By 4:30 on a Milwaukee Bucks game day, the plaza outside Fiserv Forum is bumping—literally. The bass from an Ariana Grande song thumps underfoot while throngs of fans in Antetokounmpo jerseys play cornhole and mill around a nearby beer garden with brews and plastic cups of brandy in hand. They’re tailgating in the Deer District before one of the Bucks’ final home games before ending their storied run in last season’s NBA playoffs.
Even if you’re not a basketball buff, the excitement is intoxicating, especially when you pause to admire the sleek facade of Fiserv Forum, a $524 million arena that opened last fall. It’s the anchor of the 30-acre Deer District, which includes an adjacent plaza with bars, restaurants and a partially covered outdoor beer garden. The sprawling pedestrian square is a showstopping centerpiece to Milwaukee’s evolving downtown. It’s also part of a new generation of arenas and stadiums that anchor entertainment districts, like Green Bay’s Titletown District and Gallagher Way by Wrigley Field in Chicago. Besides Bucks games and concerts at Fiserv Forum (October brings The Black Keys and Miranda Lambert), Deer District events include live music, fitness classes and movie screenings.
Fiserv Forum, like the energetic young Bucks team that calls it home, represents the new guard in Milwaukee. Step inside the light-filled atrium and you’ll wonder if you’re inside an arena at all. Stylish Edison bulb light fixtures illuminate some of the spaces. Local restaurants serve up tacos, poké bowls and barbecue at concession stands. And features like reclaimed local wood paneling and Cream City brick accent walls add an only-in-Milwaukee aesthetic.
Walk a few blocks west of Fiserv Forum and you’ll find that others of Milwaukee’s newest developments are artfully marrying past and present. Take the old Pabst brewing complex, for example: This former manufacturing district emptied out after Pabst shut down local operations in the mid-’90s. Now, the bottling and brewing buildings have been reimagined as loft apartments and hotels, and the neighborhood is home to a new cohort of craft breweries.
As you walk among weathered brick buildings, you can imagine how it must have been here during Pabst’s heyday—a bustling factory where workers logged long hours in service to one of the beers that put Milwaukee on the map. But if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the last 100-plus years, it’s the ethos that continues to define Milwaukee, even today: Work hard. Play hard. Drink good beer.
1 Open Concept
With the court and scoreboard visible from many concourse bars and restaurants, you’ll never miss a second of the game.
2 Art to Fawn Over
Walk the arena and admire the Milwaukee Bucks Art Collection. On the main concourse, pay a visit to Buckley, a life-size stag created with recycled basketballs.
3 Foodie Forum
You’ll find diverse eats at concession stands run by local restaurants. Delight your sweet tooth with candy sold by the pound at the Wonka-esque Candy Lab.
4 The Suite Life
You don’t need to be a high roller to get into the Panorama Club, a sky-level terrace that’s open to everyone at the top of the building.
5 Fear the Deer
The 2019–20 season starts in October and is sure to draw a crowd. (The team last year logged its best playoff run in two decades.)
Do the District
No tickets? No biggie: You can get close to the action from one of the bars or restaurants in the plaza.
Best For Gamers and groups, with eight bowling lanes, karaoke rooms and a throwback arcade room.
Order A crowd-pleasing punch. A bowl of Will Conga Line for Rum is made with two rums, pomegranate green tea, almond syrup and fresh lime juice.
Best For Hungry hopheads in search of craft brews and elevated pub grub.
Order Stone-hearth oven pizza, and wash it down with an IPA. Try the citrusy, balanced Risk IPA or the Reward Double IPA—a bolder (and boozier) option.
Best For An (almost) al fresco brew. Saddle up to the covered bar to order a beer or a canned cocktail, then snag a seat at a picnic table on the plaza.
Order Any of the 20 rotating Wisconsin beers on tap, featuring breweries from around the state, like Lakefront, New Glarus and Hinterland.
Best For Wannabe courtside-ticket holders. Watch the game on dozens of screens throughout—including above the bathroom hand dryers.
Order The Cream City Chimney Stack Nachos, served in a charcoal chimney starter and topped with barbecue chicken, avocado cream and pico de gallo.
Best For A laid-back Wisco brew or local-liquor cocktail served amid the vibe of a Northwoods neighborhood tavern.
Order The Drink Wisconsinbly Old Fashioned, crafted with house brandy, Wisconsin-made bitters and a delightfully ’Sconnie cheese curd garnish.
Nobody blocks the TV here, thanks to the enormous outdoor screen at The Beer Garden.
Milwaukee’s streetcar is the newest way to get around downtown. Rides along the 2-mile route are free until November, then increase to $1.
Stay and Play: Historic Pabst Neighborhood
Pabst Brewery Complex.
Where once sat a blighted remnant of Milwaukee’s brewing past, you’ll now find an entertainment hub that honors the neighborhood’s hoppy history.
Check into a room at The Brewhouse Inn and Suites, where copper brew kettles anchor the lobby and an original 1800s staircase brims with Victorian charm. Or stay at the hoop-theme Hyatt Place and sip a cocktail on the patio with views of Fiserv Forum. Grab a bite at Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub, then head across the street to a 19th-century church-turned-Pabst Brewery and Taproom, with a tap list featuring experimental brews like Mexican lagers alongside IPAs and the iconic Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The Brewhouse Inn and Suites.
Book a tour at MKE Brewing Company, which recently moved into new digs in the neighborhood. Sample the O-Gii, an Imperial Wit brewed with local Rishi Tea. Afterward, refuel at adjoining Glass + Griddle and order the Disco Fries, topped with a heaping pile of Italian beef, mozzarella and giardiniera.
Glass + Griddle.
Walk through pocket-size Preservation Park for a speed session in local history, with plaques tracing Pabst Brewery’s roots back to 1786.
Pabst Brewery and Taproom.