By Amy Grau Special to Published Mar 31, 2015 at 2:16 PM

Occasionally I like to compare the two main components to attending Doors Open Milwaukee — 150-plus free sites to visit and 30-plus in-depth tours to take — to food, probably because I like both almost equally. Who am I kidding; food is better, but Doors Open is a darn close second when it comes to whetting an appetite – in its case, for Milwaukee’s finest in history, architecture and exploration of the built environment.

Sometimes when you are on the go, something light and quick is just what you are looking for. This is what I strive for at each of the 150-plus free sites you can explore during the event. With the opportunity to visit over 150 places all over Milwaukee in just one weekend, the chance of seeing them all is close to impossible.

Seeing even the average five-to-10 sites each day during the event would be difficult if each site you visited gave a lengthy tour and didn’t offer the chance to explore at your own pace. The premise of having so much of Milwaukee open at once is to offer a "glimpse behind-the-scenes." Most sites are either self-guided or guided in small groups at a flowing pace to allow you to see as much as you can or want to over the course of the weekend.

But what about those times when you want to slow down and relax, and take in something with a little more substance? This is where the second component of Doors Open Milwaukee comes into play: the in-depth tour. 

I bet many of the 25,000 people who attended the event last year didn’t even know these in-depth tours existed or saw the list when it was too late and the tours were already sold out. After sifting through the sites in the 24-page Doors Open Milwaukee event guide in tiny six-point type, getting to the last two pages of the guide with the in-depth tour listings just might not happen.

This is why I am making sure to let you know not to miss the in-depth tours section during Doors Open Milwaukee this year. It will again be in the back of the event guide, as well as updated in the preceding months on the Doors Open Milwaukee website. I hope for the guide to at least be printed in seven-point type this year, making it easier to read this year’s free sites and in-depth tours lineup — which is getting thicker and juicier by the minute.

Unlike the 150-plus free sites, Historic Milwaukee, Inc. asks a small fee of $5 per ticket to attend an in-depth tour. This is the only area of Doors Open Milwaukee that is not completely free to the general public. In-depth tours, unlike the free general sites, are timed, ticketed tours for a very limited amount of people. These are special places with fantastic guides – some being local celebrities – and are a bit lengthier with more depth. They are usually at locations that can’t open their doors in the same capacity as the free sites, so they are willing to offer a more exclusive tour to a small, ticketed group of individuals instead. All proceeds of ticket sales for Doors Open Milwaukee in-depth tours go towards funding this free event.

Meanwhile, March has been the month of lining up some fantastic tours.

Save the dates to these Doors Open Milwaukee In-Depth Tours already lined up for 2015:

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t first mention one of the sell-out-in-an-hour tours offered during the event. It is informally and lovingly called  "The John McGivern Tour." However, the official title is "Living in a Hotel: Eloise at the Plaza." The Milwaukee actor/storyteller and host of the MPT’s show "Around the Corner with John McGivern" guides you through the Knickerbocker, located at 1028 E. Juneau Ave., and gives you an inside look at three of the full-time residents’ condos/homes within — one being his own! With such a rich history in the Knick, and such a fantastic guide giving a personal tour, it is no wonder it sells out so quickly. Take note in advance, and be sure not to miss this great tour exclusively given during Doors Open each morning during the event. 

We asked the general public a question a couple of months ago through Historic Milwaukee, Inc.’s social media, "If you could have 'Wisconsin Foodie' host Kyle Cherek give you a tour of anywhere in Milwaukee, where would it be?" The overwhelming response was a behind-the-scenes at Glorioso’s Italian Market1011 E. Brady St.

You got it. Not only will you have the chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of this family-owned store since 1946 from Kyle during the tour, general manager Michael Glorioso will also be guiding the tour along with him. Explore this store of Old World Italian delicacies and parts usually unseen by Glorioso's customers. Two special tours for Door Open will be offered on the Saturday morning of the event, Sept. 19.

In 1938, if you wanted a proper cocktail, you had better find yourself on a steamship, a dinner car or in a fancy hotel. Bryant Sharp – as in Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, 1579 S. 9th Street – changed all that and gave America it's first freestanding cocktail lounge. Learn how Bryant’s evolved from a working class shot and beer bar to a classic cocktail spot to a touchstone of living history in what is now called the craft cocktail scene. "Wisconsin Foodie" host Kyle Cherek will also be giving a tour of this establishment, sharing Bryant's lore, legend and history. Sipping drinks are encouraged.

This tour will be offered on Saturday afternoon exclusively for Doors Open and is the perfect way to unwind, relax and listen after a long day of exploring Milwaukee.

Portrait by Lucius Nieman, founder of The Milwaukee Journal, by artist Carl von Marr. Part of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Art Collection tour. Image credit: From the Journal Sentinel archives. 

A detail of a print made by John Wilde featuring Wisconsin artists of note, both living and dead. Front and center is Frank Lloyd Wright. Others pictured include Santos Zingale, Schomer Lichtner, Gerrit Sinclair, Ruth Grotenrath, Robert von Neumann, Mark Mulhern, H.H. Bennett, Richard Lorenz, Fred Stonehouse and Gustave Moeller. Image credit below, top photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Another new tour exclusively during Doors Open Milwaukee this year is with Mary Louise Schumacher, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's art and architecture critic, who will offer you an inside look at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s art collection at 333 W. State St. The newspaper opened its building with the only newspaper-run art gallery in the country and perhaps the world, run by Schumacher's predecessor, art critic Frances Stover. While the gallery was short lived, the company's art collecting has continued. Mary Louise will give you an in-depth tour of this private and idiosyncratic collection spread throughout the building — from the board rooms to the ladies' rooms. There will be one tour on Saturday afternoon and one tour on Sunday morning.

Because Milwaukee's built environment is just as breathtaking from the outside, we are excited to offer a new outdoor walking tour exclusive to the event this year that explores the changes to Milwaukee’s Lakefront. With massive changes to the roadways, the renovation of the Eero Saarinen's War Memorial, a new addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, major developments like the Northwestern Mutual headquarters and the hoped-for Couture apartment tower, a new streetcar and the possible redesign of all of the public spaces that knit all of these things together, the lakefront is on the verge of a significant transformation.

Join Mary Louise Schumacher, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's art and architecture critic, as she guides you around the lakefront. Schumacher will explore the historical triumphs and missteps of urban design at the lakefront as well as the opportunities opening up at what is one of the city’s most important gathering spots and cultural centers. There will be one tour Saturday morning and one tour on Sunday afternoon.

Other exciting new tours to Doors Open Milwaukee 2015 include:

  • Milwaukee Municipal Court

Go behind-the-scenes with Chief Judge Phil Chavez at the Milwaukee Municipal Court, as well as tour the condemned third-floor jailhouse. 

  • MillerCoors Hard Hat Tour

Hard hats, no jewelry, pants only, closed-toed shoes — this is not the regular, free tour given to tourists.

Some great not-to-miss tours that are back from 2014:

  • ‘Revolution in Milwaukee’ with UW-Milwaukee History Professor Aims McGuinness
  • The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist with Architect Jim Shields
  • The Iron Block Building with Architect Mark Demsky
  • ‘Maker of Milwaukee’ with MIAD Professor of Art History Dr. Chris Szczesny-Adams
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Production Facility
  • Brady Street Walking Food Tour
  • Milwaukee Photo Walks
  • The Lost Buildings of Milwaukee with Missing Milwaukee author Yance Marti
  • German Milwaukee Tour
  • Historic Yankee Hill Tour
  • Harley-Davidson Museum Highlights Tour
  • Tory Hill Tour
  • Menomonee Valley Walking Tour
  • North Point South Tour
  • The Bloody Third Ward Tour
  • Brady Street History Tour
  • The Oriental Theatre
  • South Riverwalk II 

Considering it is only March, there will be even more in-depth tours to add to this list as the months draw nearer to the event. The Doors Open Milwaukee website will be updated by May to reflect the new tours and sites of 2015. Specific times and number of tickets for each tour will be indicated on the website as well.

If you are interested in taking an in-depth tour, there are two ways to go about it:

One: Become a Historic Milwaukee, Inc.(HMI) member. Being a member entitles you to two free in-depth tour tickets to any tour on a first-come, first-served basis a month in advance of general public ticket sales. Historic Milwaukee, Inc. members receive a special code to receive their two tickets online and will be able to purchase additional tickets in advance as well. You must print out a copy of your ticket (or have a copy to show from your phone) with you on the day of the tour to be admitted. Tours start promptly at the times indicated. To become a member, visit

And two: General public ticket sales are two weeks prior to the event. All ticket orders are taken online and are on a first-come, first-served basis. You must print out a copy of your ticket (or have a copy to show from your phone) with you on the day of the tour to be admitted. Tours start promptly at the times indicated.

You cannot get tickets for in-depth tours on the days of the event.

In addition to in-depth tours, we also offer public tours during the event. Although these are also ticketed, they are separate from in-depth tours and are given out on the days of the event for free. However, I feel I have given you enough to chew on for this month. I will give you some public tour highlights in May, featuring places like the City Hall Bell Tower Tour (back in the event after restoration this year!), the Soldiers Home, a Hank Aaron Trail Bike Tour and behind-the-scenes at WISN Studios to name a few. Bon appetit!

Next month, I am excited for you to hear from Colter Sikora in April’s Doors Open Milwaukee blog. Colter has been the Doors Open event guide map cartographer for the last three years and is part of the backbone that makes this event run smoothly each year. He is also the cartographer for all 38 neighborhood maps in John Gurda’s upcoming book on Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Currently residing in Madison and working as a cartographer for the state of Wisconsin and blogging on architecture at Roamin’ Catholic Churches, he will be able to offer a perspective on Milwaukee through his deep involvement in Doors Open but coupled with his "outsider" status as a visitor to the city. Look for his Doors Open highlights next month. 

Amy Grau Special to
Amy Grau is the program manager for Historic Milwaukee Inc.'s annual Doors Open Milwaukee.