The dramatic yet oh-so-civilized views from Cafe Benelux, Wolf Peach and Hotel Metro's Zen on 7.
Call it an elegy for Summer in Milwaukee. Only in the last 15 years have the sidewalks opened more widely to al fresco dining, and in the past few years a handful of ventures have looked upward when setting their sights on offering a unique dining and cocktail view.
The three scenes presented in this photo essay are not the only rooftop affairs in the city, nor are they the highest public spots in which to view the cityscape with a beverage in hand. But at the core of this trio is a certain romance and privilege. There is a secret thrill in looking down on pedestrian traffic from above, staring off at the skyline and having your neck wisped by a slight Lake Michigan breeze.
The Third Ward-located second floor deck of the Belgian café known as Café Benelux (in the European styling of Lowland Group’s other venues) is usually a crowded and popular affair. The building is the tail end of the old Commission Row district (not including that which was excised by the freeway spur), and formerly housed a simple market meant to compliment the adjacent Milwaukee Public Market. Now, diners enjoy the evening taking part in well-reviewed beers (or ‘biers’), unique burgers and brussels pannekoeken. Ah, but there is also a breakfast and brunch menu—photos do not yet come with aroma-vision, but if they could on the early morning of this photoshoot then you would be wafted aloft by the airy fragrance of omelets and cinnamon streusel French Toast.
Six blocks to the north is the boutique hotel called Hotel Metro. The Art Deco Mariner Building has a long business history since its construction in 1937, most famously housing the financial firm of Blunt, Ellis and Loewi. One might well remember the running ticker board mounted on exterior walls. When the new owners converted and remodeled in 1996, they turned it into a charming downtown hotel. On the rooftop level, there is a small gym and spa with outdoor access to a pair of chaise lounge chairs and a simple café table that overlooks Watts Tea Shop as well as Urban Milwaukee: The Store. Walking along the western wall heading south, the parapet continues until it opens on a small indoor dining room and the “Zen on 7” garden deck. This area is open to the public for cocktails after 5 p.m. Sundays and Mondays beginning again in June 2015. Until then, you will just have to book a room and take a swim in the top-level indoor waterfall/whirlpool that looks out on Mason and Milwaukee Street.
Twelve more blocks straight north—just over the river on the edge of the Brewers’ Hill neighborhood as it faces the newly upscale “Beerline B” sprawl of condos—is Wolf Peach. This building was originally constructed in 2004 by developer Tim Dixon who worked with Kubala Washatko Architects to utilize reclaimed materials and later define the space with deep wood and steelwork from Sup Design and Flux Design. Former Roots owner-chef John Raymond folded his concept eatery in 2011 and the business was then financed by new Wolf Peach owner Gina Gruenewald. It opened as a rustic European bistro with the help of executive chef Dan Jacobs (who has since moved on to Odd Duck while Cole Ersel has stepped up to lead the “local, healthy and pure” farm-to-table concept). Attached to the building is a myriad of decks, stairways and small garden spaces featuring fresh tomatoes. The decks overlook the urban jungle of the lower East Side and rows of river-flanking houses.
The city seems so very far away from here as you nibble on a wood-fired pizza made with lamb sausage. Memories of the sun’s warmth wander across your thoughts, crowded out by the future visions of a hard winter.
Gallery of the Three Views
About the “Vantage Point” Series
Art photographer and journalist Brian Jacobson has always sought out the higher viewpoints when it came to his urban cityscape photographs. Much like architectural photographers at the turn of the 20th-century, there is a different feel and scope to buildings and street patterns as seen from the rooftops, high hills and bridges in Milwaukee. His photo series tries to see what is typically unseen by the pedestrian. (for further detail, refer to last week’s article)