Guide to Downer Ave.

So many places to eat and drink, things to see and do, shops and services to try.

By - Dec 4th, 2018 02:29 pm
Downer Avenue Week
The view along N. Downer Avenue. Photo by Zach Komassa.

The view along N. Downer Avenue. Photo by Zach Komassa.

Downer Avenue is a unique Milwaukee street, not just a business strip, but a mini-community packed with venues offering anything from food and drinks to personal and professional services and even places of worship.

The small stretch of street between E. Webster Pl. on the south and E. Park Place on the north has grown to be full of a wide range of businesses, restaurants, and other amenities thanks to the Downer Ave. Business Improvement District (BID#41). Here’s a guide to what a favorite street of many Milwaukeeans has to offer.

Places to Eat and Drink

There really isn’t a single place in the BID where you can’t grab a bite to eat and a drink at the same time.

The Original Pancake House

Start your day off right with a huge portion of pancakes from The Original Pancake House (2621 N. Downer Ave.) at a nice price. This chain offering a comforting, carb-loaded breakfast was originally founded in Portland, Oregon in 1953 and has spread across the country ever since. It’s known for serving everything you’d expect from a classic American breakfast no matter the location.

Great for breakfast for those lazy Sundays, or if you’re a college student, you can still stop in around lunch time for your late breakfast fix.


So many streets have one and Downer is no different.

At this Starbucks (2551 N. Downer Ave.) you’ll find a mix of people lounging in chairs enjoying a book from the neighboring Boswell Books (2559 N. Downer Ave.), which is connected via an internal doorway.

Alongside those indulging in a leisurely read over a cup of coffee, you’ll find tables scattered with students cramming for their exams on their MacBooks, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi and accessible caffeine.

Cafe Hollander. Photo from Facebook.

Cafe Hollander. Photo from Facebook.

Cafe Hollander

The restaurant that makes Downer a destination is, for many, the Cafe Hollander (2608 N. Downer Ave.).

This Belgian-style restaurant and bar offers a respectable variety of food items, but perhaps an even more respectable drink menu, with its huge list of Belgian-style beers. Operated by the Lowlands Group, the chain is known for its lunch and dinner, and as of recently, its new brunch menu.

Despite offering three meals, and a fun menu, it’s safe to say the drink menu is the star here. Try Cafe Hollander for anything ranging from local craft beers to cocktails, wines, mimosa, and more; also, don’t forget its multitude of seasonal drinks.

Bel Air Cantina

If you’re in the mood for Mexican, Downer’s got that too: one of the two East Side locations of Bel Air Cantina can be found at 2625 N. Downer Ave.

Bel Air is known for offering a variety of tasty tacos–a must have for most people when they eat Mexican. The tacos are always a safe bet, but Bel Air still has other favorites to choose from like burritos, bowls, nachos, and specialty drinks like horchata and bloody marys.

Henry's. Photo by Michael Horne.

Henry’s. Photo by Michael Horne.


Located right in the center of the BID at 2523 E. Belleview Pl., Henry’s is your typical pub serving dinner and Sunday Brunch.

Despite the current pub atmosphere it has now, the history of Henry’s goes way back to 1982 where it was originally located in the current space of Bel Air Cantina just around the corner. Henry’s was connected to the old Coffee Trader, the first coffee shop in town to use an espresso machine, which now sits retired in the back of the bar as a piece of memorabilia.

Yes, Henry’s is an “East Side tradition” — a sentiment that can be mulled over at the dinner table or at the bar during happy hour.

Pizza Man

Downer wouldn’t be complete without at least one spot for good pizza.

Pizza Man (2597 N. Downer Ave.) is a top-notch place in that it serves much more than just pizza: the venue offers a full Italian-style menu with classic items such as soup, salad, pasta, and sandwiches; oh, and not to mention a wine bar.

Yes, the restaurant claims to offer some of the best wine in Wisconsin and one of the city’s biggest selections, with over 30 unique wines and over 250 domestic bottles. Of course, other drinks like beer, cider, and cocktails can also be found at Pizza Man just in case. Who wouldn’t spend a night eating pizza and drinking fine wine?

Stone Creek Coffee

The latest member of Downer’s BID is Stone Creek Coffee, a local business which just opened at 2650 N. Downer Ave. in May.

What sets this Stone Creek apart from its other locations in the Milwaukee area is the sizable cafe and kitchen the venue offers, as well as a walk-up window allowing customers to order from the street.

If Starbucks is too basic for you, Stone Creek on Downer is the perfect alternative for grabbing a cup of some uniquely roasted coffee with a pastry, whether you’re on the go or want to lounge in their especially roomy seating areas.

Things to Do

Plenty of this as well. For instance:

Downer Theatre. Photo by Michael Horne.

Downer Theatre. Photo by Michael Horne.

See a Movie!

Perhaps the most iconic venue on Downer is the Landmark Downer Theatre (2589 N. Downer Ave.), which boasts an old-style theatrical look.

The Landmark Theatre usually offers showings of independent or otherwise off-the-beaten-path movies — films for true film lovers. Although a somewhat small duplex operation, it’s definitely worth a visit to get a feel for the atmosphere of a theater originally built back in 1915.

Shop for Books!

Boswell Books (2559 N. Downer Ave.) is one of the city’s only independent book stores, with a smart selection of books, great recommendations by staff, attentive service (including support for book clubs) and frequent readings by authors. It’s really THE place in town for anything related to books and authors. It’s also a convenient place to browse if you’re waiting to catch the next showing of a movie at the Downer.

Go Shopping!.

First and foremost is Nehring’s Sendik’s on Downer (2643 N. Downer Ave.), your one-stop-shop for groceries. Like some of the other buildings on Downer, this grocery store occupies a more-than-century-old space, bringing a unique atmosphere that’s different than your typical Walmart or Pick ‘n Save.

If you can’t find the liquor you need from Sendik’s, head across the street to Downer Avenue Wine & Spirits (2638 N. Downer Ave.) where you’ll find a surprisingly large selection packed into a tiny space. No space is wasted in this liquor store: a collection of beer, wine, and spirits fills each nook and cranny and occupies the walls to ensure that this is the right spot to find what you need.

A couple doors down you’ll find Breadsmith (2632 N. Downer Ave.), a bakery producing artisan bread and other treats from scratch. With other locations in Greenfield, Wauwatosa, and Whitefish Bay, this Breadsmith is considered the original spot for the chain and offers some of the best bread in Milwaukee.

Beyond groceries, the street’s businesses also offer necessities like hardware and pharmaceuticals at Downer True Value Hardware (2629 N. Downer Ave.) and CVS (2607 N. Downer Ave.) respectively.

Finally, the variety is topped off with Seven Sisters, a current pop-up jewelry shop at the former space of Roots: Underground Outfitters (2622 N. Downer Ave.). Here you can find anything from fashionable shirts to jewelry and other accessories made especially for women.

Personal Care

Looking for a complete makeover? You can hit a number of places for that on just one street: get your nails done at Nail Bar Milwaukee (2580 N. Downer Ave.), have your hair done at Robert Laurence Hair Studio (2624 N. Downer Ave.), and top-off facial aesthetics at Salon Nova and Lash Boutique (2581 N. Downer Ave.). Last but not least, Optix on Downer (2634 N. Downer Ave.) offers stylish glasses whether you have a prescription or not.

Also on the street is Athletico (2615 N. Downer Ave.), a physical therapy center offering a wide range of treatments. Whether it be back pain from work or twisting your ankle from stumbling out of Cafe Hollander, Athletico could be the right place to find treatment. Don’t forget the kids: Shoreview Pediatrics can be found at 2524 E. Webster Pl. # 301.

Finally, you can get your teeth cleaned, too, at Lake Park Dental (2524 E. Webster Pl. #201), a small team of specialists offering dentistry services.

Go to Church!

Community involvement is a big part of what makes Downer and the members of its BID great. Two churches lie on the neighboring Hackett Avenue: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (2618 N. Hackett Ave.) and Church in the City (2648 N. Hackett Ave.). No matter your stance on religion, these places of worship are welcoming and may just complete your experience on Downer.

Professional Services

Downer Avenue also contains a wide range of professional services:

Associated Bank

Just in case you run out of money from having too much fun on Downer, Associated Bank (2590 N. Downer Ave.) is right in the center of the strip. Also, in case you were wondering where to park, connected to the same building is a parking garage accessible from street level.

Downer’s Cleaners

Downer’s Cleaners (2595 N. Downer Ave.) offers your typical laundry services as well as tailoring such as sewing and alterations.



You’ll find Yodelpop, which is another type of marketing agency, at the same address in a different suite (2651 N. Downer Ave. #8). Similar to Probe Research Services, Yodelpop helps clients solve business barriers and facilitates their ability to market their products. Yodelpop also specializes in web design strategies that could be crucial for the growth of today’s businesses.

Demet Law Firm

Finally, there must be at least one law firm on Downer: Demet Law Firm is located in the same building as the three latter businesses we’ve discussed. at 2651 N. Downer Ave. It’s one more proof that Downer Avenue offers it all. Whether you’re looking for some of the best food on the East Side, want to get a drink, a makeover, see movie or a lawyer, Downer has it all!

Along Downer Avenue

4 thoughts on “Guide to Downer Ave.”

  1. donahuea says:

    How did you leave out Boswell Books??? 🙂

  2. johneklund says:

    The main thing that brings me to Downer Avenue these days is Boswell Books. It’s not just a Milwaukee and regional destination. When friends from around the country visit it’s always on the must do list. In the book industry its considered a gem. This is an anchor store for the street. Kind of embarrasing to overlook it.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    You’re right about Boswell books, speaking as a fan of the store it’s a very important part of Downer Ave. and we have added an item on the store.

  4. says:

    A terrific overview of one of my favorite Milwaukee streets/communities. We live in such a great town!

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