The one-time bustling ethnic warehouse district suffered a catastrophic conflagration in 1892 in which more than 500 buildings burned (only one was left standing), displacing thousands of immigrants. Though the area was rebuilt, the earlier verve was always missing.
Until now. Antique stores and art galleries are the norm now, in among dozens of cafés, upscale shops, and a few longtime holdovers. It’s also the fruit and vegetable district, quite a sight in the morning as the trucks roll through. A quick tour via Historic Milwaukee Inc. (828 N. Broadway, 414/277-7795, www.historicmilwaukee.org ) before arrival would help.
The unofficial “off-Broadway” area of the city, the Third Ward has a new Broadway Theatre Center (158 N. Broadway, 414/291-7800), which smacks of an 18th-century European opera house; juxtaposed with that is a smaller experimental theater.
The well-regarded Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD, 273 E. Erie St., 414/276-7889) is housed in an old terminal, rebuilt in the days after the ward fire. Many galleries (generally open during sessions 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., at times till 7 p.m. Thurs.) display student work.
Run by the MIAD, the around-the-corner Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design (208 E. Water St., 414/203-0371, www.eisnermuseum.org , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Fri., from noon Sat., from 1 p.m. Sun., $5 adults) is only the second facility related to this subject in the country, and the only one owned by an art school. Extensive exhibits include the automobile in advertising, and beer in ads (natch), along with a half dozen rotating exhibits. You can even record your own radio commercial!
The riverwalk in the Third Ward includes the Public Market (414/336-1111, www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org , 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun.), a year-round farmers market, replete with anachronistic warehouse-style buildings and early-20th-century facades.
The riverwalk’s newest attraction is a statue of Arthur Fonzarelli, a.k.a. “The Fonz” from the TV show Happy Days, which was set in Milwaukee. When announced in 2007, some people sniffed it was a bit low-brow and “serious” art belonged there. Good for the good-humored folks of Brewtown, who have taken to it with pride.