It was a chilly night in early May, and the first extra inning was playing out in the indoor comfort of new Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The game had been tied 4-4 for what seemed liked eons, yet antsy as some of us were, the 42,000-plus crowd was sticking around, waiting for the post-game "show."
"Nope. I don't got Bud; only Miller here," a concession-stand guy said.
That we could deal with -- after all, look who was behind this beautiful, costly beast that looks like part airplane hangar, part Star Trek USS Enterprise, with a retractable dome roof that seems to create more awe than a grand slam. While this definitely isn't the wonderfully old-school Wrigley Field, home to our beloved team, we still dug this friendly confines, which had one of the two new roofs my fiancee, Jason, and I had come to see on this Milwaukee weekend.
It's a big deal, these multi-million-dollar moving roofs in Milwaukee, a city that has recently been sugar-coated with high profile projects. The other roof centerpiece of our weekend -- this one a high-tech winged design by revered Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava -- adorns the recently revamped and expanded downtown Milwaukee Art Museum on Lake Michigan.
MUSEUM ROOF THE STAR
We began our day by checking into the fancy, Victorian-style Pfister Hotel downtown. From there, it was just a few blocks east to the museum, which blinded us with its starched white exterior.
"Some people think it looks like a ship, but I really don't see it," said museum guard James Stanford about the steel roof sculpture that makes up a portion of the roof over Calatrava's first commission in the U.S.
"I think it looks more like the skeleton of a prehistoric bird," Stanford said.
By September, it will look more like a bird in flight with flapping wings, thanks to the raising and lowering of a light-controlling sunscreen. From afar, we thought Calatrava's creation resembled an origami swan floating on the lake. Other times, nautical elements popped out such as the angled masts, and suddenly it looked as if a schooner had crashed into the east end of the museum.
Whatever it is, it's big: The wingspan of the roof section is larger than that of a Boeing 747. The official name? The Burke Brise Soleil -- named after local donors and the French word for sunscreen.
The museum's main addition -- the Quadracci Pavilion, which includes two galleries, a changing exhibition space and a futuristic main entrance hall -- tacks on an additional 125,000 square feet to the museum's older sections designed by Eero Saarinen and David Kahler.
A suspended pedestrian bridge will soon link the museum and lakefront to downtown. Expect it to be phenomenal. Calatrava is best known for his bridges: Think the Grand Canal in Venice.
We came for the architecture, but we also came for the traveling Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit (through Aug. 19) titled, "O'Keeffe's O'Keeffes: The Artists Collection." Altogether, 73 O'Keeffes that follow her career from Wisconsin to New York to New Mexico are on exhibit, from oils on canvas such as "Calla Lillies on Pink" and "Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. 3" to charcoal and watercolor scenes, including "Cliffs Beyond Abiquiu" and "Dry Waterfall." By the time O'Keeffe died in 1986, she owned more than half of her work, much of which is on display. The museum owns 22 O'Keeffe works, one of the largest collections in the world.
We only had three hours here before the Brewers game, but we could easily have stayed all day marveling over the permanent collections that include Renaissance and baroque works, German Expressionist prints and contemporary and pop pieces. There's also a 20th Century design gallery inside.
By fall, the museum complex will have a reception hall, public gardens, a lakeview restaurant and underground parking. All of the enhancements, including the renovation of the existing galleries, cost $100 million.
That's pennies compared to $400 million Miller Park, which ate up $50 million alone for the seven paneled, 10.5-acre roof. To build the stadium, it took 4 1/2 years and 6,000 workers, three of whom died in a crane accident that delayed the opening a year. Was the stadium worth it? That Saturday it was.
$6 IN THE BLEACHERS
We spent only $6 each on decent second-tier or "loge" bleacher seats over left field, otherwise known as the "hot corner" for homers. It's also near TGI Friday's Front Row Sports Grill where you can get a "ticketed table" overlooking the field: Four-seat tables cost $240, with half of that toward food and beer at the restaurant. Tickets are available through the restaurant or the Brewers ticket office (see If You Go box).
But from our cheap seats, we chomped away on our third round of brats and second box of Cracker Jacks. The game stood still at 4-4 with runners at first and second, and nobody out. Brewers slugger Jeromy Burnitz stepped up to face Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Joe Beimel.
Then came the 2-2 pitch -- and then came Burnitz' blooper, smack into short-center field. Milwaukee wins, 5-4, ending the grueling 12-inning, 4 1/2-hour game.
Now it was time for that post-game "show," the much-anticipated opening of the park's crowning glory. The 10-minute opening (or, after games played with the roof open, closing) of the roof has become a must-see ritual, accompanied by the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey," that keeps fans -- including us -- from going home early.
"Sometimes there are fireworks that go off while the roof is opening," a fan told us.
That -- and the July 2002 All-Star Game here -- will be enough to bring us back.
IF YOU GO
Milwaukee is about 95 miles from Chicago via Interstate Highway 94.
Casual dining in downtown Milwaukee means grabbing some grub and an ice-cold, signature beer at a brewery. Some newer spots we found:
Stout Brothers Public House (777 N. Water St.; www.stoutbros.com) is the baby of breweries in Milwaukee, housed in a former bookbinder's shop built in the 1800s. Open for a year, the place draws a mid-20s to 30s contingent pining for brew master Al Bundy's mild banana-flavored Yodeler Weisse and Keltic Cross, a chocolate and coffee-infused stout.
We walked in and almost walked out of the turn-of-the-century looking Milwaukee Ale House (233 N. Water St.) in the Historic 3rd Ward (formerly the city's wholesale and manufacturing district) when we heard the bad cover band playing. It was the downstairs Hopside Down that made us change our minds. This quiet, candle-lit tavern, which used to be part of a 100-year-old warehouse, is the perfect hideout for good conversation and a stiff old-fashioned or two. Six all-grain ales are brewed here.
A good place for lunch outside is the double-decker beer garden on the Milwaukee River. Try the portobello mushrooms marinated in the house dark Sheepshead Stout ($6.95). Friday's catch is the ¾-pound, ale-battered cod ($9.95). We were all over the baked pretzels served with spicy beer mustard ($5.50).
At the Waterfront Deli (761 N. Water St.), fill up on big, meaty sandwiches in this artsy eatery designed to look like the inside of an intimate theater, with spotlights and painted murals of audiences. Get a corned beef sandwich with kraut smothered in horseradish on rye ($7.25). The gourmet B.A.L.T -- bacon, arugula, lox, tomatoes with roasted red pepper mayo ($7.25) -- is good too. Vegetarian options are also available.
At Blu, perched on the 23rd floor atop the Pfister Hotel (424 E. Wisconsin Ave.), order a gimlet or a Singapore Sling at this mellow, old-school cocktail lounge. Snag a table near the wall of windows that show off views of downtown and Lake Michigan. Wine samplers are popular here, as is the live jazz.
These downtown hotels are within walking distance of Water Street and its stack of breweries, the theater district, Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Art Museum. We recommend calling far in advance -- especially during the summer -- for the cheapest rates.
Pfister Hotel (424 E. Wisconsin Ave.; 414-273-8222; www.pfisterhotel.com). The best thing about this posh, landmark hotel is its extensive Victorian art collection. Ignore the elevator and walk up the wide marble staircase that leads to palatial floor landings dressed in chandeliers, antiques and works by noted European and local artists, including Adolph Schreyer and Louis Mayer. Don't expect to be impressed by the staff's knowledge, though. We asked about the closing time for Blu (see above), and no one at the front desk could tell us. The hotel houses two restaurants, the more casual Cafe at the Pfister and the fine-dining Celia's. About $139-$260 a night for a basic room; suites available. For more modern amenities, ask to be in the newer tower section. Health club and indoor pool.
At Hotel Metro (411 E. Mason St.; 877-638-7620; /www.hotelmetro.com), all rooms come suite-style (a partial wall divides the sitting and sleeping areas) in this cute and classic Art Deco boutique hotel. There's a bit of 1930s Hollywood here: Metro's 1937 black Caddie can be arranged to cart guests around town, courtesy of the hotel.The Metro Cafe has an outdoor area and bar. About $190-$250 a night.
Rooms at the Ramada Inn Downtown (633 W. Michigan St.; 414-272-8410) have recently been remodeled. Kathie's Restaurant and Bar is inside. About $102-$169 a night; suites available. Free parking; exercise room and outdoor pool.
The historic Astor Hotel (924 E. Juneau Ave.; 800-558-0200) is by far the cheapest find downtown during the summer -- and it's decent. Astor Street Restaurant and Bar is inside. About $89 a night; suites with full kitchens available.
The Milwaukee Brewers play at Miller Park, 3 miles west of downtown. Expect to pay about $18 for a good seat, such as a terrace infield box seat. But, for $5, you can score a terrace bleacher seat. Two hours before game time, $1 obstructed-view seats on the terrace level behind home (the "Bob Uecker seats") are available.
When weather permits, the retractable roof stays open. Open or closed, stick around for the end: Barring unusual conditions (like high winds), there will be a post-game, roof-opening or roof-closing ceremony after every game.
Ordertickets in advance (800-933-7890; www.milwaukeebrewers.com), especially for weekend games, which are selling fast. If possible, don't drive to the park; plenty of brewpubs downtown have free bus service to the stadium, including Stout Brothers Public House (see above) and the new Miller Time Pub in the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Downtown trolley service along Wisconsin Avenue is available to Miller Park every 10 minutes beginning two hours before game time; 50 cents for adults each way; 25 cents for children under 12, seniors over 64 and disabled persons with the proper identification. Bus line information:414-344-6711; www.ridemcts.com.
Milwaukee Art Museum (700 N. Art Museum Drive; 414-224-3220; www.mam.org), which recently unveiled a dramatic expansion, is spread out along Lake Michigan downtown. The three-story museum houses more than 20,000 works including permanent collections of the Old Masters, the American decorative arts, German Expressionism, pop art and 20th Century design. Take breaks outside on the enormous decks overlooking the lake.
Admission is $6 for adults; $4 for seniors and students; free for kids under 12. Currently on special exhibition through Aug. 19 is the Georgia O'Keeffe collection mentioned in the main story; tickets ($6 in addition to general admission) can be ordered in advance (866-626-1323; www.museumtix.com). Come Sept. 14, world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly's works will be featured.
Henry W. Maier Festival Park on Milwaukee's lakefront hosts countless ethnic and music fests over the summer including Summerfest (now through July 8; 800-273-FEST), one of the world's largest music (and food) fairs featuring Prince, Blink 182, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; Germanfest (July 27-29; 414-464-4444) with a brass parade and polka dancing; and Irish Fest (Aug. 16-19; 414-476-3378) with traditional folk dancing and music performances.
Get a stellar view of the city aboard the Denis Sullivan, a 133-foot, three-masted Great Lakes schooner (414-276-7700). Three-hour day cruises ($50 per person) and evening sails ($55 per person) are offered through September.
Request free city guides and maps from the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau; 800-554-1448; www.officialmilwaukee.com.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times