Milwaukee is in the midst of a season unlike any in our collective memory as we reassess, reconfigure, reaffirm and reinvigorate who we are as a city and a region. So is there really any better time to spotlight and celebrate the good things, great people and places, and amazing experiences this area has to offer?
In the pages that follow, you’ll find a host of them, nominated and chosen as the best of the best by you, our readers. People, places and organizations with whom we are thrilled to connect and reconnect as we continue to make a careful, responsible return to the myriad, vibrant lifestyles Milwaukee is known for.
We encourage you to thumb through these pages for instant uplift. And we congratulate our winners and top vote-getters — and thank each and every one of you who voted.
FOOD & DRINK
Though its Shorewood location shuttered in April to make room for a new concept, Black Shoe Hospitality’s revered breakfast and brunch spot on 76th Street in Wauwatosa still satisfies with high-quality, wholesome, regionally sourced options for every a.m. appetite — loads of which are also available for curbside takeout.
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern
Whether it’s a celebration or a night to indulge, Harbor House offers New England-style seafood right here in Milwaukee. Take in the views of Milwaukee Art Museum and Lake Michigan, and soak in the sun on the seasonal outdoor patio while enjoying fresh fish, oysters and an array of other seafood and specialty dishes.
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro
Best Confectionary or Candy Shop
Amy’s Candy Kitchen
If you’re able to make an excursion to Cedarburg without popping into Amy’s for an eat-it-on-the-spot gourmet caramel apple, you have far more willpower than we do. And if you’re looking for your first excuse to visit the ’burg, look no further than these legendary, award-winning beauties, plus other drool-worthy candies made onsite. You can also buy them online.
Best Old Fashioned
Patrons who head to Richfield’s The Stillery for a taste of Wisconsin’s favorite cocktail are pleased to find four different takes on the classic drink. And if you’d prefer to sip one from the comfort of your own home, The Stillery also offers to-go kits featuring each of the old fashioneds, plus a blackberry mule, the fruity Raspberry Deliciousness and even a kiddie cocktail for your mini mixologists.
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
Third Space Brewing
Just west of the Historic Third Ward in the flourishing Menomonee Valley, Third Space offers both a place to comfortably gather and a rotating roster of expertly crafted, inventively named and truly delicious brews to please the most discriminating beer drinker. Get your favorites to go with curbside pickup too.
City Lights Brewing Co.
Black Husky Brewing
Best Happy Hour
Mason Street Grill
Drop by this upscale Milwaukee favorite weekdays between 4-7 p.m. for its popular happy hour. Offering a huge selection of beer and wine, elegant specialty cocktails and delicious bar snacks, Mason Street Grill is the perfect spot for after-work drinks with coworkers or a meetup with your family or friends.
JB’s on 41
Best Beer Garden
Estabrook Beer Garden
Not just Milwaukee’s first post-Prohibition outdoor beer garden, but America’s, too, Estabrook — on the banks of the Milwaukee River and centrally located to Milwaukee’s North Shore suburbs — draws brew fans from all over for its authentic German beers and beer-garden atmosphere. Order a platter-size pretzel to help soak up the barley and hops.
Whitnall Beer Garden
South Shore Terrace Kitchen & Beer Garden
Dessert lovers enjoy perusing the sweet treats in the cases of Simma’s. This Wauwatosa-based bakery offers an array of confections to satisfy any sweet tooth, -from cupcakes and cheesecakes to cookies and pastries, and much more. And if you’re celebrating a special occasion, Simma’s creates cakes as beautiful as they are delicious for all occasions.
Peter Sciortino Bakery
Best Food Truck
That Taco Guy
Food trucks aren’t just a downtown MKE thing, as proven by Eli and Andrea Acosta’s North Shore favorite. That Taco Guy features authentic eats from Eli’s Puerto Rican heritage and Andrea’s Mexican heritage, plus a take-home treat called Texas Candy, a spicy-sweet candied jalapeno relish from a family recipe that could become an obsession for fans of bold flavor.
Meat on the Street
Benji’s Deli & Restaurant
Carnivores flock to Benji’s Deli & Restaurant for their famed corned beef, which stars in Reubens, omelets, hash and more. But with such a vast menu of true deli favorites, you can’t go wrong with any of the comforting options. With two locations in Fox Point and Shorewood, Benji’s Deli & Restaurant offers dine-in, carryout and catering.
Sendik’s Food Market
Best French Fries
Whether you’re the sort of fry obsessive who believes there’s no such thing as a bad French fry, or the kind who believes that fries are an art form no cardboard container can do justice, a paper cone of Café Hollander’s famous frites with a side of their sophisticated sauces is a sure bet. COVID have you wary of sharing? Then now’s the perfect time to secure an order all for yourself.
North Avenue Grill
Elsa’s on the Park
You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at Elsa’s On The Park, but regulars know that gathering for drinks and apps at this downtown favorite sets the stage for a fine evening out. Or if you’re dining in, order scrumptious starters — from flatbread cheese crisps and shrimp cocktail to nachos and grilled vegetables — to start your meal, or combine a few to make your own entrée.
Best Sports Bar
There’s a good reason that this Walker’s Point institution, just north of the Allen Bradley clock tower, is the stuff of Milwaukee legend. As much fun to visit now as it was when you were a carefree college kid, this quintessential Brew City tavern features more than a dozen hi-def screens (including a massive 10-footer), plus game-time specials, free popcorn, shuffleboard, a pressure-free trivia night and shuttles to sports and entertainment events throughout the city.
Endter’s Sports Grill
Broken Bat Brewing Company
Five O’Clock Steakhouse
Family owned since 1946, Five O’Clock Steakhouse offers mouthwatering steaks and seafood, and a wine and cocktail list tailored to its luxurious menu. After dinner, enjoy a nightcap — and, on Fridays, live music — in the restaurant’s historic Alley Cat Lounge.
Mr. B’s — A Bartolotta Steakhouse
Best Lake Country Dining
Is it just us, or does a steak or some surf-and-turf just seem to taste better in a true Wisconsin supper club atmosphere? Palmer’s owner and cook Jerry Arenas has been in the industry since he was a teen and knows how to keep diners from Lake Country and beyond coming back for more of his comfortably upscale atmosphere and comfortingly traditional menu.
Golden Mast Inn
ARTS & CULTURE
Best Band or Musician
Hey Paddy, play a song for me! Since 1977, singer/songwriter Pat McCurdy has traveled the Midwest with his guitar and sometimes a band, delighting fans with his feel-good, party-time tunes and rollicking, interactive sets. Check his schedule at patmccurdy.com to see if he’s coming to a venue near you or streaming a virtual concert.
Best Dance Club
Victor’s On Van Buren
While this Lower East Side fixture is perhaps not for everyone, if you want a tried-and-true party spot with DJs, dancing and no intimidating hipness quotient, you really can’t beat Victor’s. The atmosphere is retro, the crowd spans generations and the food is tasty if you want to fill up before you toss down some drinks and get your groove on.
Lucid Light Lounge
Best Theater Group
Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Long a source of engrossing entertainment, education and civil engagement via its spectacular productions, Milwaukee Repertory Theater will launch its planned, 11-show 2020-21 season in late October. Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, the schedule and productions are subject to change, but Rep fans know well that a world-class, thought-provoking evening is always in store.
First Stage Children’s Theater
Skylight Music Theater
Best Performing Arts Venue
Marcus Performing Arts Center
You could almost hear local theater lovers’ collective sigh of relief that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s beloved “Hamilton” made its Milwaukee debut before COVID-19 descended. Though the 2020-2021 performance season remains in limbo, the Marcus Center’s ambitious new CEO Kendra Whitlock Ingram and an ongoing facilities refresh keep it poised for an impressive new chapter.
Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Broadway Theater Center
Best Paint and Sip Studio
Thiensville’s glaze is the perfect spot for a fun afternoon of crafting, no matter your skill level. Whether you’re painting pottery or wine glasses, fusing glass, or working with raw clay, glaze is great for birthdays, girls’ nights, date night, a bridal or baby shower, or just a fun, creative afternoon. Top it off with a scoop of ice cream or other tasty snacks at Purple Frog, housed in glaze’s front room.
Best Fest, Best Live Music Venue
Summerfest (dual winner)
A moment of silence for Milwaukee’s world-renowned music festival, which was cancelled for the first time in its 53-year history as crowd safety and suspended touring schedules made even a modified fest impossible. Meantime, it’s probably a good bet that those annoying friends who wax philosophical about taking a year or two off from ’festing are rethinking that one extra-hard right now.
Runners-up for Best Fest:
Runners-up for Best Live Music Venue:
Turner Hall Ballroom
Back Room @ Colectivo
Milwaukee Art Museum
Whether you’re taking in the Calatrava addition’s massive sculptural wings and stunning architecture while strolling the lakefront or spending the day immersing yourself in world-class art, the Milwaukee Art Museum is an art lover’s paradise inside and out. And though they’re virtual right now, MAM is also home to inspired events and gatherings, including Art In Bloom, MAM After Dark and Lakefront Festival of Art.
Discovery World Science and Technology Museum
Best Outdoor Music Venue or Series
Cedarburg Summer Sounds
Year after year, music lovers spend Friday nights at Cedarburg Summer Sounds, enjoying live music and warm summer evenings with family and friends. Though the 2020 season has fallen victim to the pandemic, the organization is keeping the spirit of Summer Sounds alive with the Make MKE Cozy blanket campaign to help the homeless community, and the popular Neighbor of the Night program. Find out more on their Facebook page.
Chill on the Hill
Washington Park Wednesdays
Best Historic Site
Old World Wisconsin
Hard to imagine a kid in Southeast Wisconsin who didn’t make at least one field trip to Eagle to get their Laura Ingalls or Almanzo Wilder on and learn the ways of Wisconsin’s 19th century settlers. And then chaperone their own kids’ excursion to do the same a generation later. Delightfully rustic and hands-on, this living museum is a fine, tech-free escape for all ages — and a unique Christmas destination too.
Best Open Mic Night
Cedarburg Cultural Center — Blueburg Cafe
Cedarburg Cultural Center’s Blueburg Cafe is a favored venue for many artists in the area and patrons eager to support local live music. Though COVID put a hold on shared spaces and gatherings, the show must go on, so artists have since shifted to playing virtual “Live From the Living Room” shows to keep the music playing.
The Cheel — Summer Sundays
Rounding Third Bar & Grill
Best Radio Station
88Nine Radio Milwaukee
Equal parts radio station and community advocate — and 100 percent Milwaukee — the nonprofit, listener- and donor-supported 88Nine is an MKE must-know regardless of your musical taste. Though its broadcasts are reliable one-stop shopping for great new music, its website is also home to inspiring Milwaukee-centric stories, community news and the latest information on how to be a more involved citizen.
News/Talk WISN 1130
SHOPPING & STYLE
Best Women’s Boutique
For nearly 30 years, Faye’s has been helping women refresh and rethink their wardrobes and count themselves among the most confident, fashionable women in the Milwaukee area and beyond. With two locations — in Mequon’s East Towne Square Mall and Brookfield’s Galleria West — and a passionate staff, Faye’s brings distinctive trends to Cream City fashionistas.
Best Men’s Shop
Truly local menswear stores featuring big-city labels and fashion-forward styles that still speak to Milwaukee’s upscale, laid-back vibe are increasingly rare. Having recently moved from its longtime Shorewood location to the more centralized Historic Third Ward, Harleys still proudly offers the same personalized service and amenities, along with quality clothing, shoes and accessories that generations of stylish MKE men have come to count on.
Mark Berman & Son
Best Shoe Store
Stan’s Fit For Your Feet
First opened in 1950 as Stan’s Bootery, this beloved, family-owned shoe store offers a long list of quality, comfortable shoe brands for men, women and children, plus attentive customer service you won’t find in in the big box stores, ensuring that you walk out with shoes that look, fit and feel terrific. The store has since been rebranded to Stan’s Fit For Your Feet and expanded to three locations in Brookfield, Glendale and Greenfield.
Goody Two Shooz (Now Closed)
Best Place For Accessories
Its Cedarburg location is no more, but accessory obsessives can still find the perfect jewelry, handbags, scarves and more at Access’ store on Broadway St. in the Historic Third Ward. Best of all, Access accessories are an affordable and stylish giant step up from big-box, cookie-cutter costume jewelry, so you can get the perfect add-ons for every outfit that will last this season and beyond.
The Last Detail Ltd.
Mark Berman & Son
Best Jewelry Designer
A Trio Jewelry
Named for their multipronged mission of custom jewelry design, manufacturing and repair, and artistic expression, Third Ward jewelry design studio A Trio Jewelry specializes in creating jaw-dropping one-of-a-kind pieces, as well as in-house collections and an assortment of vintage jewelry. Fifth-generation jewelry designer Amy Bern and her husband Noah, are dedicated to a creative and fun design process and making their customers feel like family.
East Towne Jewelers
Best Spa and Best Salon
Neroli Salon & Spa (dual winner)
With six locations throughout the region, and nearly 30 years in the business of looking and feeling good, Neroli is the pamperer of choice for generations of Milwaukee-area men and women. Featuring Aveda products and a nature-based, holistic approach to mind-body wellness, Neroli turns luxury into a self-care necessity.
Runners-up for Best Spa:
Pfister Well Spa + Salon
Anton’s Salon & Medspa
Runners-up for Best Salon:
Spargo Salon & Spa
Best Locally-owned Bookstore
Boswell Book Company
One silver lining of the COVID quarantine has been the additional time for bibliophiles to indulge in their favorite pastime. Throughout the pandemic, Boswell Book Company has offered curbside pickup and shipping to keep book lovers supplied, and though book clubs and author events have been canceled, some may be revived as virtual events, so stay up to date at boswellbooks.com.
Little Read Book
Once a destination not just for its store selection, but its fish-filled indoor stream and a giant ice rink that let mom and dad shop while the kids happily skated, the 62-year-old Mayfair’s central-to-everything location, expansive AMC movie theater and the state’s only Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel and The Container Store garner it the highest sales of any Wisconsin mall, according to Shopping Center Business magazine.
The Corners of Brookfield
Best Eyewear Shop
Warby Parker Third Ward
From reading glasses to sunglasses and every prescription in between, the walls of Warby Parker in the Historic Third Ward are full of great, affordable choices, making it easy to find the perfect pair for you. To make it even easier in uncertain times, head to warbyparker.com to pick out your top five frames and have them sent to your house to try on in the comfort of your home.
Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids
Optix on Downer
Best Fashion Designer
Dividing her time between Brew City and the Big Apple, Velez honed her skills at Manhattan’s Parsons School of Design and debuted her 2018 thesis collection at both New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. True to her Milwaukee roots, Velez — who boasts a ship captain mom — designs for women who prefer a functional and powerful approach to femininity, including pop stars like Halsey and Arianna Grande.
Best Special Occasion Wear
Gigi MKE boutique
Whether it’s a wedding, a reunion or you just want to all get dressed up and hit the town, explore the racks of stunning formal and evening attire from premier designers — plus jewelry and accessories to complete the look — at Gigi MKE Boutique in Walker’s Point. Their welcoming staff makes finding the perfect formal attire for your event and personality an exciting experience.
The Brass Rooster Hat Co.
The Hen House
Best Bridal Boutique
Miss Ruby Boutique
Forget what you might think you know about wedding dress shopping — fluorescent lighting, impersonal service, communal fitting rooms and racks and racks of cookie-cutter frocks. Miss Ruby offers an intimate, appointment-only experience, ensuring a truly personalized, unrushed excursion centered on an appealingly priced, well-curated selection of gowns, bridesmaid dresses and accessories.
Gigi MKE Boutique
Lighting can enhance a room’s overall design and even serve as a focal point, which is why homeowners and renovators alike enjoy perusing the BBC Lighting showroom, open by appointment only as of press time. From sconces to chandeliers, lamps to outdoor lighting and every lighting need in between, BBC has the right lighting option for your home and your style.
Fringe Home Furnishings
McNabb & Risley Fine Furniture and Interior Design
Kerns Carpet One Floor & Home
Milwaukee’s hometown flooring source has been in business since 1935, amassing a wealth of product and installation expertise that is second to none. Factor in convenient locations in Mequon and Brookfield, top-quality brands, a true family-business atmosphere and a thorough understanding of the region’s wide-ranging home styles and homeowner tastes, and you have a modern shopping experience with old-fashioned attention to customer needs.
Nonn’s Kitchen Bath & Flooring
Best Home Accessories Boutique, Best Furniture Store
BILTRITE Furniture-Leather-Mattresses (dual winner)
Proudly serving the Milwaukee area for over 90 years, family-owned and operated BILTRITE Furniture-Leather-Mattresses understands the wants and needs of their loyal and growing clientele and happily assists them find the perfect furniture and most comfortable mattress. With the help of a dedicated and well-trained staff and a huge selection of affordable, durable and custom-created furniture, you’re sure to just find what you need to make your house your home.
Home Accessories Boutique Runners-up:
McNabb & Risley Fine Furniture and Interior Design
Fringe Home Furnishings
Furniture Store Runners-up:
McNabb & Risley Fine Furniture and Interior Design
Best Home Construction
Victory Homes of Wisconsin
If quarantine has left you intent on an upgrade, Victory Homes of Wisconsin — part of a multipronged homebuilding and buying parent company that serves Waukesha, Milwaukee, Washington and Ozaukee counties — has offered award-winning, custom homebuilding with a personalized touch for more than 15 years.
From a room-by-room renovation to a complete home remodel, homeowners are in good hands with Victory Renovations. Part of The Victory Companies, Victory Renovations’ devoted staff can transform any home or room to help people fall in love with their living spaces all over again.
Design Tech Remodeling
Best Interior Design Service
Fringe Home Furnishings
Know what you like in home décor, but don’t know how to bring your vision to life? Or do you feel like a refresh is in order, but you have no idea where to even begin? With more than 50 years of combined, residential interior design experience, Whitefish Bay’s Fringe is a trusted source throughout metro Milwaukee for crafting quality rooms that cater to homeowners’ unique tastes over trends.
McNabb & Risley Fine Furniture and Interior Design
Deep River Partners
Best Event Space
Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery
Located in the heart of the former Pabst Brewery, Best Place was restored to its former glory after businessman and beer lover Jim Haertel purchased it in 2001. This charming and historic building is a great gathering spot, and a nostalgic step back through time that’s perfect for a classic wedding, reunion, party or other special event.
St. James 1868
Bartolotta Catering & Events
No matter the size or swank of your gathering, Bartolotta Catering & Events will ensure that your guests are still talking about their VIP treatment and the memorable tastes long after they’ve gone home. Bartolotta also has you covered if you need the perfect venue, too, courtesy of nearly three decades in the local hospitality business.
Tall Guy and a Grill Catering
Best Pet Boarding
Central Bark Doggy Day Care
It can be hard to find the perfect person to care for your furry family member when you head to work or out of town. But even the pickiest dog parents trust the devoted staff at Central Bark Doggy Day Care. With locations all across Wisconsin, Central Bark offers day care, pet boarding and a pet salon as well as training and dog walking too.
Barkin’ Up Hickory
Best Senior Living Community
Saint John’s On The Lake
Offering lakeside living, housing options for every need and lifestyle, and plenty of enrichment opportunities — plus a walkable location that puts Lake Michigan and the East Side’s amenities just steps away, Saint John’s has helped seniors thrive for more than 150 years.
Heritage Senior Living
Best Travel Agency
Fox World Travel
For business or for pleasure, Fox World Travel makes it easy and exciting to plan your next adventure. And though COVID has made getting away more challenging, Fox agents are up-to-date on all travel restrictions and are ready to help adventurers resume their passion for travel safely and comfortably.
Lisa Hoppe Travel Consulting
Urban Ecology Center
The pandemic’s restrictions left many of us newly appreciative of nature — in our own backyards and the parks, trails and lakefront expanses that allow us to safely escape our homes and embrace the change of seasons. Urban Ecology Center’s three branches teach the joy of the outdoors and a lifelong appreciation for creating and sustaining natural spaces to children who live in urban settings.
Literacy Services of Wisconsin
Ignite the Spirit Fund Milwaukee
MacGillis Wiemer LLC
Their person-to-person approach to providing clients with legal guidance means MacGillis Wiemer LLC clients feel comfortable trusting their needs to the firm’s experienced attorneys. With locations in Milwaukee and Hartford, MacGillis Wiemer offers legal representation for cases such as personal injury, family law, employment law and more.
John A. Herbers - Reinhart Boerner Van Dueren
Dan Adams - Adams Law Group
Best Community Advocate
Sister MacCanon Brown
Among Milwaukee’s most revered voices for peace, racial and economic equity, and the rights of the homeless, Brown humbly resisted efforts to name Center Street’s MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary in honor of that fine legacy. But she continues to work tirelessly to unite the community to make Milwaukee a national role model for how a city serves its most disadvantaged citizens.
Lynde B. Uihlein
Born in Milwaukee to a philanthropist mother and part of Milwaukee’s best-known philanthropic family, Lynde B. Uihlein has long supported efforts to improve racial and gender equality, the environment, education and the arts. Uihlein founded the nonprofit Brico Fund in 1990 and the community-supported agriculture project “The Afterglow Farm” north of Milwaukee.
Mayor Tom Barrett
Milwaukee’s newly re-elected, five-term mayor faces his most challenging tenure yet as the city navigates the ongoing health and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrations for racial equity and against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and widespread calls for across-the-board civic change. In a June statement, Barrett called for his city “to take specific actions to examine and transform America’s policing system.”
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge team
There are no drink menus at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, but patrons will surely always find exactly what they are looking for in the perfect libation. With over 450 cocktails available, the expert bartenders at Bryant’s can make magic of whatever flavors you’re craving, even if you can only explain that by color or texture.
Dawn - The Packing House
Brandon Reyes - Bittercube Bar & Bazaar
Best Real Estate Agent
Julie Clarke, Realty Executives
Brookfield-based Clarke earns consistently high marks from clients throughout Milwaukee and its surrounding counties for tailoring the buying and selling process to each client’s needs, budget and experience level — from million-dollar condos and lakefront properties to cozy starter homes.
Jon Frost - Frost Realty
Mary Beth Waite - Cornerstone Realtors
Former professional basketball player Shawna Nicols — better known as DJ Shawna — delights crowds with her upbeat music and ebullient personality. The official DJ for the Milwaukee Bucks, DJ Shawna also started the #DareToBe movement and clothing line to motivate people to be their best selves and never give up on their dreams.
Best Stage Performer and TV Personality
As beloved as they come in his Milwaukee hometown and throughout Wisconsin, McGivern has warmed stage audiences’ hearts for nearly four decades in plays, standup comedy routines and deeply personal one-man shows performed locally and across the U.S. McGivern can also help you get to know the Cheese State better via his charming Wisconsin PBS travelogue, “Around the Corner with John McGivern.”
Stage Performer Runners-up:
TV Personality Runners-up:
Best Sports Figure
The 2019-20 NBA season may have been halted this past spring due to COVID, but Bucks fans are eager to see adored superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on their screens again as the NBA is back to finish the season and see if the Bucks can land their first championship in almost 50 years.
Milwaukee writer and historian John Gurda has written 22 books about his home city, including histories of Cream City’s neighborhoods and industries, bodies of water, places of worship and more. His book “The Making of Milwaukee” was even the basis for an Emmy-award winning documentary series that aired on Milwaukee Public Television in 2006. You can also catch him on fellow Best Of winner John McGivern’s “Around the Corner with John McGivern.”
Ramirez — who divides his time between Milwaukee, Chicago and Albuquerque, but calls Milwaukee home — has brightened the city with multiple grand-scale works of art whose hallmarks are their saturated colors and messages of community and cultural pride. His latest work, “Frontline Heroes” — located near the intersection of 6th and Lincoln streets — honors medical workers’ tireless fight against the novel coronavirus.
With two James Beard Awards and a recent nomination for a third for Outstanding Restaurateur, Chef Paul Bartolotta — who also owns and co-founded The Bartolotta Restaurants — brings a taste of culinary cuisines from across the world to Milwaukee in each of Bartolotta’s 17 spectacular restaurants, carrying on the legacy he shaped with his late brother Joe.
Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite