican restaurants and nightclubs intermingle among early 19th century architecture in this unique gateway district. Don't miss Milwaukee's own Canvasbacks, which specializes in artistic sportswear.

Oscar Wilde once remarked, "If what you want isn't on Brady Street, you probably don't need it." Aala Reed Clothier offers men's and women's clothing including Hugo Boss, Ted Baker London, Gant, Buffalo and more; Boutique Vieux et Nouveaux is a cozy second-floor shop full of fashion treasures for hip women; Miss Groove is the place to go for fun and fashionable ensembles, known as a premier source for fine handbags, accessories and apparel.

Other suggestions:

Hilton Milwaukee City Center-Paradise Landing offers a tropical, year-round getaway for the family. Paradise Landing is the first urban indoor water park of its kind in America. There is a three-story Jamaican village that has four fantastic water slides and the Cabana Cove, which serves snacks and refreshments.

Comedy Sportz is laughable fun for the whole family. Two teams take the "field" with a referee and play improv games based on audience suggestions. It is one of the most unusual experiences Milwaukee has to offer, and you never see the same show twice.

A must for any pizza lover is a stop at Palermo's Pizza.  Just relax and enjoy the authentic tastes of Italy or take a tour of the factory to find out just how the first pizzeria style pizza with a crust that rises in your oven as it bakes is made.


The Iron Horse Hotel

Less than a year old and the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee is getting rave reviews from travel magazines as well as motorcycle magazines. This luxury boutique hotel can handle everything from a weekend romantic getaway to pampering a business traveler who has a week's worth of grinding business in the city.

Milwaukee is the mecca of motorcycle enthusiasts, so it's only natural that the hotel should decide to fill that niche. And it's not easy to find hotels with amenities for motorcyclists and five-star dining and ambiance.

The hotel has secure, covered motorcycle parking, rag bins, an on-site bike wash, packed saddle bag lunches, road trip maps and special in-room storage areas for boots, riding leathers and helmets.

The hotel, a transformed 100-year-old industrial warehouse, is located just across the river from the new Harley-Davidson Museum, which is projected to draw between 350,000 and 500,000 visitors a year.

Iron Horse offers a number of guest packages, but by far the most innovative is the "Big Dog" package.

This offers premium accommodations for man's best friend. Of the 62 million dog owners in the United States, a survey conducted by BringYourPet.com indicates 30 million travel with their pets. Of those travelers, 47 percent said their dog weighs more than 40 pounds. Many hotel chains limit four-legged guests to 30 pounds and under.

The "Big Dog" package includes:

  • custom deluxe guest room
  • oversize in-room pet pillows
  • food and water bowls
  • check-in doggie bag that includes "H2O to Go" bottle and doggie toys
  • dog bakery snacks
  • "Big Dog" room service menu
  • Temporary "dog tags" with hotel contact information
  • dog walking maps, a list of dog-friendly parks and outdoor dining options
  • pre-arranged dog sitting services, shampoo/grooming and canine massage available for an additional charge.

Human amenities include: complimentary wireless Internet, complete connectivity panels with iPod docking stations, 42" LG LCD flat-screen television, luxury linens, fitness center and spa treatment rooms, and 24-hour room service.

For more information visit www.theironhorsehotel.com or call (888) 543-IRON


Milwaukee's festivals

Milwaukee is the city of fests and that makes sense since it has one of the best festival grounds in the Midwest along Lake Michigan. So hit the highway and fest with the best.

  • Kicking off the season of festivals, PrideFest produces the largest Gay/Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender pride festival in Wisconsin. Enjoy the festivities June 5-7. www.pridefest.com
  • Celebrate at Polish Fest, America's largest Polish festival, June 19-21. Sample authentic Polish fare, experience historic exhibits, folk art demonstrations and Old World crafts, and dance to one of the many polka bands. www.polishfest.org
  • Be a part of the world's largest music festival June 25-July 5 at Summerfest This 11-day event offers the best in regional and national entertainment on 13 different stages featuring a bewildering array of music.
  • Some of the acts scheduled include: Bon Jovi, Keith Urban, Counting Crows, George Strait, Blake Shelton, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, No Doubt, Paramore, Kenney Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum, The Fray, Jack's Mannequin, Whitesnake, Kid Rock and Lynard Skynyrd. www.summerfest.com
  • Romance, nostalgia, and Italian delicacies fill the air at Festa Italiana, America's premier Italian cultural event. From July 16-19, there will be nine stages of world-renowned and local entertainment. Every night concludes with an Italian-style fireworks show. www.festaitaliana.com
  • Grab a stein and cool off with your favorite brew at North America's largest annually held German festival, German Fest. Indulge in unforgettable German cuisine. Marvel as craftsmen demonstrate Old World artistry July 24-26. www.germanfest.com
  • Experience a world of heritage, culture, entertainment and family activities at the African World Festival, July 31-Aug. 2. Fans of R& B, gospel, "Old School," blues or hip-hop will find their brand of entertainment at the Midwest's premier three-day celebration of African heritage. www.africanworldfestival.com
  • The newest festival to join the line-up of lakefront festivals, Arab World Fest, takes place Aug. 7-9. Cuisine, entertainment, and cultural showcases will highlight the traditions of the Arab culture. Don't pass up the live camel rides.
  • Irish Fest, the world's largest Irish cultural festival, brings the Emerald Isle to Milwaukee's lakefront Aug. 13-16. Cultural exhibits, displays, theater, poetry readings and demonstrations bring alive Ireland's folklore and charm. www.irishfest.com
  • Spice up your life at Mexican Fiesta Aug. 21-23. A south-of-the-border extravaganza featuring mouth-watering food, rousing mariachi bands, foot-stomping rhythms and an elaborate swirl of traditional dancers.  www.mexicanfiesta.org
  • The Indian Summer Festival offers a fun and entertaining way to experience the diversity of both traditional and contemporary American Indian culture. Held Sept.11-13, the festival celebrates the rich American Indian heritage.  www.indiansummer.org

Other festivals taking place around the city in different locations include:

  • Jazz in the Park (www.easttown.com) Thursday evenings June 4-Sept. 26 in Cathedral Park Square  
  • Riversplash  (www.easttown.com) June 5-7 in Pere Marquette Park  
  • Lakefront Festival of the Arts (www.mam.org/lfoa) June 19-21 Milwaukee Art Museum grounds  
  • Bastille Days (www.easttown.com) in Cathedral Square Park July 9-12.
  • Wisconsin State Fair (www.wistatefair.com) Aug. 6-16, 2009 at Wisconsin State Fair Park  
  • Holiday Folk Fair International (www.folkfair.org) held Nov. 20-22, 2009 at Wisconsin State Fair Park.


Story published Friday, May 1, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 3 )

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