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Jun 10, 2011 09:21 PM

What is the Milwaukee Experience?

Recently, I was asked to plan a Milwaukee weekend for some out of towner's (not, from of course, but currently living in Chicago). Since we don't know them well, we asked what they liked and what they wanted from a night out. They answered that they wanted a classic Milwaukee night out. German food, drinking from a boot, etc... Those of us who regularly post here often times draw attention to the new, trendy and cutting edge places in our great city. But is there anythings classic left? So, I ask you, what is now the classic Milwaukee experience?

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  1. For German food, Karl Ratzsch's is still around and traces its roots to 1904.

    Kopp's Frozen Custard started in 1950.

    But honestly, I think a "classic Milwaukee experience" can also include newer places, especially those in historic areas. For example, to me going to the Milwaukee Public Market is a classic Milwaukee experience. Even though it's not that old, it traces its history to public markets in Milwaukee going back over a hundred years, as you can see from photos on their website at Also, the Milwaukee Public Market is in the Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood with its own long history, and the location of some of Milwaukee's many great restaurants, such as Hinterland and Coquette Cafe.

    And at some point, what was once new and trendy becomes the classic experience. For example, Sanford is still one of the finest restaurants in the Midwest. It has been around for 21 years, still under the careful eye of chef-owner Sanford D’Amato. Who is to say that it's not the "classic Milwaukee experience" every bit as much as restaurants that have been around longer than that?

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      I guess I should have mentioned Mader's too. When it comes to German food in Milwaukee, Ratzsch's and Mader's are the places that have been around forever (Mader's since 1902).

    2. I agree with all of nxsacy points. "classic" milwaukee is tough to define. I personally don't care for German food but that may be exactly what your friends are looking for when they say classic Milwaukee. I always take visitors out for custard sometime during their stay. I also think a fish fry is about as classic Milwaukee as you can get - if you want to start a rousing discussion just ask a local where to get the best fish fry - there are several really good ones.d Have fun

      1. I also agree with Nsxtasy! I would recommend dining at one of the great places in the Third Ward. Many have wonderful tables on the river if it is a good weather night. Then, dessert at Kopps or another great Custard spot. And, to top it all off, head to one of the bowling alleys for a few games. You could do a regular traditional Bowling alley or head to Oriental Bowl for a very old, slightly warped bowling alley, bar. If you still have time, try to squeeze in a movie at the Oriental theater next door. If you go to the 7:00 show in the middle theater you can even hear a real pipe organ concert! SO much fun!! Enjoy!

        1 Reply
        1. re: rjlebed

          and if you're into bowling, the Holler House in Milwaukee is the oldest bowling alley in the US. My nephew and I stopped by there during a baseball roadtrip.


        2. While I agree there's more to Milw., if you want the German thing, you should get it.

 never have been but have heard reports that it's decent.

 upscale but relaxed bar. No food. Boots available at Hooligan's across the street. the beer selection here is excellent.

          Ratzsch's of course

          1. Don't forget a Polish restaurant. Classic Milwaukee is as much Polish as it is German.