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Dining on Milwaukee's Riverwalk

May. 30, 2017
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With outdoor dining season soon upon us, it’s time to take a stroll along the Riverwalk in Downtown Milwaukee and highlight some of the river’s best stops for food, drink and stationary sightseeing. 

Pier 106 Seafood Tavern, 106 W. Wells St.

With a cozy patio just north of the Wells Street Bridge on the west bank of the river, Pier 106 doesn’t offer the same kind of whooping party atmosphere as other outdoor dining spots along the Riverwalk, but with a higher-end seafood menu including seared scallops, baked sea bass and a terrific lobster mac ’n cheese, the dining experience here is best taken with a bit of subtlety and reserve. Downtown Milwaukee’s crooked streets give the patio a head-on view of East Wells Street, including the Pabst Theater, City Hall and the old Electric Railway and Light building (now the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Powerhouse Theater).

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, 740 N. Plankinton Ave.

Rock Bottom’s prime location along the river makes it one of the more attractive chain restaurants Downtown (they have 30 locations nationwide). Housed in the handsome white stone River Bank Plaza building (built 1912), Rock Bottom features a spacious Riverwalk dining area adjacent to public docking space. The menu is heavy on pub food, but includes a wide selection of entrées. Rock Bottom also brews beer on site and offers a long list of specialty cocktails. Their location offers a great spot to watch both people and boats or to check out the artists’ entrance at the nearby Riverside Theater. 

Milwaukee Ale House, 233 N. Water St.

With two levels of outdoor dining space and additional public space along the Riverwalk, Milwaukee Ale House is certainly one of the most visible options along the waterway and offers a menu and beer selection that will not disappoint. Located in the red brick Saddlery Building (built 1894), the Ale House opened in 1997, making it an elder statesman among restaurants in the reborn Third Ward. Their outdoor seating offers a good view of both the trains using the Menomonee River Railroad Bridge and the passing tour and party boats. Be sure to yell at these vessels in pirate-talk, because no one has ever, ever thought to do that before. 

Screaming Tuna, 106 W. Seeboth St.

Screaming Tuna is an excellent option for those interested in either sushi or moving bridges. For sushi, Screaming Tuna has won a number of local dining awards and is the only Wisconsin sushi restaurant to be a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch partner, insuring that their offerings are farmed and fished in environmentally friendly ways. For bridges, you get a prime view of both lift-style and bascule-style crossings, both of which can be seen in motion on summer afternoons. With a little luck (and a short walk to the end of the Riverwalk), diners can also catch the Menomonee River swing bridge allowing passage to the valley.

Riverfront Pizzeria Bar & Grill, 509 E. Erie St.

Pizzerias and urban development don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but at the Riverfront, located in the Third Ward near the Summerfest parking lots, you can get great pizza, a specialty pie (try the Thai Chicken) and a peek at the past, present and future of the Milwaukee River. Across the river, the decommissioned Milwaukee River swing bridge and the former main elevator of the Milwaukee-Western Malting Company loom as monuments to the river’s industrial past. To the south of Riverfront’s patio (with boat docking) stand the twin condo buildings that kicked off the residential boom of the waterway. And to the north, the nearly completed DoMUS project and (on the other side of the river) the soon-to-begin 234 Apartments project continue the trend. 

Milwaukee Sail Loft, 649 E. Erie St.

The menu at Sail Loft focuses on seafood—in small plates, sandwiches and entrées—but also features more traditional pub food and family favorites like meatloaf, pork loin and steak. Located at the confluence of Milwaukee’s three major rivers and Lake Michigan, diners will see a wide variety of vessels here, including the occasional 600-plus-foot freighter making her way to the inner harbor. The outdoor experience at Sail Loft is enhanced by the adjacent Erie Street Plaza public space, where it’s common to find spirited games of beanbags or ladderball in the summer. 

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