Completed in 1892 as the private home of the Pabst family, Pabst Mansion stands as the last bastion of more than 80 mansions built for Milwaukee’s elite during a booming, bygone era. Since its construction, the estate has housed archbishops, priests, and sisters and was saved from near-demolition during the 1970s. The Flemish-Renaissance-Revival home has since been awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places for its bounty of architectural intricacies.
Today, on-staff docents conduct a range of tours for public groups, private parties, school groups, and well-behaved rugby teams through the fortress of halls, opulent rooms, and verdant grounds, each restored to their original condition.
The Pabst Mansion’s impressive art collection includes works from the 1640s through the 1900s by artists such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gaetano Trentanove, and Eugene Joseph Verboeckhoven. The emporium of excess also features Pabst Beer Pavilion, the pavilion built for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the glass-covered conservatory where tropical plants and beer trees continue to flourish.
The mansion gift shop holds classic Pabst drinkware and memorabilia as well as antique photos, books, and former employees' original finger paintings.
German expressionism. American decorative arts. Among the nation's best American art post 1960. The Milwaukee Art Museum is a leading American institution for the work of self-taught artists and holds one of the largest collections of works by Georgia O’Keeffe and other artistic luminaries in four floors of the 341,000-square-foot museum. Encompassing more than 25,000 pieces, the museum's collection ranges from 90 works of Haitian art and 450-plus German expressionist prints to an expansive contemporary art selection that includes pieces by Andy Warhol. Among the more singular holdings in the more than 40 galleries are the earliest surviving American-made chair.
Temporary and traveling exhibitions pass through each year, spotlighting everything from Rembrandt to color photography. Upcoming highlights include tattoo art, nineteenth-century portraiture, and, in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. Delve deeper into works on display during lectures and talks, part of a packed events calendar that includes concerts and film screenings. Visitors can also flex their own artistic muscles during programs such as kids' and adult art classes.
Art Bar, called a "Painter's Paradise" by Urban Milwaukee magazine, isn't your typical watering hole. In its enchanting interior, hundreds of soda bottle caps create an argyle pattern on pillars, wine corks stud an oval-shaped bar, and paint-by-number pieces—depicting everything from horses to the Virgin Mary—plaster a wall.
The kitschy aesthetic offers a glimpse into the creative mind of owner Don Krause. Krause left his former career as an interior designer for Ethan Allen to brave the trials of opening a bar in Riverwest. And he did it his way: His joint pours more than 40 microbrews by night and Alterra coffee by day in a space adorned with the rotating creations of local artists. The beer lineup includes seasonal brews from Bell’s, Founders, Lakefront, and New Glarus, as well as “mystery beers” served for three bucks cloaked in a crumpled brown bag—the way Wisconsin dignitaries drink. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel describes the venue as “a feast for all senses” and “one of the hottest spots in Riverwest,” thanks in part to its comedy, musical, or artistic events.
It's rare for museums to have cozy dining rooms, but the Charles Allis Art Museum wasn't always a museum. Earlier in the 20th century, it was businessman and arts patron Charles Allis's Tudor-style mansion. Allis bequeathed it to the public along with his massive art collection, though, and nowadays, visitors can stop by to see pieces that span 2,000 years. Some highlights? Works by Winslow Homer, Classic antiquities, a large collection of Asian ceramics, plus rotating exhibits by local Wisconsin artists.
The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum nestles in a historic mansion, too, albeit a different one. This one was built in the likeness of an Italian Renaissance villa in 1923, by architect David Adler. Its art spans a smaller period, from the 15th century through to the 18th. Visitors can browse wrought-iron work by Cyril Colnik, and explore a formal, outdoor Renaissance garden.
Bumper, Slick, Makaia, and Diego may sound like a team of superheroes, but at Oceans of Fun, they are the names of just 4 of the 12 sea lions and seals that inhabit the center's waters. Nestled in the Milwaukee County Zoo, the educational center focuses specifically on marine animals, educating visitors on their traits, their favorite places to play, and conservation strategies. Kids can feed the seals and sea lions buckets of fresh fish or build their animal-training repertoire during interactive programs; the animals also perform in shows four times daily throughout most of the year.