Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (2024)

Donald Trump asserting that Milwaukee is a "horrible city" isn't the first time Milwaukee has found itself catching flak from national figures.

Consider 2021 when the Milwaukee Bucks were pushing toward an NBA championship, and ESPN celebrity talker Stephen A. Smith referred to our home as a "terrible city."

We like to think The Brew City is a jewel of theupper Midwest, thanks to our lakefront location, our many festivals, our little-town feel in the context of a bigger city and ...our bars, of course. We recently profiled 100 objects that conjure Milwaukee.

After the 2021 comments — and noting that we didn't get to show off our city for the Democratic National Convention in 2020 — we put together this roundup of what's great about our hometown. It's especially relevant again now.

So join us on this tour, and we'll have drinks in the lobby afterward.*

Need a break? Play the USA TODAY Daily Crossword Puzzle.

*You technically have to take one of the brewery tours to get a drink.Prost!

We have beer, obviously

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (1)

You've probably heard the jokes about Wisconsin's proficient consumption of alcohol, but in Milwaukee, beer is part of the city's heritageas well.

Four giants of the beer world — Miller, Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz were still four of the 10 biggest breweries in the U.S. as late as 1950— were based here, and many of the town's older buildings were once part of a brewery. It explains why you'll see a show at the Pabst Theater(which wasn't a brewery but was built in 1895 by Captain Frederick Pabst, who also owned the brewery), drive down Miller Park Way (well, it's technically Brewers Boulevard now in most places ... it's complicated) or even spend some time with nature at the Schlitz Adubon Center along the shoreline — land that was once a farm for brewery draft horses.

You might walk by a building and spy a hop leaf decoration on the building facade. Those were "tied houses," or taverns that were purchased by breweries to exclusively serve their beer. Tied House bar at Erie and Water Street was with Pabst, for example.

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (2)

There are 39 breweries in metro Milwaukee (and many of them have tours!). The most Milwaukee of the craft breweries is no doubt Lakefront Brewery (1872 N. Commerce St.), a legacy brewery housed inside a former Milwaukee city building with lighting from the old Plankinton Hotel. The famous Miller brewery (4251 W. State St.) also maintains some of its old architecture and cobblestone roadways.

Drink outdoors in the sunshine at our many beer gardens in Milwaukee parks, tour breweries by boat or bike (seriously) with Milwaukee Pedal Tavern, and take in one of the many festivals if you find yourself in Milwaukee at other points in the summer.

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (3)

When you drink, you've got to eat

Check out our list of the top restaurants, but these are the Milwaukee basics:

  • Frozen custard. Just don't call it ice cream. Whether you're getting a scoop and a jumbo hamburger at legendary Kopp's Frozen Custardor sticking to the more familiar Culver's brand that was born in Wisconsin, we've got a litany of delicious offerings. In 2021, the famous Leon's added a new flavor for the first time in 30 years!
  • Fish fry.It's a Friday staple in Wisconsin, and you can find options both in bars and more traditional restaurants. The aforementioned Lakefront Brewery provides one of the area's most famous.
  • Old fashioned. Oh, we're back to drinks again. Although depending on the garnish, you could probably make a meal out of it. We love our brandy in Wisconsin, and if you belly up to the bar and order an old fashioned, you're going to get the best.
  • Foodies will love it here. You won't find many restaurant chains in downtown Milwaukee. It's a pretty diverse foodie scene, in fact. Some of the city's chefs and bakers have even competed on TV food competitions, including Adam Pawlak, owner of the Egg & Flour Pasta Bar locations and E&F Pizzeria;Kimberly Hall, owner of Signature Sweets; and Dan Jacobs, co-owner of Dandan. You know Jacobs from his appearance on Top Chef: Wisconsin, which spent the last several weeks highlighting Wisconsin's culinary delights.

We're the city of festivals

We've gotPolish Fest,Bastille Days,Bronzeville Week,Festa Italiana,German Fest, Irish Fest,Mexican Fiesta,Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival,Hunting Moon Pow Wowand Asia Fest of Milwaukee.

Then there'sSummerfest, billed as the world's largest music festival, which gets underway June 20. We've got SZA, Lil Uzi Vert, Tyler Childers, AJR, Kane Brown, Mötley Crüe, Maroon 5, Keith Urban, J.P., Lil Yachty, Brittany Howard and dozens more.

Honestly, you cannot form an opinion about Milwaukee until you sample Summerfest. Or the Saz's sample platter at Summerfest.

Three other brands we're proud of

  • Harley-Davidson—The motorcycle manufacturer's headquarters are actually across the street from the Miller brewery. William Harley and Arthur Davidson developed their first motor bicycle to navigate Milwaukee's hills in the early 1900s, and their company survived two world wars and a Great Depression and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003. There's even an entire Harley-Davidson Museum (400 W. Canal St.) dedicated to the brand's history. The every-so-often Harley-Davidson Homecoming Festival will take place in July, welcoming the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jelly Roll, Hardy, The Offspring and more for some more big shows.
  • Kohl's— One of the biggest department stores in the United States is headquartered in northwest Milwaukee. First started as a grocery chain in the 1920s, the Kohl Family opened its first department store in 1962 and developed into a powerhouse. Herb Kohl, the son of founder Maxwell Kohl and himself oncepart of the Kohl's ownership team, represented Wisconsin in the United States Senate from 1989 to 2013 and owned the Milwaukee Bucks from 1985 to 2014.
  • Northwestern Mutual—One of the newest structures on Milwaukee's skyline (the Northwestern Mutual Tower that opened in 2017) bears the name of this American financial services mutual organization, first founded in Janesville in 1857. At No. 110, it was the highest-ranked Milwaukee company on the Fortune 500 in 2024, with more than $33.5billion in revenue.

Three other history nuggets you'll find interesting

  • Socialism!OK, maybe the Republicans won't love this one. Milwaukee had Socialist mayors for 38 years during the 20thcentury — including during the 1950s Red Scare when Frank Zeidler held office from 1948 to 1960. This is the birthplace of theterm "sewer socialism"— first meant to ridicule socialists who bragged about a strong public works system (like sewers), then trumpeted proudly as an indicator of cleaning out corruption (and strong public works, for that matter).
  • Thank us for that QWERTY keyboard you're using right now.Newsman and politician Christopher Latham Sholes invented the typewriter here, patented in 1868. Milwaukeeans also invented Shrinky Dinks and, duh, the cheesehead hat. You're welcome.
  • Fiserv Forum's address features a Civil Rights pioneer. Starting in 1967, protesters dismayed by discriminatory housing practices in Milwaukee insisted on stronger open housing laws in the city. They marched for 200 days, with Ald. Vel Phillips at the forefront of the movement. Today, the street on which Fiserv Forum resides is named for Phillips. Federal Judge Robert E. Tehan barreda referendum or a city law restricting open housing: "Considerable evidence has been presented which convinces the court that the holding of the referendum would do irreparable injury not only to the plaintiff and his class (African-American) but to the city as a whole."

We love our sports (and our MVPs)

It's been a pretty great run for the two major pro sports franchises in Milwaukee, although let's be honest, the Green Bay Packers playing two hours north are still the No. 1 love for most of the city's sports fans.

But led by the 2019 and 2020 league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks won their first NBA championship since 1971. The native of Greece has signed multiple extensions to remain in Milwaukee, where he was the central figure in building an empire out of a struggling franchise. So Giannis likes Milwaukee, clearly.

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (7)

Even in the smallest market for Major League Baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers have been one of the winningest franchises of the past decade, led by MVP candidate William Contreras and 2019 MVP Christian Yelich.

That's not all we've got; the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team and Milwaukee Admirals pro hockey team affiliated with the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League both play in the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena just down the block from Fiserv Forum (where the Bucks play). The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a single-A affiliate of the Brewers, play a little less than two hours north in Appleton, just a little south of Green Bay. The Milwaukee Milkmen have a gorgeous field in Franklin and won last year's American Association of Professional Baseball title.

If you want to check out the beautiful lakefront and watch baseball at the same time, head north to Concordia University in Mequon, where the Lakeshore Chinooks compete in a summer wooden-bat baseball league for college kids in the Northwoods League. Speaking of that lakefront ...

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (8)

Surely, you noticed the lake

That big blue body of water you might've seen in overhead shots of the city? That's Lake Michigan, with all the perks of an ocean — sand beaches, sailing, kayaking, even surfing — without the drawbacks: no salt, sharks, jellyfish, tides or hurricanes. If you've never seen a Great Lake in person, go down to the lakefront and take in the world's fifth-largest lake at Veterans Park, Bradford Beach or the paved Oak Leaf Trail. You'll be blown away by the views ofscenic Atwater Park inShorewood.

You won't be able to see Michigan on the other side — that's more than 80 miles away — but you could catch a killer sunrise if you visit early enough.

Milwaukee has a few rivers, too. The Milwaukee River is the longest, running north to south through downtown before meeting up with the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers and turning east to dump into Lake Michigan. A three-mile RiverWalk runs alongside the Milwaukee River, from about NorthHumboldt Avenue to where it meets Lake Michigan in the Third Ward. The sidewalk system is ADA accessible and passes breweries, restaurants and bars, many with outdoor patios.

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (9)

Fonzie isa big deal, but so is our other art

The guy who may be Milwaukee’s favorite son — after Brewers radio broadcaster Bob Uecker — is actually a TV character.

The 1970s hit TV series “Happy Days” and its spinoff,“Laverne & Shirley,” were set in a sitcom version of Milwaukee in the 1950s and early 1960s. In both, Henry Winkler played Fonzie, a leather-jacketed tough guy with a dozen catchphrases (“heeyyyyyyy!”) and a heart of gold. Visit Milwaukee commissioned a statue to pay tribute to the Fonz; Winkler and others from the show came to Milwaukee for the dedication in 2008. Living on Milwaukee’s downtown RiverWalk, the Bronze Fonz has been a tourist attraction ever since.

OK, yes, we acknowledge that's kitschy. It's no museum of modern art or Central Park. You've got to enjoy the small-town randomness for a city with a fancy riverwalk within its skyline.

We've got lots of public art. Every summer since 2017, Sculpture Milwaukee has installed artworkaround the city, such asPaula Crown's "JOKESTER" a giant, crushed red Solo cupin the Third Ward; "Gild the Lily (Caribbean Hybrid I, II, III)," thetropical flowers on the Chase Bank lobby; and a Robert Indiana "LOVE" sculpture, which can be found behind the Milwaukee Art Museum.

For some of the city's art,you have to dig a little deeper, like Black Cat Alley, an installation of murals, many by local artists, in the alleybetween EastKenilworth Place and EastIvanhoe Place.

In 2020, murals —including ones honoring medical workers, the late George Floyd and voting rights —changed the faceof the city.

More:Here are 23 things we love about Milwaukee in honor of its 175th year as a city

More:From 'terrible city' to 'Bushville,' sports leaders mock Milwaukee at their peril

More:Bucks president offers Milwaukee tour to ESPN 'First Take' hosts -- assuming a new petition doesn't keep them out

Do we have problems here? Of course

Milwaukee has long been combating racial inequality, animosity between residents and police, violenceand questions of public health.

We're paying attention to it and trying to find solutions.

Sherman Phoenix serves as a hub for Black entrepreneurs. The Bronzeville Collective is a major recent success story along those lines.

Also, yes, we have snow. So much snow. We ... have to try really hard to appreciate that detail, but it's summer, baby! Nobody's thinking about January!

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (11)

10 things you can do in Milwaukee that you can't do anywhere else

  • See the underground caves where beer was storedat Miller brewery.
  • See the oldest known Harley-Davidson motorcycle in existence (and sit on a bunch of others) at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
  • Visit the one-of-a-kind Black Holocaust Museum.
  • Watch the Famous Racing Sausages compete in the sixth inning of a Brewers game at American Family Field, or watch Bernie Brewer navigate down his giant slide after a home run.
  • Meet a 100-year old South American River Turtle named Onassis at the Milwaukee County Zoo, which also happens to be the only place to stand face-to-face with elephants anywhere in the upper Midwest (you have to hoof it to St. Louis for the next-closest elephants).
  • Sing the "Laverne & Shirley" theme song onthe Lakefront Brewery tour.
  • View the largest cluster of work from acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright on the "Burnham Block," constructed for working-class residents.
  • Make a fool of yourself if you don't know the password to gain entry into spy-themed restaurant SafeHouse(779 N. Front St.),but maybe you make friends with a Milwaukeean who knows the magic word?Those who don't know it will have to participate in some silly calisthenics... for all to see, as it's broadcast on TVs tothe bar inside.
  • Watch the wings open (at 10 a.m.) or close (at 10 p.m.) on the Calatrava sculpture at the Milwaukee art museum.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.Contributors to this story include Kathy Flanigan, Chris Foran, Meg Jones, Hannah Kirby, Chelsey Lewis, Mary Spicuzza andJen Steele.

Donald Trump isn't the first national personality to disparage Milwaukee; here's what we said the last time (2024)
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