Cream City isn't exactly known for being restful. We tend to be a boisterous bunch, but these parks, restaurants, bars and shops break the norm, prioritizing silence over hullabaloo.
At the intersection of E. Menomonee Street and N. Young Street
Somehow there’s a refuge in the heart of the Third Ward, this boulevard park across E. Erie Street from MIAD. There’s rarely a busy day, although the annual World’s Largest Coffee Break, weekly live music in the summer and Christmas in the Ward are exceptions. Read on a park bench; step inside the “Stratisformis” sculpture by South Korean artist Jin Soo Kim, constructed using recovered sewing machines from the now-defunct Reliable Knitting Works; or rest on shaded park benches. You’ll know you’re there when you find the green bus stop made from the shell of an antiquated trolley station.
2) Swing Park
1737 N. Water St
Underpasses rarely feature anything of note. But MKE’s Swing Park is a quirky exception. Traditional and tire swings hang underneath the Horton Street Bridge, kitty-corner to the Brady Street Park, open for public use. The swings first appeared in the summer of 2012 and are now maintained by the City of Milwaukee.
1801 N. Prospect Ave.
Driving along the lake on N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, it’s tough not to notice the Demmer/Neptune Gate, protecting the Tuscan gardens and 1923 villa. Although it’s commonly used as a classy wedding venue, Villa Terrace is open to the public for free the first Wednesday of the month — it’s usually $5-$7. Indoors, there’s usually a visual art exhibition on display. But the outdoor water stairway, plant-life, and classical Greco-Roman statues are the most distinctive feature, particularly the Hermes Fountain atop the bluff at the heart of the Renaissance Garden’s courtyard. If you truly want some quiet time, don’t visit on the music-filled, all-things-MKE “So Milwaukee Night.”
1579 S. 9th St.
Bryant’s has withstood the Great Depression, World War II, the loss of its founder and namesake, and a 1971 St. Paddy’s Day fire that gutted the lounge. When it was rebuilt, it came with all-new furnishings (for the time), including a gold-plated stereo that still plays traditional jazz hits to this day. It’s the oldest cocktail lounge in the city, and possibly all of Wisconsin. The original Bryant invented several cocktails, including the Pink Squirrel ice cream-rum mixture still found on the menu.
5) Nessun Dorma
2778 N. Weil St.
Its name means “None shall sleep” in Italian, coming from the operatic aria about love at first sight. For Milwaukeeans, the Riverwest bar is simply known for microbrews on tap, worldwide wine offerings and panini. The dimly-lit space with outdoor seating is a good backdrop for quiet conversations.
703 S. 2nd St.
It only makes sense that this Walker’s Point bar specializes in gin — more than 120 different varieties of it. Much of the lighting comes from the candles that are constantly aflame, setting the rustic mood. There’s also a piano inside and a retro bicycle hanging from the ceiling. It’s best to come in without an opinion and to ask the bartenders what’s best; with more than 200 varieties of gin and whiskey on the shelves. It’s best to leave important decisions to the experts.
232 E. Erie St.
Despite being named after a landlocked Native American tribe, Kickapoo’s coffee shop intentionally constructs a West Coast-inspired atmosphere. The interior is entirely custom-made, including Amish tabletops and locally produced metalwork. A glass exterior looks out to the Milwaukee River on the western corner of the Third Ward. Nibble on seasonal, made-from-scratch pastries and soups while sipping organic coffee from Kickapoo’s Viroqua headquarters.
5918 W Vliet St, Milwaukee, WI 53208
Coffee grounds from four different continents are sold at this lovely coffee shop on the far west side. The overall mission of Valentine is to responsibly support growers, rather than just buying whatever coffee comes cheapest. Don’t drink too quickly, or you might miss the latte art in every cup. For an even stronger drink, enjoy a coretti, wine or beer — both locally and internationally sourced of course. “We roast to the apex of sweetness,” one of the founders told Milwaukee Magazine in summer 2012.
2559 N. Downer Ave.
If you want to meet published writers, Boswell’s is your best bet. Every few weeks, an author is booked for a meet-and-greet or reading. Comfy couches provide a homey feel, and a continually-updated reading list accommodates students and educators with required reading materials.
7603 W. State St.
Every Wednesday evening, show up for book club at this little store on State Street in Tosa. It’s rare to find a hardcover book for less than $10, and Little Read sells some of them for $3. You’ll find more than books on the shelves. Puzzles, knickknacks and jewelry are also on sale.
720 E. Locust St.
For rare finds, Woodland Pattern might be your best bet in the region. The Small Press section displays books from independent publishers, producing a unique selection that’s tough to match. Live poetry and readings are a weekly staple, although the Riverwest store doesn’t shy away from film screenings or musical performances.
12) Sheridan Cafe
5133 Lake Dr., Cudahy
Head south to Cudahy for a meal inside a boutique hotel. Only serving breakfast and lunch, it manages to maintain an upscale feel with affordable pricing. Standouts on the restricted menu include cinnamon toast, pulled pork Benedict and gluten-free chocolate cake.
2499 N. Bartlett Ave.
This East Side restaurant balances New American inventiveness with Wisconsin sensibilities. Three-course meals featuring steamed mussels, potato empanadas and ravioli are contrasted with a Friday Fish Fry.