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Largest city in Wisconsin is more than a detour to Chicago

By Elijah Decious, The Gazette

MILWAUKEE — Although it’s only a fourhour drive from Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee often is overlooked, lying in the shadow of nearby Chicago.

While you might be lured to the Badger State to nibble on cheese and guzzle local beer in America’s dairyland, you’ll probably end up staying for Milwaukee’s robust scene for the arts, quirky local fare, shoreline access to Lake Michigan and unique accommodations.

With plenty to do for every budget — from those with a small pocket of spending cash to visitors with a “put it on my tab” mentality — Milwaukee is more than a detour to Chicago.


This small-batch craft distillery may be proof that Milwaukee is known locally for more than Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller Lite.

Founders Evan Hughes and Pat McQuillan handcraft their award-winning bourbon, brandy and vodka from Midwest ingredients. Although their distribution operation was mainly in Wisconsin, they now have a presence in Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

Over the summer, they opened their first urban distillery experience, the Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen, where guests can tour operations and sample signatures such as Red Cabin Bourbon, Door County Cherry vodka, rye whiskey, rye vodka and dark chocolate brandy.

Their urban space houses a 100-gallon pot still that produces all spirits served and sold on site, paired with in-season Wisconsin treats made by


A view of downtown Milwaukee from the rooftop seating area for Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen. (Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen)


their chef. Visitors can learn the ins and outs of their distillery through a guided tour and enjoy a cocktail on The Aviary, their rooftop patio with panoramic views of Lake Michigan and downtown Milwaukee.

“Milwaukee’s often mistakenly tagged as a small-market city, but the city has shown the world that we are truly second to none,” Hughes said. “This is a city where you can enjoy world-class music, food, spirits and sports all in one.”


If you’re feeling a little hungry after sampling those spirits, there’s a fun place to get a bite to eat — even though it prefers to be kept a secret. SafeHouse Milwaukee, a local landmark and cultural icon in the city, serves remarkable burgers at a secret restaurant and late-night bar that aims to offer refuge to spies from around the globe.

Under International Exports Limited — its alias — never divulges its location.

Impromptu agents looking for a bite to eat can look for clues like a mural in the alleyway near the Milwaukee River that will lead you to its notso- conspicuous red door. You also can feel free to use Google to find the address.

A password is required to enter, although Safehouse said it will never turn a guest away — it will simply require a clearance test “to prove they are no double agent.”

Once inside, explore a world of espionage and entertainment with artifacts, movie props, weapons, gadgets, novelty machines and secrets.


For a city that prides itself on its accessible Lake Michigan shoreline, Lakeshore State Park — Wisconsin’s only urban state park — offers a beautiful recreational panorama.

The newest lakefront park in Milwaukee, dedicated in 2007, was built from a deeptunnel excavation project that created a crescent island not far from downtown.

Offering unobstructed views of the largest lake in the United States, adventures abound over 22 acres through winding foot trails and rolling paths for bikers, joggers and bird watchers.

A watercraft beach area provides access for canoes, kayaks and paddleboards alongside a 20-slip boat dock and accessible fishing dock. Pack a picnic, spot wildlife, rent a paddleboat or catch a fish — it’s your adventure.


Seattle’s not the only one with a public market center — although you’re more likely to see a clerk throwing a brick of cheese than fish here. Since 2005, the Milwaukee Public Market has served as a community gathering place, small-business incubator and culinary source.

Housing 17 independently owned businesses, the venue gives shoppers the chance to find local favorites from beer and cheese to sausage, seafood and specialty offerings.

“Milwaukee is a city of neighborhoods that are individually filled with their own rich history and character,” said Paul Schwartz, executive director of the market. “Collectively, these neighborhoods cultivate the true personality and spirit of Milwaukee through the lenses of food, culture entertainment and recreational scenes. And of course, our people.”


Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra performs more than 135 classics, pops, family, education and community concerts each season. This season, most of its performances will be in the recently renovated Bradley Symphony Center — a stunning 1931 building originally constructed as a sevenstory movie theater.

The orchestra renovated and restored the space by moving a 625-ton city brick wall 35 feet toward a city street while remaining fully intact. In the process, the organization restored the interior and exterior, while adding modern and acoustical elements for a world-class concert hall.

The new performance hall can now fit the entire orchestra — 72 musicians in all — on its stage.

“Milwaukee is a hidden arts destination climbing onto a global stage,” said Mary Niehaus, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra president and executive director. “From visual to performing arts, the city ensures it is easily accessible to all. … We offer the best of the best to all who enter our city.”

Whether you’re looking for street sculptures, unique galleries or live music, she said you’ll find it in Milwaukee.


Claiming to be a first of its kind arts hotel, Saint Kate offers rooms unlike any other you’ve seen.

Take, for instance, its Canvas Room by Lon Michels — a whimsical floor-to-ceiling theme of leopard print in various colors and patterns that will, without a doubt, provoke feelings in even the most stoic guests. It’s complete with a ukulele, so feel free to leave yours at home.

With an immersive arts experience, Saint Kate celebrates the arts in its many forms with galleries, exhibition spaces with work from local and nationallyknown artists, and live music.

Culinary arts are on display through four different experiences inside the hotel, including a Neapolitan pizza restaurant and the city’s only Champagne bar.

In Milwaukee’s prime entertainment district, guests can experience the arts from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed.

Comments: (319) 398-8340; elijah.

Lakeshore State Park, Wisconsin’s only urban state park, reflects Milwaukee’s pride in Lake Michigan shoreline access. (Angela Vickio/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

While it’s true that there’s plenty of good cheese and beer to be had in Wisconsin, vendors like St. Paul Fish Co. at the Milwaukee Public Market contribute to a well-rounded variety. (Milwaukee Public Market)

In addition to the novelties offered at the spy-themed SafeHouse Milwaukee, guests at the local landmark can get a bite to eat such as the signature MOAB (Mother of All Burgers). (SafeHouse Milwaukee)

Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel offers oneof- a-kind guest rooms such as the Canvas Room by artist Lon Michels, with floor to ceiling leopard print. (Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel)

Novelty shop Brew City Brand is just one of the vendors set up in the Milwaukee Public Market. (Milwaukee Public Market)

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