A guide to what's great now in this city we all love.
Here’s what MilMag readers deem to be the best of the best in our fair city, plus a few picks from our staff to round out the group. In all, we’ve got more than 60 winners in a wide range of categories, from burger to barber, financial adviser to veterinarian. It’s an amazing, inspiring list of things to eat, drink, experience and appreciate.
James Price, community leader for the account, offers up some solid advice for taking great food photos.
1. PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHTING. Restaurants are often low-light situations. Find a spot where there’s a window or some other light source.
2. LEARN ABOUT YOUR CAMERA. You don’t need to use a professional camera, but spend time learning the capabilities of your phone camera. You can play with the settings, mess around with the filters, set the contrast. It has a lot of capabilities.
3. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE SEEING. It’s OK to get some background – like, if it’s a food truck, get that in the background. Consider the angle. Maybe you want to get up close, or maybe you want an overhead shot, or maybe you want to get a few dishes into the shot. And look at how the food is arranged on the plate. Presentation is huge.
Best vegetarian restaurant
1901 E. North Ave.
Best for special occasions
3133 E. Newberry Blvd
Best New Restaurant
459 E. Pleasant St.
Best Fish Fry
1872 N. Commerce St.
Best Hotel Restaurant
(Pfister), 425 E. Mason St.
Best Food Trend
sharing is trendy
Your Best Day Ever!
1) Listen to Bob & Brian, voted Best Morning Show. 5:30 to 10:15 a.m. weekdays on 102.9, WHQG-FM, The Hog.
2) Grab a mug of Colectivo, the Best Coffee in town. Multiple locations.
3)Work out at the Wisconsin Athletic Club, voted Best Gym. Multiple locations.
4) Listen to the latest tunes on the Best Radio Station, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.
6) See a show at the Best Concert Venue, the Pabst Theater. 144 E. Wells St.
7) Have a nightcap at the Best Place for a Date Night: BLU. Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave.
8) Retire for the night to St. John’s On The Lake, voted Best Retirement Community. 1840 N. Prospect Ave.
Best Local Musician
Best Music Club
2423 N. Murray Ave.
Nearly three decades into his professional music career, Mequon native Willy Porter is still captivating Wisconsinites and global fans alike with his signature mix of folk, blues and rock, coupled with prodigious guitar skills. After our Readers’ Choice poll named him Best Local Musician, Porter spoke with Milwaukee Magazine to discuss his roots, his career so far and what he’s still learning about life and music.
Q: Congratulations! What does winning Milwaukee Magazine’s Best Local Musician mean to you? I grew up in Mequon, I live in Milwaukee now, and my wife is from Menomonee Falls. It’s a real honor. I am eternally grateful that I am still playing music 28, 29 years into doing this as a full-time profession. To still have an audience that wants to hear what I’m doing and comes out to support me, I can’t thank people enough for that, really.
Three decades in, what keeps you excited about making music? I think the wonder of what music can do, what the world is going through right now and how human beings are responding, continues to be fascinating and inspiring for me. There’s always something to write about, that’s for sure. And there’s always something to be excited about in terms of the guitar – that just never stops with me. I always looked at it as though I would continue as a musician, whether I was successful or not. And making a living out of it is just sort of like winning the lottery.
Best Places to Shop
Help Around The House
Best Decorating and Design Service
309 N. Water St.
N120 W21350 Freistadt Rd., Germantown
N27 W24075 Paul Court, Suite 100, Pewaukee
Best Remodeling Contractor
5050 N. Port Washington Rd., Glendale
DOES REMODELING EVER GO SMOOTHLY? It can be an emotional roller coaster. There will be times when you’re ecstatic and times when you bottom out. There will likely be bumps and surprises along the way. It’s not the surprise that’s the issue, it’s how the company deals with it. — Alan Freysinger, co-owner
Best Vintage Store
Best Home Furnishings Store
224 E. Chicago St.
Best Women’s Boutique
Best Wine Store
8930 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
325 E. Chicago St.
Best Liquor Store
Best Men’s Store
3565 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood
TWO AWARDS: Best Place for Gifts & Best Grocery Store
3061 S. Delaware Ave.
A predominantly female staff helps set Bay View’s Stag Barbershop apart from the crowd, and may have helped it edge ahead of the pack to win the top spot in its category. Here’s what owner and barber Jess Stern has to say about the business.
Congratulations on your win! Why do you think readers chose Stag as the best barbershop in town? I think people voted for us because we o er something a little bit different. You come in and you’re greeted, you get a beverage, you get to hang out. It’s a warm, inviting setting. We have that old-school feel, with a little bit of an edge to it. The decor has a masculine feel, but at the same time we have a lot of females in the barbershop as a staff, and women can come in and hang out with their significant others. I think that it’s a place for everyone.
Why did you open a barbershop instead of a hair salon? I grew up with three brothers, and I started cutting their hair at home in the bathroom when I was 12 or 13 years old and developed a passion for men’s hair. When I went to beauty school I did women’s hair, but I really enjoyed cutting men’s hair. There’s a lot of precision that goes into it. Some people say men’s hair is easier than women’s hair [but] they both take a lot of skill.
What do you like about cutting hair in Milwaukee specifically? The community is so tightknit. When people come in here, there’s always going to be someone who knows someone. I find that really welcoming, not only for the customers, but also for us.
4601 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood
5630 N. Lake Dr., Whitefish Bay
TWO AWARDS: Best Day Spa & Best Hair Salon
Best Places to Go
Best Place for Dancing
533 E. Center St.
Best Family Activity
10001 W. Bluemound Rd.
Best Art Experience
700 N. Art Museum Dr.
1872 N. Commerce St.
Best Local Charity Event
Best Wealth Manager
Northwestern Mutual, 5307 S. 92nd St., Hales Corners
Best Event Planner
Pictured here: Matheau Recht, owner
Shorewest, 11622 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
Best Place for Cocktails
1579 S. Ninth St.
2200 W. Mt. Vernon Ave.
Best Dry Cleaner
THREE AWARDS: Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners & Best Craft Brewery & Best Fish Fry
1872 N. Commerce St.
Best Happy Hour & Best Hotel Restaurant
425 E. Mason St.
Best addition to the skyline
The Coakley Brothers Mosaic Water Tower
400 S. Fifth St.
Approaching Milwaukee from the south on I-94, my heart leaps a little when I spot the kaleidoscopic colors of the water tower atop the Coakley Brothers building in Walker’s Point. Erected in late 2017, this plexiglass creation by New York-based artist Tom Fruin seems right at home in our skyline. Thank you, Peg Coakley, for gifting our city with some glittering eye candy. — Carole Niksin
MEET JEAN PIERRE, the French bulldog that won first place in Milwaukee Magazine’s Cutest Frenchie contest at this year’s Bastille Days. We sat down with Jean Pierre, along with Alison Bohnen, the woman he refers to as “mother,” and asked him how it feels to be a winner.
What was your favorite part of the Cutest Frenchie contest? It was cool meeting other Frenchies, and tossing back some Champagne and baguettes.
Were you nervous on the day of in-person voting? I’m a pretty confident guy (I still have all my man parts, if you catch my drift) and I was feeling good that day. I had on my favorite jersey and my parents said their friends were there cheering me on.
You looked great in your Bucks shirt! I might be small but I’m a big Bucks fan and I have a huge crush on Mila, Giannis’ goldendoodle. I thought the jersey might help me meet her. Mila, if you’re reading this, let’s go to Camp Bar and check out a Bucks game together! Well, I have a big crush on Giannis, so maybe we can double-date!
What’s the best part about being a French bulldog? I bark with an accent. The ladies really dig it.
Most Welcoming Restaurant
Downtown and the East Side have no shortage of places to eat out, but none makes the diner feel as plugged into the city as a whole as Elsa’s. On most evenings, the crowd reflects the real diversity of the city. And the burgers are pretty awesome, too. 833 N. Jefferson St. – Carole Nicksin
Best [Unofficial] Dog Park
Sure, there are plenty of dog parks in this area, but what sets the County Grounds apart for this human and his doggos is that it’s a full-on nature immersion, offering acres of scenic open prairie and sylvan woods – and mysterious remnants of the former asylum – all in close proximity to the city. Prepare for many furry-butt-sniff greetings. 9480 Watertown Plank Rd., Wauwatosa – Chris Drosner
Best New Festival
A late-September addition to the summer festival circuit, the inaugural 5th Street Fest put its neighborhood’s diversity on center stage. With acts ranging from the dancers of Ballet Folkórico to the queens of Hamburger Mary’s, it’s a great alternative to the stalwarts of the festival scene. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for its second go-around. Saturday, Sept. 22, Fifth Street between Virginia and National avenues – Rachel Stinebring
Best 414 Pride
The People’s Flag remains unofficial, but I think it makes Milwaukee look damn good. And the stylized sun rising above water sure looks sharp on the bottles and cans of Milwaukee Brewing’s citrusy, not-too-bitter MKE IPA. Drink one, and feel proud to be a Milwaukeean. – Chris Drosner
Best Reason to Eat Plants
Melding vegan cuisine that’s more provocative than we’ve seen in this city with out-of-the-box cocktails and a vinyls-only playlist, Strange Town is as refreshing as it is adorably quirky. Frequently changing up the menu keeps it fresh, but I always look for a new seasonal salad; a great, focaccia-like Sicilian pizza of the day; and unexpectedly delicious creations using sea vegetables, mushrooms and leafy greens. 2101 N. Prospect Ave. – Ann Christenson
Best Way to Create Change with Your Change
Seven meters stretching from Marquette to Downtown make it a little easier to make a difference, gathering funds for Milwaukee County Housing Division’s Housing First program. I’ll never hear change jingling in my pocket quite the same way. Wisconsin Avenue – Rachel Stinebring
Best Lunchtime Getaway
Sure, there might be better lunch fare out there, but where else can you enjoy Swedish meatballs, salmon filllet with lemon-dill sauce and Daim cake? The prices are a bargain, too – an entrée with two sides is typically $8.99 or less. Hop on I-94 and it’s just a 15-minute drive from Downtown Milwaukee. Tip: Avoid Fridays! 7500 S. Ikea Way, Oak Creek – Paul John Higgins
Best New Song for the Disillusioned Masses
For me, there’s no song that captures the ennui pervasive in our country right now better than “Feels.” WebsterX delivers a forceful, emotional reaction to the current cultural state that continues to haunt me long after the track ends. Released in June, the song is subtle and blunt, depressing and optimistic, and catchy as hell. Available on iTunes and SoundCloud. – Paul John Higgins
Best Reason to Spend A Day Indoors
Seeing a movie on the big screen beneath the watchful eyes of the Buddhas was always a treat. But now that Milwaukee Film is in charge, there’s reason to believe the programming will be as exotic as the interior. 2230 N. Farwell Ave. – Brock Kaplan
Best New Theater Company
As an overgrown drama kid, I’ve got a soft spot for scrappy storefront theater companies that manage to tackle weighty subject matter on lean budgets. And the Constructivists, who staged their first show earlier this year (Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries), have demonstrated that they can do that with aplomb. The Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. – Lindsey Anderson
Best Champion of Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth
Former foster parents Brad and Nick Schlaikowski founded their nonprofit Courage MKE to help the growing problem of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. In late 2018, they hope to open the one-of-a-kind Courage House, a safe haven that will provide counseling, health care, identity-appreciation programs and help with job-hunting. – Ann Christenson