Downtown Milwaukee  is full of gracefully aging anachronisms, some wearier than others. The central area has also seen a boom in new lodgings. One hint: Given Wisconsin’s winter, you may wish to note whether your accommodation is linked via the downtown skywalk system. Just a thought.
Downtown? Are you serious? Forget about a hotel, but Milwaukee  has a summertime Hostelling International hostel at Marquette University ’s McCormick Hall (1530 W. Wisconsin Ave., 414/288-3232); rates are $17 per night.
Another not-too-far-away hostel is in Kettle Moraine State Forest in Eagle (608/931-2201, $25).
Once again—good luck. First place to check is the 1920 art deco Astor Hotel (924 E. Juneau St., 414/271-4220 or 800/558-0200, www.theastorhotel.com , $99 and up), which has character (and characters strolling about) through and through, down to the original fixtures. Rooms have a retro elegance to them. Nice views of the lake can be had from its promontory; the interiors sport regional artwork. Complimentaries include breakfast, newspapers, shuttle service, business center, and passes to a nearby fitness center. The lounge is a popular place for jazz music.
If these are full, Best Western, Holiday Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Ramada Inn, and Howard Johnson chain options also exist downtown and generally have rooms for rates lower than the Astor’s.
The historic apartment/condo building housing Knickerbocker on the Lake (1028 E. Juneau Ave., 414/276-8500, www.knickerbockeronthelake.com , $125) overlooks Lake Michigan on a bluff just northeast of the funky Brady Street  area; you’re near parks and historic neighborhoods everywhere—a great location. Enter and espy original marble floors and vaulted ceilings. Rooms—each individually designed—are detailed with antiques but also have modern amenities such as air- conditioning, Internet access, and more; some rooms have smashing deck views, fireplaces, or other extras. Well-regarded restaurants on-site. For the price, it’s a deal.
The Hilton Milwaukee City Center (509 W. Wisconsin Ave., 414/271-7250 or 800/445-8667, www.hiltonmilwaukee.com , $100–240) is perhaps the best example of restored charm downtown. This incarnation features limestone ashlar, pink granite, and buff terra-cotta; it’s Milwaukee ’s sole Roaring ’20s art deco–style hotel, right down to the geometric marble motifs in the lobby. If Lake Michigan’s too chilly, fear not, for in addition to a recreation center, the hotel now sports an island-themed water recreation area with water slides and a real sand beach.
The granddaddy of Milwaukee hotels—called the “Grand Hotel” in fact—is the Pfister (424 E. Wisconsin Ave., 414/273-8222 or 800/558-8222, www.thepfisterhotel.com , $244 s, $264 d), built in 1893. This posh city-state–size behemoth oozes Victorian grandeur. The somewhat overwhelming lobby is done with such ornate intricacy that the hotel organizes regular tours of its displays of 19th-century art. Its state-of-the-art recreation facility outshines most health clubs. The laundry list of attractive features and service accolades could fill a phone book.
Generating lots of well-earned buzz is Hotel Metro (411 E. Mason St., 414/272-1937, www.hotelmetro.com , $159 s, $259 d), a posh but cute boutique hotel in an erstwhile art deco office building. Glass sinks from Wisconsin’s Kohler Company are among the noticeable design highlights of the 65 oversize suites replete with steeping tubs or whirlpool baths; downstairs is a chic, seen-on-the-scene bar. The art deco stylings include environmentally friendly practices such as bamboo-wood floorings and wood from sustainable forests. It’s also got one of the best cafés in Milwaukee . Among the service highlights—bicycles for guests!