Hilton MKE City Center offers elegance, decadence and beer-filled boots
Check in early and stay late during OnMilwaukee's "Hotel Week" sponsored by VISIT Milwaukee. These 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.)
During my year-long tenure as the Narrator/Writer-in-residence at The Pfister Hotel, I fell in love with historic hotels. I researched more than a hundred of them in the United States and Canada and created a bucket list of "must visits." Among them was the Hilton City Center, located in the heart of Milwaukee's Downtown. I had been inside the hotel numerous times before, but it wasn't until last week that I spent the night.
Like The Pfister, the Hilton Milwaukee City Center is owned by the Marcus Corporation. It was built in 1927 as the Schroeder Hotel and later became the Sheraton-Schroeder Hotel, The Marc Plaza Hotel and in 1995, The Hilton Milwaukee City Center.
The neo-classical-style hotel has 25 floors (like many hotels, there is not a designated 13th floor) and a whopping 729 rooms. Our room was on the 22nd floor, which I took as a good omen because 22 is my favorite number and was the favorite number of my father. (Both of our birthdays fall on the 22nd day of the month, May and February respectively.)
While checking into the hotel I was immediately smitten with the dapper uniformed worker, the opulence of the chandeliers, the massiveness of the staircases and the adorableness of a reddish-blond dog prancing through the lobby with a stuffed toy in her mouth.
The year-old miniature "goldendoodle," named Millie, serves as the Hilton's "canine concierge" which means her job is to be friendly and welcoming to guests. (And she's quite good at it.) Millie comes to the hotel five days a week with her caregiver, Rusty Dahler, who is the hotel's human concierge.
I took Millie's presence as another sign of good fortune because I am very picky about dogs – some have an offputting "crazy" look in their eyes – but this gal was a bundle of sweetness and good energy.
The bold carpet patterns in many historic hotels (and movie theaters) are always appealing to me, and the bold, gold chain link pattern on the Hilton's carpet that led to our room was no exception.
For people who prefer that "brand-new feeling" of homes and cars, historic hotels might not be their jam. But for those of us who prefer character, history and quirk, they're heaven with pillow top mattresses. I've found the key to comfortability in a historic hotel is cleanliness. Just because a hotel is 100 years old doesn't mean it can't look like it was cleaned an hour ago.
We found our room to be spotless – especially the bathroom – and loved the classical decor from the large, silver, padded headboard to the glass ball lamps and, most of all: the view. Located in the northeast corner of the building and on the 22nd floor and because it was a clear evening, we had an incredible view of Downtown Milwaukee and surrounding neighborhoods. Milwaukee appeared so vibrant and alive from those windows that I, once again, felt a swell of Brew City pride.
In the morning we were pleased and suprised to see Lake Michigan was visible from our east-facing window, something we had not realized in the dark. (Hello, old blue friend!)
It was a very cold night, perhaps the first night of real winter this season, and so we were grateful to have an entire evening of entertainment within the warm structure. We started out at the ChopHouse bar and ordered a couple of pre-dinner cocktails. We were particularly pleased with its version of a sazerac – called a High West Sazerac – featuring two kinds of whiskey (including Utah's High West whiskey, hence the name), simple syrup and Peychaud bitters.
We then moved to the ChopHouse's dining room which had perfect ambiance with enough light to read the menu without reading glasses (hey, I'm in my 40s!) and yet dark enough to feel romantic and relaxing. Our server, Megan, was attentive and genuine.
The pre-meal warm rolls with three different topping options were incredible. Our favorite spread was the blue cheese butter. We then ordered the prime rib and scallop entrees, which we shared, along with a "trio of sides": carrots, Brussels sprouts and the creamed spinach. The creamed spinach was recommended to us by OnMilwaukee food writer extraordinaire, Lori Fredrich, and as I posted on Instagram: "When Lori Fredrich suggests you get the creamed spinach, you get the creamed spinach." (Good call, Lori!)
For dessert we considered one of the tantalizing offerings on the ChopHouse menu, but ultimately decided to walk across the foyer to the Miller Time Pub & Grill for glass boots of Miller Lite because that's how we roll.
It had been a couple of years since I drank from a boot and got a little "beer eye" at one point because I forgot to turn the boot at the appropriate time. Although we loved the fanciness of the ChopHouse – fine dining is truly a treat for us – we really felt at home at MillerTime and appreciated the polarity of the experiences. Whether guests want a New York Strip or a bowl of chili, the ground floor of the City Center's got it covered.
Although we were full of food and slightly buzzed from the beer boots, we "had to" check out the opulent Monarch Lounge for a nightcap. It's a stunning space with massive ceilings, more gorgeous chandeliers and a variety of seating options for intimate conversation, busting out some work (there are plenty of outlets, too!) or bellying up to the huge bar and chatting with the bartender. We chose the bellying up.
On our way back to our room, we shot selfies in the elevator (sorry, too stupid-looking to post) and expressed what a great evening it had been. Needless to say, with so much food and drink in our bellies we slept like rocks on a fabulously feathery bed.
Someday I hope to visit other historic hotels, like the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu and revisit the one-of-a-kind Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans (it features a rotating vintage French carousel in the hotel bar!), but our stay at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center ranked for us as a world-class experience.
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