The Run Down

It’s time for a change of scenery, so for two days this weekend, we’re heading north to Milwaukee — a mini Chicago, as some refer to it. The vibrant Wisconsin city on the west coast of Lake Michigan is a quick 1.5-hour drive from Chicago. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you’re in view of dozens of steeples scattered about and expressway ramps crisscrossing everywhere you look. The backbone of this excursion is an art museum with otherworldly architecture, a garden conservatory in futuristic domes, a bar in the back of a TV repair shop, and even more good food and drink interspersed throughout.

1. Coffee @ Interval

2. Art @ Milwaukee Art Museum

3. Gardens @ The Domes

4. Milkshakes @ Don's TV & Repair

5. Coffee @ Likewise

6. Bagels @ Allie Boy's

7. Shopping @ Fischberger's Variety

8. Drinks @ Nonfiction Natural Wines

1. Interval
(Day 1)

When you cross into Milwaukee, you’ll make your first stop in the Lower East Side, a hip neighborhood with a trendy restaurant and bar scene, live music venues and a waterfront trail. Tucked away on a residential street is Interval, a creative coffeehouse with seasonal drinks, Scandinavian-inspired plates and homemade pastries. You can’t miss this cafe: “Coffee” is written in bold typeface on the side of a white painted brick building in a residential neighborhood.

When you step into Interval, it’s as if you’re arriving home. The interior is warm with a blend of modern minimalism and rustic nostalgia. Behind the coffee bar, the barista tends to a customer’s tea order while laying a final layer of sprouts over a decadent spread of avocado toast. The staff is friendly and quick to make suggestions to the indecisive.

Downstairs, you can sit at the bar or at a table nestled next to a window. If you want to stay awhile, head upstairs to hang out at one of the booths or tables along the walls.

Crafted from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, the menu boasts memorable sandwiches—the prosciutto breakfast sandwich with crusty bread enfolding thin slices of salted prosciutto, peppered eggs, and a tangle of arugula is outstanding—complemented by a selection of Rishi teas.

Continue past the counter, and you’ll find the “Corner Store,” a small general store featuring meals to go, natural wines, coffee makers and goods created by local artists — perhaps your first souvenir on your trip.

2. Milwaukee Art Museum
(Day 1)

The heart of this Milwaukee outing is a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum, a building that punctures the Milwaukee skyline with its modernist design. Now that you’ve fueled up thanks to Interval, prepare to spend a few hours roaming this splendid, world-class art institution.

Unlike the premiere Art Institute of Chicago, where a visit can feel almost like a trip through a maze, the Milwaukee Art Museum is more manageable while still packing more than 30,000 works of art within its modern walls.

The museum is comprised of three buildings. You’ll enter through, and likely be most in awe of, the most notable one, the Quadracci Pavilion, the iconic wing-like structure that was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Take away this fun fact from your visit: The wing-like sunscreen, called the Burke Brise Soleil, was unprecedented in American architecture due to the ultrasonic wind sensors that allow it to close if the wind reaches speeds of 23 mph or greater. If you’re lucky and your visit falls on a windy day, you’ll catch the architectural feat slowly closing.

Once you’ve bought your tickets and admired the artwork on display in the receptionist hall in the Quadracci Pavilion, you’ll walk through one of two rib-like hallways to enter the Saarinen building, where you’ll find European art.

Peruse the masterpieces of artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Francisco de Zurbarán before heading into the Kahler building, where you’ll find galleries featuring design, photography and modern, contemporary, folk and American art.

Things to note:

– The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours range from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.

– Admission costs $22 for adults and $17 for students, seniors and military personnel. Children 12 and under enter for free.


3. The Domes
(Day 1)

You’re going to continue the day by enjoying art, but this time in the form of nature. Just 3 miles from the Milwaukee Art Museum you’ll find the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, better known as The Domes. This stop commemorates another distinctive architectural element of Milwaukee.

As you walk up to the beehive-like glass domes, you’ll find yourself gazing up and wondering how such unique architecture found itself habituating a city park. The project dates back to 1955 with a design competition that attracted 33 architects from around the world. Milwaukee architect Donald L. Grieb won with the futuristic domes connected by a lobby.

Once you enter through the doors in front of the center dome, you’ll be faced with the receptionist before you walk into a lobby that features a gift shop and entrances into each dome.

The three domes are each dedicated to their own climate: one is the desert, another a tropical jungle and the third a floral garden.

Choose your own adventure by starting with either the desert dome — which explores the deserts of Africa, Madagascar, and North and South America — or the tropical dome, reminiscent of a steamy jungle featuring 1,200 plant species. End your visit with the show dome, which displays floral shows five times a year.

While venturing through each climate, you might note a clicking sound; conservatory officials said that’s the result of the aluminum tubing expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.

The domes are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

4. Don’s TV & Repair
(Day 1)

No, we didn’t come all the way to Milwaukee to have our flat-screens serviced. Rather, we’re traveling back in time to the peak of diner culture, immortalized at Don’s TV & Repair, the last stop of the day.

Despite its name and branding as a speakeasy, you’ll have no trouble finding it: “Don’s Diner & Cocktails” (the restaurant’s original name) is prominently painted on the side of the corner building. Enter through the First Street door, and you’ll be greeted by a receptionist who will confirm whether you have a service appointment and ask you for a password (We’ll spare you the stress: It’s “Ice cold 7-UP”).

Your table awaits in the back room aglow in neon pink lights. Ephemera of the good ol’ days line the walls, and a movie plays on one wall via a projector.

The menu features staples like elaborate milkshakes, all-day breakfast and make-your-own burgers. Be sure to check out the daily specials, with prices so low you’ll likely do a triple-take to make sure you read the menu correctly.

Things to note:

– Daily specials range from 1-cent tater tots on Tuesdays, 99-cent burgers with the purchase of a drink on Wednesdays, 10-cent martinis on Thursdays, and loaded mac ‘n’ cheese starting at 80 cents on Sundays.

– You won’t be able to go back out the way you came. Instead, you’ll be directed to exit through a door that deposits you onto Washington Street.

5. Likewise
(Day 2)

New day, new coffee shop. You’ll kick off a new day of adventuring with a stop to another gorgeous — and delicious — cafe. Head downtown to Likewise, located across the street from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

Likewise is a sun-drenched and spacious hub of caffeine, impeccable latte art and homemade pastries. You’ll be met by a large bar wrapped in a blue geometric pattern. A barista stands behind the counter, calmly creating a masterpiece in a ceramic mug.

If you’re not in the mood for your own caffeinated work of art, the menu also features tea, hot chocolate and Wisco! Pop, a sparkling beverage out of Madison, Wisconsin.

Grab a drink and a homemade pastry and take a seat at the long communal table in the room’s center or one of the spots along a window. Almost half of the coffee shop’s walls are windows, making it a prime location for people watching and soaking in a few rays of sunshine while hiding from the elements.

6. Allie Boy’s
(Day 2)

After a visit to Likewise for coffee, head to Allie Boy’s for a breakfast sandwich on a bagel. Less than a mile from Likewise, Allie Boy’s is a refreshing walk away, either via Water Street along the Milwaukee River or on the bustling First Street.

A beloved local spot since its opening in 2020, Allie Boy’s is the spot for fresh bagels, comforting sandwiches and coffee. It’s a Midwest bagel shop with East Coast roots — one owner, Staci Lopez, grew up in New York while the other, Ben Nerenhausen, grew up in the Middle East though is originally from Wisconsin. The pair met in Napa Valley while learning to cook sustainably and seasonally and years later ushered in their bagelry.

Here, you can expect to find a slew of schmears (whipped honey butter, roasted shallot cream cheese and jam are just a few of the options), bagel tartines and, of course, several sandwich varieties. The menu also extends to offer rotating specials, drinks — both boozy and not — and sweet treats.

Note that this bagelry is only open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

6. Fischberger’s Variety
(Day 2)

Up next, you’ll explore Fischberger’s, which, as its name suggests, sells a little bit of everything. It’s the place to go for a little treat, though not of the pastry variety. Want to surprise the kids with a funky toy or a silly-looking pen? This is your spot. Need yarn for your latest sweater? You’ll find that cool shade of red here.

The gift shop occupies the first floor of a brick apartment building north of downtown and a block away from a sizeable riverfront park called Kilbourn Reservoir Park. The store stands out with its colorful “Black Lives Matter” mural painted on every inch of window overlooking the street. Inside, it’s the same: colorful products line every open space in an organized and approachable manner.

Owner Sarah Ditzenberger opened Fischberger’s with the intent of being a neighborhood spot for mothers and children, according to TMJ4.

“There was nowhere to just go and get a treat, you know, take a walk, so that’s something that I wanted to bring back to my neighborhood,” she told the outlet. “I feel like we need all these little bits and pieces of community places to actually physically go and get things in hand. … I just think that that need hasn’t gone away from our communities. So, I thought that something like an old-time variety store would be good for my neighborhood.”

8. Nonfiction Natural Wines
(Day 2)

We’re ending the night at Nonfiction Natural Wines, a charming wine bar and store. Wine Enthusiast named the Bay View business one of the best wine shops in America.

You’ll feel a sense of comfort walking into Nonfiction. Dozens of paper lanterns are hang from the ceiling, warm light illuminating the small business with an ethereal glow. Seating lines the street-facing windows and at the bar.

If you have time, stay awhile to enjoy a glass of wine and a small plate. If not, browse the bottles that are congregated in the back left corner of the store, helpfully organized by type of wine. A tag adorns the neck of each bottle, informing shoppers of the wine’s notes and country of origin. Pick a bottle — or three — to add to growing collection at home.

Nonfiction specializes in natural wine, but it also sells a curated selection of liquors, tinned fish and chocolates.

“I think Nonfiction stands out because we have never compromised on our vision,” Allie Kruse, who owns the shop with her husband, Brad, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “While it would be easy to just stock our shelves with safe, familiar, easy-to-sell wines, we have always held to our original standards on how we choose what we serve.”