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The funky Good Life
(click image to view gallery of notable locations from Milwaukee’s hip Third Ward)
Forget the beer halls, the cheese curds, and the barbecued brats (as delectable as they all are). For a different side of Milwaukee, spend a weekend exploring the city’s lively Third Ward. Bordered by Lake Michigan on the east, I-794 on the north, and the curve of the Mil-waukee River on the west and south, the neighborhood houses a growing number of independent boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.
The Third Ward’s gateway is the Milwaukee Public Market, where, seven days a week, 20 or so specialty vendors fill display cases with delights like fine Italian sau-sage and freshly made pasta (Ceriello Fine Foods); pecan rolls, scones, and cookies (C. Adams Bakery); and rare Himalayan rock salts (the Spice House). There is an entire section devoted to regional pantry staples like Sprecher’s cherry ginger ale, Point Root Beer, Door County jams, and jars from the state honey co-op. On Saturdays, a companion farmers’ market outdoors brings a cornucopia of chatty growers and fresh produce.
Fuel up on the daily brew from the market’s resident coffee purveyor, and then spend some time in the ward’s shops. The fashion-forward Lela carries signature corsets by the promising young Wisconsin designer Shanel Regier, as well as other trendy casual clothing lines. Fans of Faryl Robin, Fluevog, and handcrafted imported footwear will find kindred spirits in Kate and Pat Blake, a Chicago sister-brother pair who indulge their foot fetish at Shoo. Complete the look with a shiny silver cuff or an oversize ring from 3rd Ward Jewelry, which stocks 50 or so small designers including the Milwaukee ringmaker Jim Charles. At The Home Market, Kate Barrette stocks modern furniture by Oly and Quatrine. Shoppers in the market for kids’ gifts should not bypass Sprout, where clothes take a back seat to lots of smart games and toys.
Something of an artists’ enclave, the Third Ward boasts Milwaukee’s highest concentration of galleries. The Katie Gingrass Gallery specializes in contemporary abstract art and high-end crafts. Make an appointment to view the European offerings at the Anthony Petullo Collection of Self-Taught & Outsider Art. Designophiles will enjoy a turn through the Eisner American Museum of Advertising & Design. All of the neighborhood galleries open their doors on quarterly gallery nights; the next nights are July 27th and 28th (for more info, go to milwaukeeartdealers.org).
Break from the boutiques with some piping hot French onion soup at the French-themed Coquette Cafe or at its more casual sister next door, the Harlequin bakery and tea shop; both establishments are the creations of Sanford D’Amato, whose top-rated Sanford just landed on Gourmet’s list of the top 50 restaurants in the United States. In the Fifth Ward, the gritty southern cousin of the Third Ward, diners flock to Barossa for chef Jan Kelly’s vegetarian delicacies. In the Brewers Hill neighborhood, Roots builds its menu around fresh picks from its 65-acre organic farm north of the city in Cedarburg. Nearby, the funky Good Life serves up a mean mango mojito and a hearty Caribbean brunch.
Over the past few years, Tom Wackman has built a nightclub fiefdom downtown that lures a discerning bar crowd (who sip off the 100-beer list at Kenadees) and clubgoers (who queue up at the thumping nightclubs Tangerine and Eve). Wackman also co-owns Carnevor, a see-and-be-seen steak house situated among the clubs.
Recover the next morning inside a favorite Third Ward watering hole, Wicked Hop, which serves up a bloody mary skewered with a shrimp, a mushroom, and a sausage stick. It comes buried under a mound of mozzarella cheese noodles, a final reminder that you’re still in Wisconsin after all.
Milwaukee offers three luxe places to stay for around $150 to $200 a night. The newly opened, funkily modern InterContinental (at least drop by the lobby on Fridays for the decadent chocolate buffet); the art deco Hotel Metro; and the 114-year-old Pfister, home to the splashy new Mason Street Grill.
Photography by Chris Lake