Whenever I tell people where I grew up, the conversation inevitably turns to beer or the Fonz. Wisconsin's largest city has long suffered an image problem (think foam "cheesehead" hats), but these days Milwaukee mixes its sense of humor with a little sophistication: Paris-trained chefs, a Santiago Calatrava-accented skyline, and award-winning microbreweries. Here, seven of the city's top spots.
EAT In the up-and-coming Brady Street neighborhood, Watermark Seafood (1716 N. Arlington Place; 414/278-8464; dinner for two $65) serves delicately prepared fish flown in daily from the Texas Gulf, Alaska, and the East Coast. Herb-crusted halibut drizzled with organic Spanish olive oil is best preceded by a seasonal salad of heirloom tomatoes grown on farms near Madison. • Hired to landscape 124 acres of Milwaukee lakefront in 1892, Frederick Law Olmsted also designed the building that today houses Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro (3133 E. Newberry Blvd.; 414/962-6300; dinner for two $80), where French-trained chef Adam Siegel re-creates classics such as foie gras with apricot preserves and coq au vin. • At the Water Street Brewery (1101 N. Water St.; 414/272- 1195; dinner for two $35), the famous Usinger's bratwurst—simmered in beer and spices and slathered with sauerkraut—can be washed down with a pint of Munich lager, one of the nine drafts brewed on-site.
DRINK The stark white restaurant and devilishly red dance club at Eve (718 N. Milwaukee St.; 414/347-5555) draws visiting luminaries like Jah Rule and Sex and the City's Chris Noth. • Well-heeled locals sip suds at Von Trier (2235 N. Farwell Ave.; 414/272-1775), named after the German owner's hometown. Hacker-Pschorr Weisse and Trier's own Bitburger Pils are the most popular, but don't forget the local favorites: Sprecher Winter Brew and Riverwest.
SLEEP Built in 1893, the Pfister Hotel (424 E. Wisconsin Ave.; 800/558-8222 or 414/273-8222; www.pfister-hotel.com; doubles from $299) is the choice for old-world luxury. It's also just a few blocks from the Milwaukee Art Museum, where Santiago Calatrava's nautically themed 2001 addition to Eero Saarinen's 1957 design looms over Lake Michigan. • The Hotel Metro (411 E. Mason St.; 877/638-7620 or 414/272-1937; www.hotelmetro.com; doubles from $169) is an Art Deco-style boutique property with bamboo floors, Jacuzzis, and in-room CD players and VCR's. When the weather's fine, pedal around town on one of the Metro's Schwinn retro cruisers, which guests can borrow for free.
Water Street Brewery
The Hotel Metro
Eight miles from the zoo, this family-friendly eco-hotel has a “green” rooftop spa and free bicycles (helmets included).
Since it opened, this historic Grand Dame—which includes the 1893 building and a modern tower—in downtown Milwaukee has hosted every U.S. president since McKinley. Gilded Age glamour can still be seen in the lobby’s gold-leaf detailing and celestial ceiling mural, but the Pfister’s 225 guest rooms and 82 suites in the tower have recently been revamped with quilted-leather headboards, Grohe fixtures, and walk-in marble showers. The 23rd-floor indoor pool has views of Lake Michigan, and guests can kick back with a cocktail at Blu martini bar. For lunch and dinner, slip into the red horseshoe booths at Mason Street Grill for classic American fare.