2020 was supposed to be Milwaukee’s year. From their shiny new arena, the Bucks were Vegas oddsmakers’ favorites for an NBA title run; the Democratic National Convention would spotlight the town; and countless new breweries would join the billowing chorus that lend the city its characteristic yeasty smell. Instead, the Bucks buckled under the pressure of the NBA COVID bubble, the DNC was mostly canceled or relegated to virtual purgatory, and the breweries — well, the breweries still cranked, which was good news for everyone who needed a drink this year.
While residents hunker at home with six-packs and dread, it’s reassuring to know the “City of Festivals” will someday rise again with its conventions, beloved Summerfest, and street revelry. Giannis Antetokounmpo has a year left on his contract at Fiserv Forum. In the meantime, Milwaukeeans will just have to eat their feelings.
But where? Or, really, where not? As COVID-19 acts as a restaurant extinction event, it seems silly to rank, to listicle, to fuel competition, to say any one spot deserves recognition more than another. Local restaurants suddenly seem like children equally deserving of love. They are all negotiating an ever-changing landscape of restrictions (at press time, the limit sits at 25 percent capacity for indoor seating, unless businesses have a pre-approved safety plan), a Safer at Home order that was overturned, and a mask mandate that continues to face legal backlash. Meanwhile, they adapt their business models on the fly to balance safety with functionality, construct huts and invest in space heaters, and throw tables on sidewalks and in parking lots to maximize the city’s “Active Streets” program.
There are no bad choices for meals, no unworthy investments. Instead, the following is a running gratitude list, a wide-ranging Rolodex of friends, old and new, fancy and not, to check on, to help, and to lean on for support through this winter of discontent.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than $10
$$ = $10 – $20
$$$ = $20 – $40
$$$$ = More than $40