550 N. Harbor Dr., East Town
Brothers Joe and Paul Bartolotta—who grew up in nearby Wauwatosa, Wisconsin—opened their first Italian restaurant together in 1993. Harbor House is their take on a New England seafood place (fresh fish is flown in from both coasts), set on Lake Michigan with views of the Milwaukee Art Museum and downtown. Oysters are their big thing and their happy hour (4pm-6pm on weekdays) is hard to beat.
Milwaukee Art Museum
700 N. Art Museum Dr., East Town
We couldn’t put together any sort of Milwaukee itinerary without mentioning the Art Museum, which has works dating back to the fifteenth century into the present-day. The Georgia O’Keefe collection here is one of the largest (O’Keefe grew up in Wisconsin). The Quadracci Pavilion, which was added to the museum in 2001 is a stunning 142,050-square-foot design by Santiago Calatrava that is simultaneously reminiscent of a grand Gothic cathedral and an imposing ship. Its “wings” close and open in response to changes in wind speed, which is very cool to watch. Art buff or not, this is simply a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. (Even the parking garage—a frequent site of car commercials—is ridiculously pleasant.)
Milwaukee Public Museum
800 W. Wells St., East Town
MPM (est. 1882) is home to four million specimens; collection highlights include: the most complete mammoth skeleton, rare butterflies, an upper-floor herbarium, plus pieces of Milwaukee’s history, like photographs taken by museum anthropologists who were working among Wisconsin Indian tribes in the 1900s. It’s kid- and adult-friendly—if you have littles in tow, though, check out the planetarium’s line-up of 3-D shows while you’re there.
144 E. Wells St., East Town
One of the oldest active theaters in the country, the Pabst was designed in 1895. The grand European-style opera house has undergone three major rounds of renovations/restorations and has remarkably stayed true to its original baroque look (with updates, of course). Today, it hosts around 150 music, dance, and theater performances annually.
Karl Ratzsch’s (Closed)
320 E. Mason St., East Town
This German beer hall (which debuted in 1904 as Hermann’s Cafe) got an uplift when Chef Thomas Hauck (a Milwaukee native who previously worked with the late great Chef Michel Richard) became the owner in 2016. While the interior was redone, with a new dining room now on the second floor and the beer hall on the first, the menu more so returned to its roots, really focusing on traditional German food—schnitzels, sausages, kraut, potato dumplings and pancakes, entrees paired with pickled red cabbage. The beer fits the bill, too—a mix of hefes, pilsners, sour weiss, plus the odd Belgian ale, stout, and lager.