City Life

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Milwaukee is famously a German city, of course, but the Irish were among its first settlers, holding sway in city government, working on the docks, building the railroads. Cary James (“Rip”) O’Dwanny does honor to his Gaelic background with the County Clare ( / 888-942-5273), an inviting lodging and restaurant on the East Side. The Clare is a mile or so north of the lakefront festival grounds that host Milwaukee Irish Fest each August and is in heavy demand then.

The magnificently refurbished Art Deco Ambassador Hotel ( / 414-342-8400) lies immediately to the west of downtown and the impressive sprawl of Marquette University, near the Pabst Mansion and the Irish cultural and Heritage Center. The Ambassador’s much-needed rejuvenation was a multiyear project for its owner, Rick Wiegand, who eventually put about $12 million into it. The building, which went up in 1928, is credited with being a decisive force in the neighborhood’s revitalization.

Two of the city’s downtown hotels, close to Lake Michigan and the audacious Santiago Calatrava–designed Milwaukee Art Museum wing, are listed with the Historic Hotels of America. Both have lobby bars that are at once lively and soothing.

The Pfister Hotel ( / 414-273-8222), which opened in 1893, has a threestory-tall lobby as extravagant as a late-nineteenth-century ocean liner. Its fame is well deserved.

The Hotel Metro ( / 414-272-1937), just around the corner, was constructed in 1937 as an office building and was converted, with imagination and great expense, to a luxury hotel less than a decade ago.

Both hotels are near the vigorous new nightclub and restaurant district along North Milwaukee Street. If you are out for a stroll there, check Cubanitas ( / 414-225-1760) for mojitos and Havana-style pork sandwiches—and a sense of just how well this old German town can accommodate the invigorating presence of newer arrivals.