The dining room Karl Ratzsch’s, 320 E. Mason St., is festooned with antler chandeliers, old-master paintings, dark woodwork and knickknacks galore.
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:11AM
Smaller and less congested than Chicago but with no shortage of attractions, Milwaukee is an ideal destination for Chicago-area residents looking for a quick getaway.
Providing an ideal excuse to make the two-hour jaunt north is a new exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum showcasing paintings by such revered old masters as Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds.
Even aside from this special presentation, the museum has much to offer, including an iconic wing designed by acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava and a diverse permanent collection with strengths in decorative art, folk art and German expressionism.
Here are a few recommendations for making a visit to this former brewing capital more enjoyable:
Cafe Calatrava, Milwaukee Art Museum, lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Visitors to the museum needn’t even step outside to find a first-class place for lunch. Nestled into the lower level of famed architect Calatrava’s iconic, biomorphic wing , this sleek restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of Lake Michigan. To complement the Kenwood House exhibition, executive chef Josh Stefanko has put together an English-inspired lunch menu. Visit Mam.org.
Karl Ratzsch’s, 320 E. Mason St., lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. This quirky, old-world original offers a perfect antidote to today’s cookie-cutter chain restaurants. Its interior, with antler chandeliers, old-master paintings, dark woodwork and knickknacks galore, is largely unchanged since the venerable eatery moved to its present location around 1929. The menu offers dependable takes on schnitzels, strudels, wursts and other traditional German cuisine at reasonable prices. Call (414) 276-2720 or visit karlratzsch.com.
Zarletti, 741 N. Milwaukee St., No. 1, lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays: Established in 2004 by owner and executive chef Brian Zarletti, this upscale restaurant offers contemporary takes on northern Italian cuisine, featuring handmade pasta and the house specialty, osso bucco. The personable, knowledgeable staff can suggest the right pairing from the fine wine list, which puts an emphasis on small Italian producers. The window-lined dining room has a clean, modern and hospitable feel. Call (414) 225-0000 or visit zarletti.net.
Hotel Metro, 411 E. Mason St.: This trendy hotel occupies a 1937 art moderne building, with a classic streamlined exterior. The current owners bought the downtown landmark in 1996 and undertook an extensive renovation, carrying the 1930s feel into the new interior decor and putting an emphasis on sustainability throughout. Its “Artwaukee” packages begin at $249.99, which includes overnight valet parking, a $50 gift certificate for the hotel’s restaurant and two tickets to the art museum. Call (877) 638-7620 or visit hotelmetro.com.
Iron Horse Hotel, 500 W. Florida St.: Each of the 100 loft-style rooms has exposed brick and timber beams in this unusual boutique hotel located in a 100-year-old warehouse building. Located near the city’s Harley-Davidson Museum, the historic hotel offers amenities for motorcycle enthusiasts while also catering to business clientele. It has a package for $259 that includes two tickets to both the art and Harley-Davidson museums as well as breakfast for two in The Library. Call (888) 543-4766 or visit theironhorsehotel.com.
Kyle MacMillan is a local free-lance writer.