Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward neighborhood has a troubled and violent past, having experienced several tragedies in the 19th century, including the sinking of the Lady Elgin steamboat, which killed hundreds of residents, and an 1892 warehouse fire that left thousands homeless. As recently as the 1970s, the neighborhood was considered a “red-light district.”
In the past two decades, however, the Third War has reinvented itself. Thanks in part to the efforts of concerned citizens and entrepreneurs and events such as Gallery Night, the neighborhood has become one of Milwaukee’s hottest destinations, boasting hundreds of businesses including locally-owned shops, restaurants, art galleries and theaters. Visitors can park their cars in the Ward and ride the Hop, Milwaukee’s new electric streetcar (free for its first year), to explore the rest of the city’s downtown.
1) The Milwaukee Public Market
Where: 400 N. Water St.; 414-336-1111
The city’s iconic indoor market is a paradise for foodies, consisting of some 20 local vendors selling everything from fresh fish to spices to cheese and sausages.
Sample a variety of global fare, including Aladdin (Middle Eastern), Thai-Namite (Thai) and Margarita Paradise (Mexican). Try some comfort food at the Soup & Stock Market or a pizza or deli item at Foltz Family Market/Commission Row Produce. St. Paul Fish Company sells fresh fish and seafood, including lobster.
On the Bus and The Green Kitchen offer tasty vegan and healthy fare, while desserts and treats from C. Adams Bakery and Kehr’s Candy are sure to indulge a sweet tooth. Grab a cup of joe or specialty espresso drink and bakery from Anodyne Coffee.
2) Kanpai Izakaya
Where: 408 E. Chicago St.; 414-220-1155
Japanese fusion restaurant Kanpai offers a lunch and dinner menu, with entrees including the Ahi Tuna Tower, Sashimi Appetizer and Beef Fried Rice, and sides and appetizers such as miso soup, spicy edamame and fried soft-shell crab.
3) Tre Rivali
Where: 200 N. Broadway St.; 414-291-3971
Tre Rivali serves Mediterranean cuisine in an industrial-chic atmosphere. Menu options include tapas (chicken liver mousse, Moroccan spiced marcona almonds), handmade pastas (carrot gnocchi made with rabbit sausage, mascarpone cheese ravioli) and seafood (olive oil-braised charred octopus).
4) The Wicked Hop
Where: 343 and 345 N. Broadway; 414-223-0345
The Wicked Hop is known for its “Liquid Brunch,” including a beermosa and a crowd-pleasing Bloody Mary. The restaurant’s regular menu is also fairly large, with a variety of appetizers (chili cheese fries, Von Bruenchenhein Pretzel Platter) burgers and sandwiches (BBQ chicken strip wrap, Reuben, grilled turkey and Swiss) and entrees (steak and frites, rue bourbon bayou pasta).
5) Café Benelux
Where: 346 N. Broadway; 414-501-2500
Featuring beers from Europe’s Benelux region (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) and breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, the restaurant is one of the neighborhood’s most bustling spots. Although Café Benelux serves up plenty of omelets, rich waffles and burgers, such as the lamb burger with tzatziki sauce, the restaurant does offer healthier menu options, including salads, a veggie burger and quinoa skillet.
Café Benelux guests soon will be able to enjoy the restaurant’s spectacular rooftop patio during the coldest temperatures. In late 2018, the restaurant plans to add six heated domes, which seat eight apiece, to the patio.
Coffee, Dessert, Treats
6) Red Elephant Chocolate
Where: 333 N. Broadway St.; 414-431-5509
With a cuddly crimson pachyderm as its logo, Red Elephant has a wide selection of handmade treats, including sea salt caramels, chocolate figurines, seasonal and Wisconsin-themed truffles (Packers, Bucks, even a cheddar cheese truffle), cake pops, popcorn and hot beverages — real hot chocolate and a new cocoa bean brewed drink.
Red Elephant’s welcoming atmosphere provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life. “The concept is intended to be a café all about chocolate,” said owner Richard Koenings.
7) Bella Caffe
Where: 189 N. Milwaukee St.; 414-273-5620
This cozy coffee shop with tastefully-decorated walls is an ideal place to meet a friend for lunch or a hot beverage. Bella offers soups, sandwiches and a variety of specialty espresso drinks and coffees.
8) Colectivo Coffee
Where: 223 E. St. Paul Ave.; 414-220-8330
What started as a small café and coffee roaster in 1993 has grown to a large Midwestern coffee chain with locations in Milwaukee County, Grafton, Madison and Chicago.
Besides signature espresso drinks and coffee, Colectivo has a lunch and breakfast menu, wraps and salads to go, and goodies from the café’s own Troubador Bakery.
9) Access Boutique
Where: 159 N. Broadway; 414-273-4534
Access Boutique sells a range of reasonably-priced accessories for women including hats, winter knits, scarves, jewelry and handbags, and everything is organized according to color, making it easy for women to match accessories to their outfits.
Owner Jeanette Dvorak, who opened Access in 2010, said she wanted to open a business offering affordable accessories for every generation. Dvorak also owns the Mainstream Boutique clothing franchise location next door to Access. Dvorak said she strives to make the shop inclusive to women of all ages, body types and ethnicities.
Where: 321 N. Broadway; 414-727-4855
Lela sells a mix of new and designer apparel, along with well-maintained vintage clothes, shoes and accessories on consignment.
Where: 190 N. Broadway; 414-273-1797
This secondhand clothing store, owned by Goodwill Industries, sells many designer fashions, accessories, shoes and handbags. Revenue goes to benefit the Goodwill mission.
Where: 143 N. Broadway, 414-585-9496
Milworks offers a mix of men’s casual wear, including jeans, coats, cardigans, T-shirts and shoes.
13) MOD GEN
Where: 211 N. Broadway, 414-963-1657
A general store for the 21st century, MOD GEN carries an eclectic mix of Wisconsin-crafted and nostalgic items (magnets, candles, pot holders, ornaments, books and soap, for example) and an impressive variety of house plants.
Entertainment & Culture
14) Skylight Music Theatre
Where: 158 N. Broadway; 414-291-7811
The Skylight Music Theatre has been bringing quality musical theater such as Broadway musicals and baroque and chamber opera to Milwaukee for over half a century. The nationally-acclaimed Skylight features nearly 100 performances each season. Owned and operated by the Skylight Theatre, the Cabot Theatre was designed after a European opera house and seats over 350.
15) Splash Studio
Where: 184 N. Broadway; 414-882-7621
Combine creativity with camaraderie and craft beers at Splash, the Third Ward’s only painting bar. Splash offers a number of painting and craft sessions and even has a Nintendo 64 for guests to play.
16) Portrait Society Gallery
Where: 207 E. Buffalo St. (fifth floor of the Marshall building); 414-870-9930
Portrait Society highlights art inspired by portraits and includes work by contemporary artists of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
17) Tory Folliard Gallery
Where: 233 N. Milwaukee St.; 414-273-7311
Since the late 1980s, the Tory Folliard Gallery has been exhibiting contemporary work from local and national artists, including Fred Stonehouse, Craig Blietz, Mark Mulhern, Terrence Coffman and Ron Isaacs.
18) Lily Pad Gallery West
Where: 215 N. Broadway; 414-509-5756
This Rhode Island-based gallery showcases a mix of abstract, naturalistic and impressionist art in their Third Ward location.
Bus and Hop Stops
The 15 and Green Line buses both go through the Third Ward and run approximately every 20 minutes. View schedules.
20) The Hop
Catch the southbound Hop in front of the Milwaukee Public Market and the northbound Hop about a block east of the Market. Streetcars generally run every 15 minutes. View schedules and other information about the Hop.