The ABC's of Milwaukee

Matt Hrodey, former Senior Editor of Milwaukee Magazine, spells out the city.

By Google Arts & Culture

A is for Allen-Bradley Clock Tower

This mighty time piece — once called “the Polish moon” because of nearby Polish residents — used to be the largest four-sided clock tower in the world. Today it overlooks the resurgent Walker’s Point neighborhood and reflects both the city’s industrial heritage and its search for a modern identity.

B is for Brady Street Festival...

... And other fine obstructions to traffic. Street festivals are the synthesis of two things that make Milwaukee what it is: strong neighborhood identities and festivals for the sake of having fun. Brady Street Festival is going ahead, and drivers will just have to wait.

Irish Fest (2017) by Visit MilwaukeeVISIT Milwaukee

C is for Chicago!

Milwaukee is cultural and economic partners with the big metropolis to our south, although our relationship can get complicated at times, like close siblings.

Chicago, United States, at night (NASA CC BY-NC 2.0) (2016-04-05) by (NASA CC BY-NC 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

D is for Days at the Arcade

The bustling Galloping Ghost Arcade in Chicago is better known, but Milwaukee has its kid brother, the 125-machine Garcade, founded by the hard-working Gar Nelson. Later in the evening, head to the rock-club-themed X-Ray Arcade and bar on the South Side, where you can play classic consoles and arcade machines.

Stern’s Pinball Backglass Poster (1977) by Manufactured by Stern Electronics, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

E is for Everyman Hero Milverine

He’s a construction worker who lives with his mom, but he’s also a superhero. Milverine, a Milwaukee guy who looks like Wolverine, walks around Downtown and the near South Side with his shirt off, and he’s strongly embraced his life as a local celebrity. He’s proof that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible.

Video game:Sega Genesis Wolverine: Adamantium Rage (1994)The Strong National Museum of Play

G is for Grass Seats, BYOB

It’s not all about music festivals in Milwaukee, but it often is. Between the great and small, there is the decidedly medium-sized, including the venerable Jazz in the Park, where you can soak up jazz on summer evenings at Cathedral Square. Chill on the Hill may hold the title of most-recommended small festival in town because of its overall chillness.

Woodstock Music & Art Festival (1969-08) by Bill EppridgeLIFE Photo Collection

H is for Historic Movie Palaces

This is secretly the best movie theater town of its size, hands down. The transcendent Oriental Theatre is the start, followed by the wonderful Avalon Theater in Bay View and the small twin neighborhood spots The Rosebud and The Times. At the Rosebud, the middle one-third of the seating is a bunch of regular couches in rows. Oh, and the terrific Milwaukee Film Festival is one of the 10 largest in the country.

I is for Infinite Bars, Nearly

Of all the bars in town, and there are many, the quiet, tasteful, retro cocktail lounge At Random, which specializes in ice cream-based drinks, may be the most distinctive. If that’s not your thing, Milwaukee has the highest bar-to-grocery-store ratio in the country, so you’re never far from a horse of a different color.

Great Lakes Story (1939) by Carl MydansLIFE Photo Collection

J is for James Cameron

What do you do when you’re a historian but also a part of history? Cameron, a lynching survivor and self-taught scholar, became an activist and lecturer and founded the American Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee in 1984 at the site of an old boxing gym.

America's Black Holocaust Museum (2019) by Visit MilwaukeeVISIT Milwaukee

K is for Kayaking the Milwaukee River

Messing around in the Milwaukee River is so popular that multiple organizations/businesses cater to the sport, including the Urban Ecology Center, a group of nature centers. Overall, the Downtown section of the river is friendly to small craft out on a pleasure cruise.

Milwaukee River Challenge (2016) by VISIT MilwaukeeVISIT Milwaukee

L is for Laugh Track

Dear comedy special producers: We’re easy to please. Such high-profile comedians as Kathy Griffin, Ralphie May, and Kathleen Madigan have recorded specials at the Pabst Theater and other local venues.

Young man and woman leaning heads together laughing. by Rebecca LewisMuseum of Youth Culture

M is for Mittenfest + other oddball reasons to get together

To balance out big blockbuster festivals like Summerfest, smaller occasions like the wintry craft-focused Mittenfest (cozy!) and the garlicky Garlic Fest -- basically a restaurant festival for Walker’s Point -- keep it more relaxed.

By Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

N is for Neighborhood-in-a-Bottle

Milwaukee neighborhoods can be like fiefdoms within themselves with strong identities and loyalties, places like Washington Heights, Bronzeville, the upper and lower East Sides, and hip Bay View, which has taken off in the past 15 years.

Ken Brown by Samer GhaniImagine MKE

M is for Miller Park's Opening Day

This annual spring milestone is the unofficial start of the warm season, and some kind employers treat it as a holiday. No matter how chilly it is, the tailgating rivals Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Forrest S. Yantis photographing an American Association Milwaukee Brewers playerNational Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

P is for Polka Party

O the heyday of polka and rolling out the barrel is long past, but you can still catch the special blend of Eastern European folk dance at the Old German Beer Hall Downtown and a few other places. See the Mike Schneider Band for more traditional oom-pah and The Squeezettes for polkified popular music.

Record:Frankie Yankovic and His Yanks: Polkas in Hi Fi! Record:Frankie Yankovic and His Yanks: Polkas in Hi Fi! (ca. 1950) by Columbia RecordsThe Strong National Museum of Play

Q is for Quick Trips

Cars, highway directions, and hours-long gridlock are not a defining component of Milwaukee culture. This isn’t SNL’s “The Californians” or even Chicago, making it easy to access whatever daytime and nighttime activities you please. The graceful Hoan Bridge, for example, makes jumping from Downtown to the Bay View neighborhood and vital Kinnickinnic Avenue a breeze.

Hoan Bridge (2018) by Visit MilwaukeeVISIT Milwaukee

R is for Reservoir Park

Many cities have a semi-secret, overlook vantage-point like this. Milwaukee’s is easy to find, fully developed as a park, and gives a great panorama of the East Side, Downtown, and South Side, tiny little windows and all. Counting the church steeples is a fun game.

S is for Summerfest, Summerfest, Summerfest

The week-and-a-half-long summer music festival, the world’s largest, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to massive celebrations at the lakefront. They hit one after the other during the warmer months, such fetes as Irish Fest, Festa Italiana, and Indian Summer.

Summerfest (2015) by Visit MilwaukeeVISIT Milwaukee

T is for Talking to Strangers

In a town with a lot of bad weather, there’s always someone eager to discuss it while browsing the cereal aisle. As a result, Milwaukee’s gregariousness can catch recent transplants off-guard.

Hubbard Beer Garden (2017) by Visit MilwaukeeVISIT Milwaukee

U is for Uecker, Bob

Mr. Baseball himself is famous as much for his chutzpah and Johnny Carson appearances as his baseball announcing. A native Milwaukeean and former Milwaukee Brave, he’s manned the radio mic for the Brewers since 1971.

Borchert Baseball Field floodlighted with G_E Novalux orojectors. Playing field of The Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, at Milwaukee,Wisc, by General Electric Company.Museum of Innovation & Science

V is for Veterans Park

The combined Veterans Park-McKinley Marina area and associated Lakefront Colectivo cafe are the closest thing to a Milwaukee town square, a place where you could run into anyone you know, or a pet albino python, thanks to one adventurous pet owner. The marina pier, especially, with its view of the skyline, gets plastered all over social media.

W is for Wings

The Milwaukee Art Museum keeps getting better and better, having completed the last round of renovations in 2015. The work tended to parts of the structure not updated by the striking Santiago Calatrava addition of 2001, a piece of art in its own right.

Milwaukee Art Museum's Calatrava addition (2001) by Milwaukee Art Museum, photo by Timothy HursleyMilwaukee Art Museum

X is for X Marks the Spot

Somewhere in town there’s a cask, buried by the late Byron Preiss, that contains a key, part of his esoteric scavenger hunt book The Secret. Anyway, that’s what hobbyists believe. Find it and $1,000 is yours along with a precious stone. Simple, right?

View West of Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, from Pabst Building (1923/25) by Murdoch & Co.Milwaukee Art Museum

Y is for Yeast

The sweet, grainy scent of beer brewing hearkens back to the Milwaukee of the early 20th Century when children ran through the streets (literally) carrying pails of beer for machine shop employees. Not old enough to drink but certainly old enough to turn a quick buck.

Cream City Brewing Company Poster (c. 1930s) by Cream City Brewing Co.Chudnow Collection at the Cedarburg History Museum

Z is for the Zipper, and More

The sprawling Wisconsin State Fair, home to such terrifying carnival rides as the classic Zipper, is an annual tradition tying the city to rural Wisconsin and its dairy industry. At the heart of the celebration is the towering “cream puff” treat and debates over how to best eat one.

Original Cream Puffs — Milwaukee, WI

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