Traveler’s Guide To Quirky Milwaukee

holler house

Image via Are We Not Men?

While Milwaukee is known for its great beer, beautiful foliage and tasty cheeses, the state also offers a range of unusual activities. Add the following to your itinerary for a quirky Milwaukee vacation:

The Holler House

2042 W Lincoln Avenue

Bowl on real wood laid in 1908 at the Holler House, the oldest certified lanes in the country. Don’t forget to tip your personal pin setter as you go back in time to the original days of bowling. The historic, two-story house also features a main-floor bar with eclectic decorations dating back to the early 1900s, like signs advertising 25-cent beef sandwiches and Polish falcon crests showing the ethnic background of the old neighborhood. There is also an extensive collection of autographed brassieres “donated” by patrons dangling from ceiling fans. Lanes are close together, there are no chairs and scores are taken with pencil and paper. The best part about the Holler House might not be the what, but the who, in the form of owner Marcy Skowronski – a sassy woman who made history for the venue. In fact, it was she who started the tradition of drinking with friends and taking their bras off, and the bar now has over 1,000 of them.

Sleep In A Beer-Inspired Hotel

1215 N 10th Street

Milwaukee’s newest boutique hotel, Brewhouse Inn & Suites, reflects the local beer culture in a variety of ways. Housed in the Brew House of the historic Pabst Brewery, the 90-room, all-suite property features five original copper brew kettles in the second floor lobby; a stained glass window of King Gambrinus, the patron saint of beer; an outdoor beer garden for sampling delicious brews; and the Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub, which offers a great happy hour from 3pm to 6pm Monday through Friday with $2 domestic drafts and $3 imports and craft beers.

Pedal Tavern Pub Crawl

Various Milwaukee locations

For a truly unusual pub crawl, sign up for a Pedal Tavern Pub Crawl. You’ll hop aboard a 16-person bicycle, creating your own stops or have a Pedal Tavern guide plan an itinerary for you in the Historic Third Ward and Walker’s Point neighborhoods. They also have a gay-bar themed tour that stops at La Cage, Fluid, Walkers Pint and Harbor Room. Some of the other stops on their other tour routes include Milwaukee Ale House, Fire on Water, Club Charlies, Woody’s, La Perla, Shakers, and, my personal favorite, Cafe Benelux, which has a great rooftop scene offering aerials views of the Public Market and Historic Third Ward.

Forest Home Cemetery

2405 W Forest Home Avenue

At the Forest Home Cemetery, you’ll be able to pay respects to Milwaukee’s elite, including mayors, politicians, leading industrialists, successful businessmen, trailblazing women, war heroes and more. In the “Beer Barons” corner of the cemetery, you’ll find the mausoleums of three brewing icons known as the Beer Barons: Jacob Best, August Krug, Valentin Blatz, Frederick Pabst, August Uihlein and Joseph Schlitz. It’s a unique pilgrimage for any beer lover.

bronze fonz

Bronze Fonz on the Milwaukee Riverwalk. Image via Dan Bishop Photography.

The Bronze Fonz

100 E Wells Street

In August 2008, Arthur Fonzarelli came home to Milwaukee as The Bronze Fonz, a life-sized, bronze statue of the popular “Happy Days” character. The Fonz can be found in his leather jacket, forever holding his famous thumbs-up “Aaay!” pose just south of Wells Street on Milwaukee’s Riverwalk. During the holidays, Fonz has been spotted wearing everything from a Santa hat to bunny ears.

Clock Shadow Creamery & Purple Door Ice Cream

138 W. Bruce Street

The Clock Shadow Creamery is one of the only urban cheese factories in the United States. It specializes in Wisconsin Cheese Curds and Quark, a creamy white cheese. They focus on sustainably-made cheeses made with local ingredients, as well as provide cheese making tours to teach the community about the art of making cheese. To continue on your dairy pilgrimage, Purple Door Ice Cream next door offers handmade ice cream in unusual flavors like Chai with Pink Peppercorn; Whiskey Bacon; Chocolate Guatemala Roast; Basil; Balsamic Strawberry; and Olive Oil, to name a few.

Splash Studio

184 N. Broadway

Splash Studio isn’t just a bar or an art studio, it’s both in one. As you sip your beer or wine you’ll sit down in front of a canvas and create something beautiful with paint. The venue offers a three-hour experience with a local artist who will help you create an original masterpiece. No need to get up from your work, as waitresses and waiters are attentive and make sure you’re never without a drink. Best of all, you’ll take home a momento you made yourself without having to worry about cleanup.

milwaukee art museum

Watching the wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum begin to flap

Milwaukee Art Museum

While unusual, watching the Milwaukee Art Museum “spread its wings” is a beautiful experience. It happens every morning at 10am when the museum opens, and the sides of the building will literally open up like wings, matching the same wing span of a Boeing 747-400 airplane. It’s very moving, albeit out of the norm.

Kochanski’s Concertina Hall

1920 S 37th Street

Built in the 1900s, the building’s original purpose was to house celery farm workers, and then as a brothel. After being used for a few other purposes, the venue was acquired by Polish businessman Andy Kochanski, who turned it into a quirky entertainment venue. A “normal” night at Kochanski’s Concertina Bar could include regulars playing a game of Sheep’s Head, groups of all ages clapping and whirling around the dance floor to live polka music or a full out accordion jam session in the middle of the bar. Dueling polka, rockabilly bands, open mic Polka, and odd decor like a year-round upside Christmas tree are also to be expected. This historical polka beer hall also boasts the largest assortment of Polish and German imported beer this side of the Atlantic.

safe house

Safe House. Image via Visit Milwaukee.

The Safe House

779 N. Front Street

In the Intelligence trade, a safe house is “a secret refuge for spies engaging in covert operations.” These places look unassuming on the outside, and good luck finding the door, but on the inside are spaces for conducting clandestine activities. Serving hungry agents since 1966, The Safe House is a spy-themed restaurant containing mysteries and even a hidden exit. Wandering down dark, narrow hallways, you’ll find a phone booth where you can get an alibi if you blow your cover, as well as a wall of mysterious moving puzzle pieces and clues. The building is hidden in an alley and misleadingly labeled International Exports Ltd. You’ll need a password to enter, or at least enough sense of humor to make animal sounds and do silly poses until the doorman lets you in. Hint: Control never turned away agents on the run because they didn’t know the password. Drinks take on a classic cocktail philosophy that coincide with the spy-theme, like the “Spy’s Demise” and the “Double Agent.”

Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge

1579 S 9th Avenue

No jukebox, only a record player with classical tunes. No menu, only 450 classic, artisan or Depression-era cocktails to choose from that are ordered based on what you’re “in the mood” for. No wallpaper or paint, but plush velvet walls. That’s what you’ll find at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, Milwaukee’s oldest cocktail lounge, established in 1938. Originally a “tied house,” many regulars that go to the bar today come in and talk of when their grandparents used to frequent the venue. Tip: From 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM Tuesday through Friday, Bryant’s serves up Depression-era cocktails for half-off.

lakefront brewery

Lakefront Brewery’s Palm Garden Fish Fry

Lakefront Brewery’s Palm Garden Fish Fry

1872 N Commerce Street

Get to know your neighbors elbow-to-elbow at a community table as you feast on beer battered fish plates, heaping stacks of homemade potato pancakes, soft slabs of rye bread, creamy coleslaw and tart applesauce. Every Friday night at Lakefront Brewery’s Palm Garden, the beer venue transforms into an authentic fish fry. The sounds of the squeezeboxes and banjos of The Brew House Polka Kings, whose act features a functioning bubble machine, allow locals aged two to 92 to polka all night. Established by brothers Russ and Jim Klisch twenty years ago, Lakefront offers more than a dozen original brews including the nation’s very first 100% organically brewed ale, Organic Extra Special Bitter Ale.

This post was adapted from my original article on Gadling.

For more on Milwaukee’s great offerings, check out my AFAR Wanderlist: Food, Fun and Festivals in Milwaukee

4 Comments

  1. We just spent a day in Milwaukee and it was not nearly enough! We were really overwhelmed with the art museum. We don’t even particularly care for art museums, but the architecture is just incredible. We will definitely be back to stay longer – and visit some of these suggestions!

  2. Wow! This place is cool and fun too. If I go to Milwaukee, I’m sure I’ll bring my 2 boys because they will love it here. They are so fond of cool stuff and they love to explore new things and I can see here in Milwaukee there are lot of views here that they’ll love. Thanks for sharing!

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