Feature image courtesy of Visit Milwaukee
There’s little doubt Milwaukee is best known for one thing: Beer. But locals know the city is much more than a smaller — and sudsier — Chicago. In fact, utter that comparison and you risk getting minced in one of our finest sausage makers. Milwaukee’s downtown scene has undergone a rebirth of sorts over the past decade: Think top-tier chefs revitalizing the foodie scene; a stunning Riverwalk dotted with bustling bars and dining hotspots; big and bold public art; a new Milwaukee Bucks arena and world-class concert venue; and of course, hotels that capture the essence of the country’s chic yet approachable “Third Coast.” Let’s take a look at a few of the coolest hotels that celebrate The Good Land.
7 Coolest Hotels in Milwaukee
One Chic Motorcycle Mecca
When The Iron Horse Hotel opened its doors in 2008 it sparked more than a cult-like following among motorcycle lovers. The Walker’s Point neighborhood it calls home was often heralded as the “next big thing”— but never quite found its footing. A decade later, the opening of The Iron Horse is lauded as the turning point for this district, which now boasts a bevy of award-winning foodie destinations, bustling bars, popular coffee shops, and mod boutiques.
It comes as no surprise to any guest that walks through the doors of this former mattress factory that this hotel is a game-changer. A venerable melting pot of local characters and the see-and-be-seen crowd, you’ll often find tatted bike-lovers mixing and mingling with fashionistas and busy business travelers. The hotel itself is the brainchild of developer and renaissance man Tim Dixon, who is also the driving force behind Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis and the historic The Last Hotel in downtown St. Louis (slated to open in March 2019).
Over the years The Iron Horse has become almost as well known for its unique events as its world-class amenities and service. The hotel’s annual Kentucky Derby Party has been known to sell out all the bourbon in the place, and its throwback Repeal of Prohibition celebration brings costumed locals and excited guests together for a night of boozy delights.
Defined by its original Cream City brick and heavy timber post-and-beam construction, the hotel was an industrial chic décor pioneer. In the lobby, custom chandeliers feature motorcycle gears and throwing knives while apothecary cabinets are filled with antiques and curiosities. And guests don’t want to miss the hotel’s most quintessential object d’art — a massive American flag fashioned out of 52 pairs of hand-painted denim jeans that hangs proudly in the lobby.View Hotel
Live Like a Local
The Plaza is much like Milwaukee’s East Side itself: eclectic, charming and steeped in history. Set on the corner of a quiet residential block, the Art Deco-style hotel is a brunch go-to for locals, especially during the summer when the hidden ivy-covered courtyard is open for cocktails and al fresco dining.
Constructed in the 1920s, the charming red brick hotel has stayed true to its vintage roots. At its cozy ‘50s-style Cafe at the Plaza, a former tea room, it’s encouraged to belly up to the counter and dig into a heaping Plaza Scramble. And don’t turn down the charismatic staff member who offers to carry your bag to your room. True to its European-style walk-up design, there are no elevators in this four-story neighborhood treasure.
The Plaza is part hotel, part apartment building — so don’t be surprised to see residents plopping down in the lobby with coffee and a newspaper, or chuckling with staff over the latest “smallwaukee” gossip. If you have a flair for the dramatic (or comedic), guests have been known to witness impromptu jam sessions by local actors in town for performances at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. It’s this unique convergence of local characters and wanderlust that keeps travelers coming back to this neighborhood gem year after year.View Hotel
A Flapper-Era Revival
It’s enough to make Jay Gatsby howl. The Ambassador Hotel, brazen and bold on the city’s near west side, is a beacon of the past that tempts and treats guests looking for 1920s era revelry and charm.
The hotel’s iconic neon rooftop sign shines as bright today as it did when it was constructed in 1928. Originally designed by Milwaukee architects Urban Peacock and Armin Frank, the hotel’s façade boasts one of Milwaukee’s finest examples of Art Deco architecture. But the Ambassador only recently found its way back onto the Milwaukee scene. In the 1970s and 80s, the neighborhood and hotel both fell on disrepair. In fact, in 1987, hotel guest and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer committed his second of 17 murders in one of the Ambassador’s guest rooms.
Today, after a decade-long $14 million restoration of the property, the hotel is once again an architectural masterpiece. Guests are greeted with gleaming marble floors, stylized polished nickel sconces and ornate plasterwork that harken 1920’s grandeur. Signs of Egyptian Revival, a popular sub-motif that emerged after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, are also prevalent throughout the historic property.
Perhaps the hotel’s richest history is that of its former guests. In the 1930s, guests were often entertained by a pre-fame Liberace (a Milwaukee native) in the hotel lounge. In the early 1960s, future-president John F. Kennedy spoke to a United Chemical Workers Convention at the Ambassador; a few years later The Beatles spent the night at the hotel after a landmark Milwaukee performance. Today, the Ambassador is the closest hotel to Marquette University, Brewers’ home Miller Park and concert venue The Rave. And its dining hotspots — most notably the fine-dining The Fitz — draw locals to the vintage space in droves.
But the Ambassador’s bronze elevator doors — unique in the fact that they pull out rather than slide open — provide the hotel’s most popular photo op for the “influencer” set. How hotsy-totsy.View Hotel
Putting the Brew in Brew City
The Brewhouse Inn & Suites
Truth be told, it doesn’t get more Milwaukee than The Brewhouse Inn & Suites. The hotel, which caters to both extended-stay and short-term guests, is the reimagining of a former Pabst Brewery — and remains steeped in its hoppy history.
Locals often refer to the space as more museum than hotel, thanks to six huge copper brewing kettles, an artful front desk of 1,500 empty brown beer bottles, vintage Pabst memorabilia, stone and brick arched doorways and a five-story central atrium that pays homage to King Gambrinus — the storied patron saint of brewers — with a striking stained-glass window.
Simply step foot in one of the 90 guest rooms and you’ll see why guests often refer to the décor as “steampunk.” The exposed hardware, industrial chic décor, and rich brown hues all add to the funky yet historic vibe.
The hotel’s Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub is a must-visit for a peek at the soaring vintage tin ceiling and a nice cold PBR — although there are more than 60 beers to choose from (including 13 from Wisconsin). Keep the Dairy State vibes going with an order of Wisconsin fried cheese curds, a giant pretzel with honey-beer sauce or try the Sausage of the Week on a Milwaukee pretzel roll.View Hotel
Enjoy the View
When the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel opened its doors in June 2016 it marked a major milestone for Milwaukee: The first hotel in the city’s fashion and arts-centric Third Ward neighborhood. And The Journeyman’s hip vibe perfectly jives with travelers and Third Ward residents alike.
You can’t talk about The Journeyman without immediately fawning over its chic rooftop escape, The Outsider. The all-season space, complete with outdoor fireplaces and cozy throws for chilly nights, is a great place to relax with a craft cocktail, take in unmatched city views or enjoy a game of shuffleboard. As one of the only rooftop spots in the city, the line for local access often wraps throughout the lobby on weekends but hotel guests are given first access.
The interior design of this boutique space is industrial yet luxe. As you walk into the lobby you’ll immediately be awed by the custom 20-foot chandelier. During the winter months, the lobby is a cozy respite from the Wisconsin chill, complete with roaring fireplaces and plush seating. Many of the design details are inspired by the city’s history — from guest room bombe chests (lacquered in a bold red and black stripe with engine numbers from Milwaukee’s old locomotives) to hand-hewn wood desks that celebrate the city’s crafts history.
Up for a little urban exploration? Pick up a limited-edition Journeyman leather backpack — created by local artisan Heather Hambrecht — from the front desk, packed with an itinerary of cool things to see and do in the 414. It’s just another local touchpoint that makes this newcomer a Milwaukee must.View Hotel
125 Years of Milwaukee Elegance
When it comes to Milwaukee’s most elegant hotels, The Pfister Hotel is less the city’s leading lady and more the regal Grande Dame. Celebrating 125 years in 2018, this iconic hotel is known for its remarkable architecture, sweeping hallways and soaring ceilings that transform guests to another place and time. The priceless Victorian art collections that dot its hallways doesn’t hurt, either.
Hotel guests are often welcomed by Peter Mortensen, the chief concierge of the hotel, who has greeted everyone from rock stars to presidents and sports heroes during his tenure. But Mortensen is just a start when it comes to thoughtful character touchpoints at The Pfister. The hotel’s Artist in Residence program continues to draw talented artists from throughout Milwaukee to create and display within the hotel, and it’s unique Pfister Narrator program ensures every hotel anecdote is properly recorded by a talented writer that interviews guests and staff alike.
trivago Tip: The Pfister is along the route for Milwaukee’s new streetcar line, The Hop, so you can travel car-free. Click here for more route information.
While The Pfister is a celeb-guest magnet, it’s the ghosts that are rumored to roam the hallways and haunt the rooms that garner a lot of attention from thrill-seeking guests. From unexplained shadows and figures to lighting tricks, knocks and tapping, guests and staff have long reported unseen things that go bump in the night.
One of The Pfister’s most outstanding features is its 23rd-floor bar, Blu — a sophisticated spot to enjoy an ice-cold martini and take in panoramic views of the city. If tea is more your style, guests of the hotel in the fall, winter and spring can enjoy afternoon tea with all the trimmings, presented in silver service by a Pfister Tea Butler. For an award-winning dining experience, walk over to the hotel’s restaurant, Mason Street Grill, known for its juicy steaks and out-of-this-world carrot cake.View Hotel
A Cute and Quaint Family Affair
Photos courtesy of Kinn Guesthouse
Somewhere between a luxe boutique hotel and a cozy bed and breakfast you’ll find Kinn Guesthouse, the only hotel in Milwaukee’s eclectic and hipster-friendly Bay View neighborhood. This “micro-boutique” hotel is the concept and vision of husband-and-wife duo Charles and Connie Bailey, who turned this former pub into a beloved lodging and dining destination last year. The result is so chic that it recently won a Mayor’s Design Award for 2018.
The two-story stately brick building underwent extensive renovations to create this inventive hotel concept. Built in the neoclassical design in the late 1800s, the building initially served as a Masonic lodge. In fact, much of the building’s structure remains authentic to its freemason origins, with rows of massive windows framed with brickwork and blocks of masonry decorating its corners.
When you arrive at Kinn Guesthouse, the first thing you’ll notice is there’s no front desk. Instead, when a guest books a room, they receive one unique access code which works for all common entries and the assigned room. Guest rooms are bright yet cozy, with exposed brick, plush bedding, soothing artworks, fur accents, and large windows. Kinn’s communal space — a living room and kitchen for travelers who like to meet and greet — is welcoming and cozy, complete with an oversized leather couch, fireplace, shelves lined with books and shabby chic artwork from local artists. Guests love to whip up a quick meal in the full kitchen but also happily find their way to the first-floor restaurant and bar. Kindred on KK is one of the most popular restaurants in Bay View’s robust dining scene — and kindred spirits are always welcome.View Hotel