With swing-state status and blue-collar grit, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, won the bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention thanks to more than just the city’s famous beers, custards, and cheese curds. America’s Dairyland is the heart of the Midwest, a key region for Democrats to win in the upcoming American presidential election. The Democrats will host their most important event of the 2020 presidential campaign in one of the region’s most emblematic cities.
The political imperative isn’t the only reason to visit Milwaukee this summer during the Democratic National Convention. The laid-back brew-city culture invites everyone to have fun, and a booming new scene around the Fiserv Forum, where the convention will take place, makes it easy to enjoy the best of the Midwest in downtown Milwaukee.
Once known more for factory jobs than art and culture, Milwaukee has developed into the beating pulse of Midwest culture, brimming with museums, nightlife, festivals, and an enviable beachfront along Lake Michigan. If you are planning a trip here this year, here’s where to eat, drink, and stay near the Milwaukee convention center.
Where to eat
East Town Kitchen & Bar $$ — Located inside the Milwaukee Marriott Downtown, East Town Kitchen & Bar is not your usual hotel restaurant. The Bloody Mary’s, oversized and overflowing with cheese and bacon garnishes, would impress even the most experienced Wisconsinite. Paired with fried chicken and waffles, drizzled with a bourbon maple syrup, you’ve got a perfect brunch for two people. The restaurant avoids the generic banality of typical hotel eateries with a mural collage of dozens of logos from Wisconsin’s favorite local breweries. Sophisticated without being stuffy, East Town Kitchen & Bar delivers Wisconsin hospitality with an updated edge that reflects Milwaukee itself.
Where: 323 E Wisconsin Ave
Celesta $$ — For unique takes on comfort-food favorites for vegans and meat-eaters alike, Celesta delivers. It has even won over residents of the Cheese State with its dairy-free macaroni and cheese, which is no small feat. True to its Wisconsin roots, Celesta offers a vegan “fishless fry” for those who want to participate in the weekly state-wide Friday night fish-fry tradition. If you’ve come in for brunch, indulge in a slice of homemade pies or cakes. If you prefer a cocktail, locals recommend the Orion, made with rye whiskey, or the East Side Old Fashioned, a neighborhood spin on Wisconsin’s favorite cocktail.
Where: 1978 N Farwell Ave
Carnevor $$$$ — If you’re serious about your steaks, there is no better option in Milwaukee than Carnevor. The dark and modern setting suits this award-winning upscale steakhouse. While its steaks are the headlining act, don’t miss out on the popular lobster bisque. Pair it all with a wine from the extensive list or a seasonal cocktail like the summertime Lavender Fields Forever — a nod to Wisconsin’s own lavender fields.
Where: 718 N Milwaukee St
Swingin’ Door Exchange $$ — Midwest, meet the Wild West. With an old Western decor aesthetic that pulls off being fun without being cheesy, Swingin’ Door Exchange has earned a reputation for having the best Chicago-style hot dogs outside of the Windy City. Don’t disregard its vegetables either — the grilled beets and Brussels sprouts are worth writing home about. Located near the Pabst Theater, this is a convenient and fun spot for pre-show pub food with a gourmet flare.
Where: 219 E Michigan St
Downtown West Town
Glass & Griddle $$ — If the pretzel-crusted cheese curds don’t entice you to visit this hip and casual restaurant, then the pizza dip or buffalo broccoli and cauliflower should do the trick. Housed in what was once part of the original Pabst Brewery empire, Glass & Griddle’s renovated space brings the outdoors in with greenery on the walls, skylights above, and floor-to-ceiling windows built into the garage-door-style walls. Beer-hall-style seating, freshly baked pretzels, and Milwaukee Brewing Company beers on draft complete the experience.
Where: 1130 N 9th St
Milwaukee Brat House $ — You’ll know you’re in Wisconsin as soon as you step into the Milwaukee Brat House, thanks to the stamped copper ceiling and Tiffany-style stained-glass lamps that give guests a glimpse into Wisconsin supper-club culture. If you want a truly local experience, order a Usinger brat topped with local cheddar. For a more creative twist on the regional staple, try the Tiger Style Thai Brat. Private party and special event shuttles are available, making it a great option for a Democratic National Convention-goers.
Where: 1013 N Old World 3rd St
Where to drink
SafeHouse Milwaukee $$ — Offering one of the most unique nightlife experiences in Milwaukee, SafeHouse is a longstanding establishment with no competition. After all, it’s the only espionage-themed bar in town, and it leans into this theme hard. Decorated with historic spy artifacts and serving up on-brand cocktails like The Spy Who Tequila’d Me, SafeHouse embodies Midwest kitsch.
Where: 779 N Front St
Trinity Three Irish Pubs $$ — Trinity caters to the group who can’t decide whether they want to dance to a DJ, listen to a cover band, or enjoy a dark beer in an equally dark wooden booth. Three bars in one, including two live music stages, this ever-popular nightlife destination means you can pub crawl without ever going outside. You’ll probably still want to, though, if only to take advantage of the outdoor seating area.
Where: 125 E Juneau Ave
Plum Lounge $$ — This upscale nightclub wants to make visitors think again when they assume Wisconsin can’t deliver when it comes to the club scene. With DJs mixing a range of musical genres, including international hits, Plum Lounge is where Milwaukeeans come to dance. If dancing isn’t your thing, it also offers hookahs, a curated list of rare and international whiskeys, and a balcony fire pit for those cooler summer nights.
Where: 780 N Jefferson St
Downtown West Town
Milwaukee Brewing Company $$ — Whether it’s the beer-in-hand brewery tour or a personalized tasting flight, Milwaukee Brewing Company wants to make sure you are happily buzzed when you’re their guest. Located in the same warehouse-style space as Glass & Griddle, this craft brewery deserves a visit not only because its beer tastes good (just try the Sasquash, a sweet potato porter, for proof) but also because it features locally and sustainably sourced ingredients. Setting the standard for environmentally friendly beer in the region, Milwaukee Brewing Company will satisfy your taste buds and your conscience with its unique brews.
Where: 1128 N 9th St
Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery $ — For an authentic glimpse into Milwaukee’s origins as America’s “Brew City,” nothing beats a visit to the historic location of Pabst Brewing Company. Once an empire covering four city blocks, Pabst was the largest brewery in the world at its peak in the late 1800s. Join a tour of the old brewery starting in the historic Blue Ribbon Hall, where fresco paintings depict the story of the brewing process. Order a beer (included in the $10 tour) at the gorgeous wooden bar and enjoy a bit of tipsy history.
Where: 917 W Juneau Ave
Punch Bowl Social $$ — When you want to go bowling, sing karaoke in your own private booth, and drink a boozy milkshake all at the same time, Punch Bowl Social has you covered. Located a short walk away from the Fiserv Forum, Punch Bowl Social invites visitors to play away a day of politics. Offering any game you can think of, from foosball to darts to ping pong and more, you won’t be bored at this lively and spacious hotspot. Indulge in an adult milkshake like the whiskey-heavy Malted Maple Royal, or opt for a healthy, freshly pressed juice. With a myriad of choices, at Punch Bowl Social, none of them are wrong.
Where: 1122 N Vel R. Phillips Ave
Where to stay
The Brewhouse Inn and Suites — Located within walking distance of the Fiserv Forum inside the former Pabst Brewery, The Brewhouse Inn and Suites is perfect for visitors who want an only-in-Milwaukee hotel experience. The lobby features copper brewing kettles, and the rooms showcase the steel and stone of the industrial revolution that propelled Pabst forward in the 1800s. Though heavily influenced by the building’s past, the rooms’ modern decor, oversized showers, and full kitchens make this iconic location an excellent 21st-century choice.
Where: 1215 N 10th St
Ambassador Hotel Milwaukee — Thanks to its iconic neon sign sitting high over Milwaukee’s downtown, you’ll see the Ambassador Hotel well before you arrive. Many consider the hotel’s facade and decor to be one of the best examples in the region of Milwaukee’s Art Deco era. Located along a couple of miles from the Fiserv Forum, Ambassador Hotel is an easy Uber, Lyft, or taxi ride away from the Democratic National Convention, while being comfortably outside of the event bustle. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to many locations downtown.
Where: 2308 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Saint Kate The Arts Hotel — Milwaukee’s first hotel dedicated to the arts, Saint Kate, located a short walk away from the Fiserv Forum, celebrates established and emerging artists nationwide in its ever-changing exhibits, as well as in each guest room. Perfect for those who want to be inspired by their surroundings, Saint Kate features creative co-working spaces ideal for planning, debriefing, and strategizing pre- and post-convention. Each room has quirky touches, like a record player and a ukulele, and if you book one of the Canvas Rooms, you’ll get to stay in a living piece of art created by an area artist.
Where: 139 E Kilbourn Ave
The Pfister Hotel — The Midwest meets Old World elegance in this historic hotel located within walking distance of the Fiserv Forum. The Pfister Hotel opened in 1893 as the “Grand Hotel of the West,” and the luxurious hotel has maintained this identity while simultaneously keeping up with 21st-century expectations. The grand lobby features an eye-catching staircase and a painted ceiling that inevitably brings to mind the Sistine Chapel. The Pfister actually houses the largest collection of Victorian-era art of any hotel in the world. For a truly elegant and luxurious stay in downtown Milwaukee, The Pfister Hotel is the city’s undisputed choice.
Where: 424 E Wisconsin Ave
Delafield Hotel — For those who want to experience a luxurious stay in Wisconsin’s scenic Lake Country, the Delafield Hotel is an excellent option. Best for visitors with access to a car, the Delafield Hotel is a half-hour’s drive from the Fiserv Forum, surrounded by views of the rolling glaciated landscape of the Kettle Moraine region. Blending small-town ease with high-end contemporary elegance, this hotel invites guests to decompress from a long day of convention sessions or an afternoon of hiking in one of the nearby State Parks with a cocktail in its chic bar, an in-room massage, or a decadent dinner in the highly esteemed restaurant. The Delafield Hotel is also pet-friendly and can even welcome you and your furry family member with locally made treats and toys.
Where: 415 Genesee Street
Cream City Hostel — Milwaukee’s only hostel is a newcomer to the city but is already making a name for itself. Offering affordable dorm-style accommodations, Cream City Hostel is ideal for groups on a budget who enjoy the social and communal atmosphere of cohabiting in a shared space. With on-site bike rentals, guests can pedal the short two-mile distance to the Fiserv Forum, beating traffic and parking challenges.
Where: 500 E Center St