Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Getting the sense of a city while traveling for business can be tricky, though not impossible. I recently got the opportunity to travel down to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to inspect some new equipment that my company is purchasing. An extra half-day was scheduled into my plans just in case I needed a little extra time. Fortunately I didn't need the extra time for work, and got to spend it exploring the city. But where to begin?

The Sites

In the late 70's and early 80's the city of Milwaukee became an icon of America's middle class through the TV series Happy Days, and Laverne & Shirley both of which are set there.
As one of the great industrial centers of the United States, the factories and shipping industries supported a working class that resonated across the nation. And there are a few must-see sights around the city that were made famous, in part, because of the role they played on these programs. The first such site was Milwaukee's city hall, which was prominently featured in the opening of Laverne & Shirley. As I was taking a cab into downtown, this is where I had him drop me off. Several of the cities attractions are a short walk from this central point. The cab ride was also well used as a chance to get some tips and ideas from the taxi driver. If you want to know the best places to go, quiz a cabbie.
The next landmark that I wanted to see, was the Bronze Fonz, a bronze statue of the legendary Happy Days character, Arthur Fonzerelli, who was played by actor, Henry Winkler. Located along the Milwaukee River Walk, the Fonz is there to greet tourists and locals alike with his thumbs up and the word, "Eyyyyy" on his lips. Stay cool Fonzy.
Pabst Brewery
The characters in the series Laverne & Shirley worked at the fictional brewery, Shotz, the filming for which took place at Pabst Brewery. This local landmark was originally founded by Jacob Best in 1844. The Best family were the founders of not only Pabst Brewery, but also Old Milwaukee, Schlitz and Plank Road Brewery (which later became Miller)
The brewery took it's name from Captain Frederick Pabst who married into the Best family and helped to grow the brewery into America's largest brewer from the late 1800's until 1946. Cap' Pabst was one of Milwaukee's most beloved figures. Contributing to local philanthropic projects, building the historic Pabst Theater, and treating his hundreds of employees with uncommon generosity. The Pabst Brewery was closed in December of 1996, and sat empty until 2001 when it was sold to historian Jim Haertel who has begun the long process of restoring this amazing piece of local history.
One historical note that I learned while touring the Pabst Brewery was the link between the rise of the Milwaukee breweries and the Great Chicago Fire. Prior to that event, most American cities each had their own localized beer. But when the Chicago Fire wiped out that city's beer maker, they had to call upon the bottlers in nearby Milwaukee; who, along with breweries in St. Louis, developed a series of icehouses along the railroad line to keep their beers cold until they could be brought to market. This is how the first interstate distributors developed.

The Food

I would truly be remiss if I journeyed all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and left without eating at least one bratwurst.
The city's strong German influence has left this swath of the country with two gastronomic icons, beer and brats, neither of which should be missed for any reason. My only problem was where should I get one from? I had two choices: either I could go to Milwaukee Brat House, or the Old German Beer Hall; both conveniently located next door to each other. Unable to make a decision I went to both, my favorite was the Milwaukee Brat House where I had a fabulous brat covered with sauteed onions and mushrooms, covered with cheese and served on a pretzel roll, with a heaping helping of cheese curds, and a couple of ice cold beers. Everything a growing boy needs.

Overall Milwaukee struck me as a good example of a city in transition between the 50's model of a downtown industrial center full of manufacturing jobs and factories; to a modern, hi-tech city where the downtown is focused on an urban living environment. Consequently, some of the areas of downtown are very new, trendy and cosmopolitan; while others seem like run down, boarded up factory districts. If urban renewal had a face, it would be Milwaukee's. It is a city with a rich culture, good food, and unique lifestyle that maybe doesn't get the high praise for a tourism destination that maybe it deserves.

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