I can't say it much better than Bill Davidson, the great-grandson of one of the founders of Harley-Davidson, himself in his Love Letter to Milwaukee:
The people and industry here in Milwaukee represent all the qualities necessary to help build a brand like Harley-Davidson - one focused on family, pride, strong work ethic and camaraderie. Milwaukeeans have an unmatched creative and fun loving spirit, and they possess the skills and passion to produce some of the best products in the world.Let me just add this: Milwaukee is much more than it seems and we let on. Sure our roots are a blue-collar rust-belt town, and that makes it a perfect place for Harley and for its riders to visit, but most big cities (and we are one even if our citizens don't always think we are - we are right behind Boston and no one would argue their standing) start out as a workers town and move on from there, or as we have seen in Detroit fail if they don't. Don't believe what you may have heard - we have evolved, but done it while keeping our hard-working, honest, friendly roots. We have venues for great food, music, art, pretty much any culture you want. And as always that culture is grounded and rooted by our port and manufacturing origins so that means it will appeal to all of you visitors.
I've already created some lists on our MKE Pride page and many man-friendly places on the Goods & Services page, but here is a list by a rider (namely me) for riders.
While you are down at our Summerfest grounds, properly the Henry Maier Festival Park, where the bulk of the festivities take place, head north a few blocks to the Milwaukee Art Museum with the famous Quadracci Pavilion - the sculptural, postmodern addition designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that features the the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily and is the new icon of the Milwaukee skyline. The museum was shrewd enough to time a tattoo exhibit at the same time as the anniversary. It also is home to the War Memorial Center. Head north a little more to the lakefront where you can visit Veteran's Park, one of our Gold-Medal Award winning county parks, situated directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, the park is busy on spring and summer weekends, and has also played host to various events throughout the years including past and current Harley anniversary events. Keep going as far as you want up Lake Drive for a scenic ride, but you may want to stop at the Lakefront Colectivo Coffee cafe situated in and old Cream City brick (a special brick made here only in Milwaukee that give our buildings that uniform cream color) Flushing Station built in 1888 with good, strong coffee to get you going in the morning after the previous night's festivities. Past that is the Northpoint Custard Stand where you can get a great burger and custard right on the beach. Keep going north along the lake past North Ave where one of the street festivals is to Capital Drive and go west and you will come to Estabrook Park and its Beer Garden - one of the most authentic ones this side of the Atlantic through a partnership with the original Hofbrauhaus of Germany.
Iron Horse Hotel which is a boutique hotel designed for bikers, and one of my favorite places in town, then cross the street to the west to visit Great Lakes Distillery for some whiskey from a place filled with the spirit of Milwaukee. Those two places partnered to make a whiskey of their own to replace Jim Beam in the Iron Horse bar after the whiskey giant released a commercial showing Wisconsin-native Willem Defoe in two ‘parallel’ lives, one of fame after choosing a bus to New York City and the other slightly less glamorous, a life led after choosing Milwaukee. Now that's some example of Milwaukee's steel heart. Nearby is Milwaukee Brewing Company - speaking of breweries, we are known as 'Brew City' for a reason. Besides being home to Miller who shares an anniversary and is a sponsor of the 110th and formerly to Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz, we have one of the best craft brewing communities around including Lakefront Brewery, Sprecher Brewery, and Big Bay Brewing. It may sound silly, but stop off for some ice cream as well - though we are known for our frozen custard, perhaps the best thing here is the Purple Door Ice Cream whiskey ice cream, don't take my word for it - try it yourself.
Don't even get me started on bars - its 'Brew City', pick one
If you need a little grooming and styling while here, head south to the Bay View neighborhood and make check out Stag Barbershop for a cut or even better a shave by the skilled ladies there - there is nothing like an old-fashioned straight razor shave with an ice cold Pabst in hand. On your way back downtown stop by The Brass Rooster for the finest in men's hats from traditional to contemporary, you can even order a custom made hat. Tattoos are part of the style of many bikers, and while we have many great parlors in Milwaukee, if you want to get one while here down in Bay View is Solid State Tattoo, whose owner has a passion for old-school tattoos and provided all of the flash on display at the art museum's previously mentioned exhibit.
Of course while you are here you will need to eat, and Milwaukee will not disappoint. There are almost too many places to list, but here are some places that should appeal to the Harley riders:
- The aforementioned Iron Horse Hotel's Smyth restaurant and the outdoor Yard. Places with a similar vibe of industrial/rustic-chic with hearty food include the Hinterland Erie Gastropub and the Rumpus Room.
- If you want a steak, you can Google it for many great options like the Packing House on the south side (where Robert Downey Jr, just ate recently), but if you want that true old style steak joint - complete with relish tray - you've gotta hit Butch's Old Casino Steakhouse. If you are up for a short road trip and/or are heading up to Suburban Motor's festivities in Mequon, there may be no better steak experience than that of the Farmstead in Cedarburg just north of Mequon - the garlic smashed black angus is amazing.
- If you just want a good burger, well - we've kind of got that perfected here. On Food Wars AJ Bombers and Sobelman's battled it out and AJ's came out on top but many Milwaukeeans would argue for other places such as Solly's butter burgers which have early as much butter as burger and the grass-fed beef patties and many options Stack'd.
- We have lots of great places for brunch, but the winner for this weekend may be The Comet Cafe on Sunday which is when they have free Bacon. Yes, that's right, spend at least $2.50 and get a basket of free bacon at your table - a little better than chips & salsa or popcorn or something lame.
- If you want a classic breakfast at a simple diner you can't beat the many George Webbs - a local chain - but the ultimate original diner is Miss Katies which is so well-known nationally that presidents visit there.
- Speaking of diners and renown, you may have heard of a show called Happy Days, set in Milwaukee, well Leon's Frozen Custard (yep there's that custard again) was the inspiration for the show's drive-in, and their custard is some of the best in town.
- If you are in the mood for somewhat lighter fare, like seafood, Twisted Fisherman is blocks away from the Harley Museum with many seafood options, also nearby is a well-hidden gem, known as much for being hidden as its views of the river, in Barnacle Buds.
- Finally, if you are eating a special diet for any reason, the good news is that in Milwaukee you can find great healthful (vegetarian, organic, etc.) food in spots where you won't feel out of place. The atmosphere and views of Wolf Peach, not to mention the food, can't be beat and eating exceptionally crafted seasonal food at tables made from recycled bowling lane wood at Milwaukee's farm-to-table leader Braise Restaurant is an experience everyone should have in Milwaukee. If you went down to Bay View to visit Stag or the Brass Rooster, stop in for brunch or dinner at the Palomino which includes many vegetarian options.
Welcome to Milwaukee and we hope to see you back, anniversary or no!