Check in early and stay late during OnMilwaukee's "Hotel Week" sponsored by VISIT Milwaukee. The next seven days will be packed with stories about historic area hotels, reviews, history, food and drink, staycations and more. Find out what it's like to be a tourist in this town. (Chocolate on your pillow not included.)
Stay·ca·tion: a vacation spent in one's home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions. Sometimes, vacationing in your own city is more relaxing than traveling, and when it's time to return to work, staycationers often feel like they played, rested and accomplished a few things.
The hotel is housed in a former bedding company building that was constructed in 1907 and hosts sleek and modern rooms that make you feel like you are staying in a modern art museum. But somehow The Iron Horse Hotel manages to be cozy and intimate and still be sexy as hell.
While the hotel is beautiful and edgy, what makes the Iron Horse special is the experience and attention to detail. From the moment you drive up, you are in their hands, and they take extremely good care of you. Boutique hotelier Aparium Hotel Group – which operates the hotel – focuses on this customer experience in the hopes it stands out in the hotel marketplace. It's a strategy that bodes very well for them.
The Iron Horse has local touches throughout the entire hotel. Milwaukee's Bittercube Bitters are available in-room and are a standard in-room amenity for guests. Guests can make their own Old-Fashioneds, Gimlets and other drinks by mixing the elixirs with spirits from the hotel's minibar. Colectivo Coffee is served in the lobby in the lobby all morning long. Clock Shadow curds are used for the cheese curds served in both the bar and restaurant. Indulgence Chocolates are stocked for your late night sugar needs. All of these are just a few small touches that go a long way with customers – and with me.
You should start your staycation out like I did – with cocktails at Branded and dinner at Smyth. Branded has been one of my favorite hotel bars for years so I was curious to see if I felt differently there as a guest. The bar was packed on a Wednesday night with a mix of guests and locals – which is something that is unique about staying there. The vintage modern feel perfectly pairs with the handcrafted cocktails from the talented mixologists.
When you first walk into Smyth at The Iron Horse Hotel, you look around at the rustic décor, and it suddenly dawns on you: This feels like we’re in a blacksmithery or at least what we would image one to feel like. But in a cozy and romantic way.
The ambiance is spot-on – comfortable, casual, hip. The menu is diversified with an eclectic array of small, medium and large plates. Absolutely everything we tried was delicious and unique. Smyth was one of the best dinners I’ve had in a while – and I will be going back again soon to have those rabbit meatballs!
The options to add on to your staycation are pretty much endless – as Milwaukee offers tons up of options – but here are just a few of my own personal suggestions.
Visit the Harley Davidson Museum
The spectacular one-of-a-kind museum celebrates the history of Harley-Davidson, but the passion of the riders throughout the world was what shone through during my visit. The more than 350 motorcycles on display are stunning – but so is the entire museum experience.
Cooking class at Braise Restaurant & Culinary School
I jumped at the opportunity to take a class at Braise with Chef Dave Swanson, and you should, too. The James Beard Best Chef Midwest semi-finalist taught us how to make pasta from hand – and I did it! There is nothing like hands-on experience when learning something new, and to have Chef Swanson work with us one on one was an amazing experience.
Chocolate and beer pairings at Indulgence Chocolatiers
I've written about my love for Indulgence in the past – especially for the wine and chocolate tastings. I decided to branch out and tried a beer pairing course instead this time, and it did not disappoint. Make sure to grab a few truffles – and a dark chocolate sea salt bar – before you head to your next stop.
Tour and sample at Great Lakes Distillery
The award winning spirits at Great Lakes Distillery are more than enough reason to pop over for this locally crafted tour, but the personalities behind the tour are some of the most engaging I've experienced in a while.
Mini food crawl
Walker's Point is a mini-mecca for food lovers – and The Iron Horse Hotel is the perfect base for a crawl to explore it. Our crawl included modern American farm-to-table restaurant Morel, the hip and upscale restaurant Black Sheep and Purple Door Ice Cream.
All of these options are within walking distance of the hotel – and delicious. Try the daily ragout at Morel, the cheese curds at Black Sheep and indulge in a sampler at Purple Door to wrap up the evening.
While all the options surrounding The Iron Horse Hotel are some of the best choices in town, the highlight of your staycation is still going to be coming back every night. It's cozy ambiance that lends itself to whatever type of experience you want. Handcrafted cocktails at the bar? Do it. Luxuriating in a bubble bath and ordering room service? Totally an option.
The Iron Horse Hotel feels like coming home. Milwaukee home.
Carolynn Buser is one of Milwaukee's loudest and most adamant cheerleaders (don't dare try to disagree). She's the primary voice behind much of OnMilwaukee's social media and content direction, and apologizes in advance if she can be too sarcastic at times.
What else? She's a wine lover, closet trashy novel reader, beauty supplies addict and devourer of cheese (shocker for a Wisconsin born and bred girl, right?). She's also a bit of a foodie, which is a word most of you hate, we know. She works as hard as she plays - and that includes in the gym! So, you've probably seen her at one of the area's newest restaurant openings (and yes, she will share her opinions good or bad) or enjoying a cold one at a local pub.
All in all, Carolynn's a believer in positive thinking and will do her best to smack down your negative ones while writing about her city, her loves, quests and more.