By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 31, 2023 at 3:01 PM

Snuggle up with some holiday cheer as OnMilwaukee shares stories of everything merry and bright in the spirit of the season.

The OnMilwaukee Ho Ho Holiday Guide is brought to you by Educators Credit Union, Harley-Davidson Museum and MolsonCoors

Welp, here we are again, at the end of a year that I would've sworn just started a few weeks ago. Didn't "Avatar: The Way of Water" just come out last month? And weren't Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper decidedly NOT drinking in 2023 just recently? Who can keep track of time anymore. 

Well, apparently I can after all, because here's a rundown of many of the major stories from the worlds of arts, entertainment, sports and beyond this somehow already past year. No, not all of them – it's a holiday so we're focusing on the more light-hearted headlines the past 365 days had to offer – but a good majority of them, all helping to paint a picture of yet another year in the life.  

Here's a lot of the people, places, players, pollution (?!) and preposterousness that made 2023 memorable – and here's to a great 2024! (*Remembers 2024 is an election year*) Oh god, take me back to 2023 please!


The Lions end the Packers' season early: After a tough season, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers went on a miracle run at the end of their 2022-23 slate to put themselves into potential postseason position. All they needed to do was beat the already-eliminated Detroit Lions at Lambeau in the finale. Oops

Demar Hamlin stops football in its tracks: In the midst of a critical primetime football game, Buffalo Bills safety Demar Hamlin collapsed after a seemingly standard play and required resuscitation on the field. The alarming moment – the result of a cardiac arrest – shut the game down for good and kept the conversation going about player health and the dangers of football. Thankfully the story had a happy ending: Hamlin recovered from the scary moment and returned to the Bills this current season.

TCU experiences the best and worst of the NCAA football playoff: It was the best of times for the Horned Frogs; it was the worst of times for the Horned Frogs. After making its first-ever playoff, TCU kept hopping with an impressive upset win over then-undefeated blue blood school Michigan in the semi-finals. But then the Frogs got cooked into frog legs by the Georgia Bulldogs, 65-7, in the championship game. 

Chinese spy balloons float into the news: Move over, Balloon Boy; we got a new weird inflatable viral story in 2023. Early in the year, a Chinese spy balloon floated over the U.S. and Canada for ... reasons. Thankfully it was more strange than serious, and the balloon was eventually popped by the military, leading to a number of other mysterious inflatable headlines (none involving China) in February. 


Giannis dines and delights on "The Daily Show": The Bucks' MVP proved, for the hyperbalillionth time, that he's the most likable player in pro sports with an appearance on "The Daily Show," discussing his foundation, his family and his inability to trash talk. But the important part is that Giannis ate a bunch of snacks, including Reese's Puffs, Snowballs and Fruit Roll-Ups – which somehow didn't immediately book Giannis as an advertising spokesman after the segment. 

The Chiefs (and Rihanna) win the Super Bowl: Some people may not remember this, but before they became a part of the Taylor Swift publicity team, the Kansas City Chiefs were pretty notable themselves, winning the Super Bowl with the help of a bummer late holding call on the Eagles. While that was controversial, the rest of the game was less so, with Rihanna's surprise baby-bumped halftime show and the commercials mostly winning over audiences. (The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man dancer outfits, less so.)

"Cocaine Bear" roars into theaters: Only one movie this year was brave enough to ask: What if a bear did a bunch of coke? The answer: Disappointment! The horror comedy itself was lackluster, on screen nowhere near as crazy as its premise sounds on paper – but the Elizabeth Banks movie was still an early year box office hit. 

Beyonce, Harry Styles and Lizzo win at the Grammys: Harry Styles, Lizzo and Bonnie Raitt won the big three awards at the Grammys in February – but the biggest winner, literally, was (as always) Beyonce, who won the most Grammy awards ever with her Best Dance/Electronic Album triumph for "Break My Soul."


Buc-ee's is coming to Wisconsin: Fans of snacks and clean roadside restrooms rejoice! In early 2023, it was revealed that Buc-ee's – the increasingly popular convenience store chain popular for clean bathrooms, tasty original snacks and being massive, like a Kwik Trip that ate another Kwik Trip – was eyeing up its first Wisconsin location in DeForest around Madison. As of now, construction is expected to begin in 2024.

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" wins everything at the Oscars: Despite the best efforts of Tom Cruise and Elvis, the genre-smashing irreverent indie family saga "Everything Everywhere All At Once" won exactly that at the Academy Awards. The movie scored seven trophies including Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan, Best Director and Best Picture, thoroughly breaking the awards show glass ceiling for movies with buttplug fight scenes. (But really: It's a great movie – and a great sign that an odd, idiocyncratic action-comedy released early in the year could find Oscar success.)

Milwaukee merits two James Beard nomineesIt was another tough year for restaurants, but there was this bright moment in March as Brew City earned two James Beard Award nominees: Best New Restaurant for Lupi & Iris as well as Best Midwest Chef for Gregory Leon of Amilinda. 


The Bucks' playoff return is depressingly short-livedThe Bucks' run to another championship ended up being a faceplant on the starting line as Milwaukee lost to the Miami Heat in five games in the first round – one of the rare times a top-seed flopped that early in the postseason. No one else in the East could chuckle, though, as Miami also upset the Knicks and the Celtics on the way to getting clobbered in the Finals by the Denver Nuggets. 

The Packers split with Aaron Rodgers, send him to New YorkAfter years of passive aggression, grumbling, disappointing playoff performances and, sure, a darkness retreat, the long-awaited breakup between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers finally happened as the team sent their future Hall of Fame quarterback to the New York Jets for a whole bunch of picks. Rodgers would proceed to play a whole four plays this season in Jets green, injuring his Achilles tendon on his first drive.

Four stars for the Milwaukee Film Festival: That's all! The 2023 edition of the film phenomenon returned with yet another remarkable lineup of great movies at the Oriental, Avalon and Times – including several top films of the year like "Riceboy Sleeps" and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" as well as classics like "Metropolis" and "Madonna: Truth or Dare." Stay tuned for the 2024 festival coming your way in just a few months!

Potawatomi opens the city's first SportsbookIn case Packers country needed any more reason to be obsessed with sports, Potawatomi Casino Hotel opened Milwaukee's first Sportsbook, taking its initial bets in late March and early April. And it's just the start, as the current Sportsbook is actually just temporary, a placeholder for when the full Vegas-level version opens this year.


Green Bay gets the NFL DraftGet your warmest, coziest fancy suits ready, NFL newbies, as the league announced that Green Bay, Lambeau Field and Titletown will host the 2025 NFL Draft. So at least the Packers got this one clear victory in 2023. 

The Bucks fire Coach Bud: To paraphrase the poet Heidi Klum: One day you're in, the next day you're out. Indeed, less than two years after riding around Milwaukee in a championship victory parade, Coach Mike Budenholzer was shown the door after the Bucks' deeply disappointing first-round exit to the Heat. After a long search, Adrian Griffin would replace Bud at the Bucks' helm, currently leading the team to a 24-8 record going into 2024.

Milwaukee votes on a soccer team nameFootball fever struck Brew City this year – no, not the usual football, as we ventured further down the road toward a pro soccer team with an extended bracket-style team name vote. The vote's now down to ten names (Milwaukee Confluence and Cheese thankfully not amongst them) with Milwaukee Pro Soccer working on finalizing the potential looks and prepping for their now-2026 arrival in the United Soccer League.


Smog! We're used to odd weather forecasts in Wisconsin ... just not normally in June. And definitely not smog! But thanks to raging wildfires over the border in Canada, Milwaukee suffered a smog overload during the summer looked like it had an Instagram filter over everything. Thankfully it eventually blew away – but who would've guessed we'd have more smog than snow in 2023?

Summerfest rocks out once again: The Big Gig was big fun per usual, drawing its biggest crowds in years with an outstanding lineup including the likes of Eric Church, Noah Kahan, Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews, ODESZA, Yung Gravy, Jimmy Buffett AJR Yung Gravy again, Imagine Dragons and more. Here's to another stellar set this summer!

Locust Street Festival returns: One of the last festivals left on the bench thanks to COVID finally made its grand return this past summer, as Locust Street Festival came back for the first time since 2019. 

A submarine implodes visiting the TitanicSome adventurers visiting one of the great aquatic tragedies in history became an aquatic tragedy of their own in 2023, their (later revealed to be shoddy) submersible imploding and killing the men on board. An all-around strange story that somehow got stranger

The internet loses its mind over the Grimace Shake: It was apparently Grimace the ... purple lump's birthday this past summer, and he did what anyone would do to celebrate their special day: make everyone lose their flipping minds. As a promotion, McDonald's introduced the Grimace Shake, a pretty standard berry milkshake that led to some very not-standard videos made by youths on the internet. Who knew that the next great horror boom would be ... culinary terror?


Harley Homecoming Festival rides into the lakefront: Harley-Davidson celebrated its 120th birthday with style this summer, inviting Foo Fighters, Green Day and thousands upon thousands of H-D denizens to the lakefront for its two-day Homecoming Festival extravaganza. And get ready for another rollicking ride this summer too!

"Top Chef" cooks up a new season in WisconsinThe upcoming season of the Bravo cooking show may have lost Padma Lakshmi, but we'd say they picked up a great new star: us! Yes, the cooking competition revealed Milwaukee and Wisconsin would be the culinary setting for next year's season, with filming (and celeb Instagram-ing) taking place over this past fall around town. Stay tuned for the actual season in 2024!

"Barbenheimer" blows up the box office: Hollywood's big screen saviors in 2023 were Barbie and ... a divisive World War II physicist? Sure! The unexpected combination of Greta Gerwig's smartly sugary comedy and Christopher Nolan's freight-train historical biopic accounted for a box office boom in July, with "Barbie" becoming the year's highest grosser and "Oppenheimer" earning almost a billion, a miraculous number for a three-hour historical drama for adults. They're not going away from the spotlight anytime soon, either, with the Oscar nominations coming up soon.


Wisconsin enjoys another spork(ie)ful of State FairSconnies feasted on State Fair fun this summer, from concerts from names big and small, to the classic bizarre (and blissful) deep-fried foods, to the rides and much more – so much so that 2023 marked the State Fair's second-largest attendance numbers since 2000. That's a lot of cream puffs and post-Fair exercise to work them off!

P!nk powers AmFam FieldThe pop star earned her exclamation mark with her musical Milwaukee return, hitting a concert home run with her "Carnival Summer" stadium tour stop at American Family Field. 

Local dining staple The Noble closesMilwaukee sadly lost a lot of key culinary and culture hubs this past year – and that unfortunately includes The Noble, the intimate Walker's Point eatery which closed its doors late this past summer. Remember, everyone: You have to support the places you love. There's no guarantee they'll last forever. 

The Milverine throws out the first pitchIt was a season of surprisingly stellar moments for the young Milwaukee Brewers this summer – but obviously the most stellar moment was when Brew City icon Milverine threw out the first pitch (sans shirt, naturally) before an August spat. Considering the current state of the team's pitching staff, he might get an end-of-rotation spot on the Brewers full-time next season. 


The Bucks trade for Dame LillardFor those looking for the Bucks to make a big move to help improve their Finals chances ... big enough for you? Milwaukee made the biggest splash this offseason, swiping in unexpectedly to trade for Blazers superstar Damian Lillard. Considering their 24-8 record and offensive power thus far, the trade's paid off. 

Yen Ching is backAfter disappearing in 2022, beloved Chinese restaurant Yen Ching made its comeback in 2023, opening a fast-casual concept in Mequon utilizing many of the same recipes made popular at its former Good Hope Road home. 

"Run Bambi Run" races into the Rep: A play about the local true-crime saga of Lawrencia "Bambi" Bembenek? Wait, no – a MUSICAL?! With music from Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes? This is easily the oddest theatrical show of the year – but as crazy as it sounds, the Rep production was also actually really good, not just a creation of kooky clickbait

The Downer Theatre closesTalk about a downer, the Downer Theater – opened more than a century ago in 2015 – went dark this fall. Here's to another act coming to this iconic local cinema in 2024. 

The Jordan Love era begins with a win: New quarterback at the helm, but it was the same ol' story for the Chicago Bears as Jordan Love picked up where Aaron Rodgers left off in his full-time starter debut, crushing Chicago in their season opener at Soldier Field. The following 2023-24 season for Green Bay would be more mixed – but Love continues to look the part of the Packers' future. 

Milwaukee goes bananas for the Savannah BananasWho needs baseball when there's Bananaball?! The famed Savannah Bananas – basically the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball – brought their singing, dancing, stilts-wearing antics to the Milwaukee Milkmen's field at the end of the summer. 

There were flamingos in Wisconsin? Thanks to some strange weather phenomena, a small flock of flamingos ended up on Lake Michigan in Port Washington, delighting bird-watchers in the area and terrifying anyone who read "Leave the World Behind."


Matthew Perry diesWe all lost a friend this fall when Matthew Perry unexpectedly died on Oct. 28 at the all-too-young age of 54. Perry leaves behind one of the most iconic comedic TV performances in the medium's history as well as years of work helping those dealing with addiction.

Giannis signs extension, will be a Buck for a whileIn absolutely crushing news to ESPN talking heads and Eastern Conference foes, Giannis signed a contract extension with the Bucks in October, keeping him in a Milwaukee uniform until at least 2027.

The Brewers' surprising season ends surprisingly quickNot much was expected from the Brew Crew this season, and yet the team won the NL Central and made yet another postseason visit during this stretch of unprecedented success. However, it all came with a disappointing taste in fans' mouths as the Brewers bombed out of the playoffs in just two games, losing two in a row at home to the streaking Arizona Diamondbacks. 

"Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" takes Taylor's domination to the big screen: Taylor Swift: NFL superfan, creator of a concert sensation and also ... savior of cinema? When theaters were low on movies and the strikes brought down the mood, the future TIME Person of the Year brought a filmed version of her "Eras Tour" sensation to theaters, scoring a box office hit for everyone: theaters, her and, most of all, fans.

Jason Momoa stops by Brookfield to sign autographs, sell vodka: The long-haired superstar just loves Milwaukee! In 2019, he stopped by the H-D Museum and now this year, he zipped into a Total Wine in Brookfield to sell his vodka, Meili, and snap photos with the many fans lined up to see him. A similarly excited crowd, however, would not greet "Aquaman 2." 


Brady Street favorite Balzac closesAfter almost 20 years as a supper and sipping staple on Brady Street, Balzac shut its doors right before Thanksgiving. Again: Support the places you love. 

Veteran news anchor Carole Meekins retiresOne of the most recognizable and reassuring faces in local media over the past three decades called it quits this year, as TMJ4 veteran news anchor and "Positively Milwaukee" frontwoman Carole Meekins announced her retirement. 

Craig Counsell blows away to the Windy CityAfter months of speculation, manager Craig Counsell left the Brewers – not a shock. But what WAS shocking was for where: the rival Chicago Cubs. Safe to say this border-battle rivalry just got a lot more heated. 


Milwaukee great Herb Kohl passes away: We lost one of the titans of Milwaukee – especially Brew City basketball – as the great Herb Kohl passed away after Christmas at the age of 88. He leaves behind a legacy of good business, even better deeds for the community and a Bucks basketball team still found in Milwaukee rather than Seattle. 

Giannis sets franchise points record, weirdness ensuesHere's to the return of the Bucks/Pacers rivalry (since the Bulls are useless now). Case in point: Giannis set the Bucks franchise record for the most points in a single game with 64 against Indiana ... but the bigger story was the Pacers seemingly being petty and taking the game ball back with them to the locker room, leading to Giannis charging the Pacers locker to claim his historic item. Apparently it was all a big misunderstanding – but it's MY understanding that the next Indiana/Milwaukee game just became a must-watch.

Taylor Swift-amonium comes to WisconsinAfter weeks of bracing ourselves, Taylor Swift indeed flew into Wisconsin for Travis Kelce and the Chiefs' big Sunday night football game at Lambeau against the Packers. And look what you made us do: Green Bay pulled off the upset, giving Taylor a rare L during her massive 2023.

The cheel makes its long-awaited returnIn a year of restaurant and cultural closures, how about good news about an opening!? After suffering a devastating fire at the end of 2020 and having to essentially start from scratch, The Cheel in Thiensville made its grand return in early December in a gorgeous brand new building. 

The Back Room at Colectivo brews its final showThe sad news: The Back Room at Colectivo, opened for intimate Pabst Theater Group concerts and performances in 2015, rocked its final show on the East Side in December. The glad news: PTG won't be gone from that side of town long, as they're opening a new all-ages venue, Vivarium, just down the street in 2024

The Brewers get their funding for stadium upgrades: Not that anyone was really concerned that the Brewers were ACTUALLY going to leave Milwaukee ... but the Brewers got a deal signed by Gov. Evers and through Wisconsin politics for more than $500 million toward publically-funded improvements for AmFam Field, keeping the team in town through at least 2050.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.