By John Norquist
In the summer of 1967 I worked as a bedienungshilfe (busboy) und küchenarbeiter at Mader’s German Restaurant. In the kitchen we’d listen to the Cubs games. The Braves left for Atlanta in ’65 so Milwaukee had no team of its own. There was a commercial on during the games that stated the fastest way to Italy was to travel west of California on Fullerton to Tony’s—Tony’s Steak House. I remember thinking the fastest way to Germany from Chicago was to go to Milwaukee. It still is—and it’s the least expensive.
There are three German restaurants downtown—Mader’s, Karl Ratzsch’s and the Milwaukee Turnverein (now sometimes referred to as Turner or Turner Hall). Turner’s is a left-wing hangout, just as it’s been since before Milwaukee elected its first Socialist mayor, Emil Seidel, in 1910. Mader’s and Ratzsch’s are festive full-service restaurants with all the choices you’d likely find in a Munich speisesaal. A German friend recently told me that she tried both Mader’s and Ratzch’s and they each had excellent Wienerschnitzel, which is usually hard for Americans to cook properly. Turner’s is more of a beer hall with brats and potato salad. On Fridays, they hold a delicious fish fry that draws big crowds followed by live entertainment.
Before heading to the German speise und bier, you need to arrive in the city and that is part of the fun. First of all, take the train. There are seven round trips per day leaving Union Station in Chicago and arriving in Downtown Milwaukee’s Saint Paul Avenue Depot an hour and a half later. When you walk out the front door entrance, turn right. Walk a few blocks east on Saint Paul over the Milwaukee River to Water Street.
On the left is the Public Market, which is better than Seattle’s. All vendors (coffee, chocolate, fish, wine—you name it) are local, the atmosphere intense and the clean restrooms are upstairs. Then turn south and stroll through the art galleries and boutiques of the Third Ward. The Milwaukee River defines the southern boundary of the Third Ward and the northern boundary of Walker’s Point, the newer artist district. Starving artists and risk-taking developers discovered the Third Ward some time ago, followed by boutiques, speculators and finally dentists, completing the cycle of urban real estate revival. Walker’s Point is just beyond the starving-artist stage.
Continue your entrance into Milwaukee by walking up the Milwaukee River along the north and east banks of the river until you arrive at Wells Street. Look east and check out Milwaukee City Hall which architect and author Witold Rybczynski says is, “the most beautiful city hall in the world.” Also across Water Street on Wells is the Pabst Theater, which has a cozy bar on the first floor.
Keep walking east on Wells for three more blocks and check into the very cool Hotel Metro or go on for one more block to Jefferson Street, turn right and walk into the Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee’s most elegant hotel. Marlene Dietrich and many other celebrities stayed there and some have reportedly left their ghosts behind.
Many books have been written about die Stadt Milwaukee Bei Michigan See. Check it out. It’s very gemütlich.
John Norquist served as the mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004. He and his wife now live in Chicago in the East Rogers Park neighborhood.