The new Cream City Hostel aims to offer travelers more local authenticity

Have you ever visited a new city, hit the big tourist attractions, tried the local cuisine and seen a show but still left feeling that you didn’t really absorb its culture, or what it’s all about?

It can be tough to curate an authentic travel experience that captures a place’s true spirit by venturing into its “real world” and meeting the individual characters who make it what it is. But that’s exactly what a new hostel in Milwaukee aims to deliver.

Arriving in an increasingly crowded lodging market, Cream City Hostel will be a rarity in southeastern Wisconsin (there’s another hostel, Wellspring, on a farm near Newburg). Located at the juncture between Milwaukee’s Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods, the new venue will breathe life into a nearly century-old one-time bank that has sat vacant for more than a dozen years. 

Its owners, Carolyn Weber and Wendy Mesich, believe their business has a unique opportunity to attract a diverse, and sometimes overlooked, group of travelers who are attracted to the communal ethos, sociable environment and inexpensive nightly rate that hostels are known for.

“This hostel adds a new element to the scene,” says Kristin Settle, VISIT Milwaukee’s director of communications. “It will allow people to come to the city and have a different kind of experience.”

Hostels generally offer dormitory-style lodgings in which guests share rooms, bathrooms, common areas and a kitchen where visitors can cook meals. The communal atmosphere fosters a social experience of togetherness and kinship among guests, Weber says: “When you stay at a hostel, you make five new friends in a half-hour.”

The stereotype of hostels being hippie havens is off the mark, says Weber, who’s an avid hostel traveler herself. Cream City plans to draw from a large demographic pool: from digital nomads (location-independent people who use technology to work from anywhere) and bicyclists circumnavigating Lake Michigan to foreign travelers and musicians in town for a Saturday night gig. And, of course, its modest prices are sure to bring in a few budget travelers. “You can’t book a hotel in the summer in Milwaukee for $30,” Weber notes.

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Cream City Hostel

500 E. Center St.

Opening: May

Prices: Rates vary depending on time of year, but travelers can expect to spend between $27 for a spot in a 12-bed shared room to $70 for a private room.

Accommodations: Space for up to 50 guests, shared commercial kitchen, common living areas, free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast. A large, enclosed green space will be used for community events and programming.

Mesich, who’s tended the bar at Riverwest Public House for the past eight years, has noticed many visitors from nearby cities like Chicago “come for a show, have a couple of drinks and then go back home.” She thinks Cream City Hostel’s prices and neighborhood roots could sway them to extend their trips.

Juli Kaufmann, the project’s developer, says Cream City Hostel will have a “simple, contemporary aesthetic that celebrates Milwaukee.” And to cultivate a genuine local experience, hostel staff will guide visitors to happenings and places that we locals are looped into: quirky walking tours, diverse neighborhoods and their festivals, merry watering holes and hidden-gem restaurants that you won’t necessarily find in the Zagat guide.

“It stands out,” says Kaufmann. “If you want to experience a city, it’s a way to embed yourself in a truly authentic experience and a neighborhood. There’s a lot of options Downtown, but it’s sterile in many ways. You can get that same packaged boutique feel in almost any town.”


“The Real Milwaukee” appears in the April 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning April 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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