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Milwaukee Travel Guide

The Ultimate LGBTQ+ Travel Guide to Milwaukee

From festivals and burlesque to bars and off-shore fishing charters, there really is something for everyone in this Midwestern city.  

The Milwaukee area is home to an estimated 42,000 LGBTQ+ people (approximately 3.4% of the population) and has a complex and deep queer history. In August 1961, eight years before the iconic Stonewall Riots, there was the Black Nite Brawl, during which a young Black transgender woman (a self-described “queen”) named Josie Carter fought back against the homophobic violence that invaded the titular establishment.

 A decade later, in 1971, the Gay Liberation Front marched in the Vietnam Veterans Against War Parade, marking the first time gay people marched in a parade in Milwaukee. Since then, Milwaukee—and Wisconsin, at large—has seen tremendous strides in terms of intersectionality and inclusivity within its queer community, albeit not without its challenges.

The city’s Black LGBTQ+ history isn’t particularly well documented, but discrimination ran (and continues to run) rampant in the bars and organizations that purported to serve the community. While in 1980, the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association of Black and White Men Together began to fight against this actively, and was followed by other dedicated organizations, there is still a long way to go. An example of this would be the 2019 publicly reported racist discrimination at LaCage Niteclub, where the owner was recorded making a racially-charged statement about a Black performer. The club has since been sold to a friend of the former owners.

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Milwaukee is home to FORGE, founded in 1994, for which the “sole purpose was to connect trans-masculine folks who were living in the Midwest.” Today, the national trans-led organization continues to support the local community while leading the charge nationally in the areas of trans aging, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault, amongst others.

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For queer residents and visitors, there is so much to do when exploring the city. Milwaukee, also known as the City of Festivals, has over 100 festivals. Milwaukee has a festival for everyone, regardless of the season or the niche. The popular music festival Summerfest, Pridefest (which started in 1996), and Starberry Fest are among the 50+ that happen in the summer. Harvest Fair is one of the most popular fall festivals. Cold does not deter Wisconsinites, so winter festivals are just as popular; the stand out of season is the Winter Festival in the nearby Cederberg. From festivals and burlesque to bars and off-shore fishing charters, there really is something for everyone.

What to Do

Semolina Pasta Making Class

You don’t have to go all the way to Italy to learn how to make great pasta—just take a class at Semolina in Milwaukee. Founded by restaurant industry veteran Petra Orlowski, whose mother is Sicilian and whose father is Mexican, the small pasta shop is adorned with a large herb garden. In addition to the handmade pasta and sauces that Orlowski makes and sells, the shop is stocked with the best imported Italian ingredients. A couple of times a month, Orlowski holds a small pasta-making class. You’ll have personal attention from a talented pasta maker as you learn how to mix, roll and shape your pasta. In the kitchen, Orlowski will walk you through making a simple puttanesca sauce before you enjoy the freshly made pasta and simple yet packed with flavor sauce.

Burlesque Shows

If you look in the right places, you’ll discover that Milwaukee has several burlesque offerings. Grindhouse Tease is a queer-founded, queer-operated variety show celebrating fat bodies. Featuring drag, sideshow, burlesque, and live music, keep an eye on their Facebook page to see where their next show will be. Hue Revue, Milwaukee’s premier BIPOC cabaret, was started by Natasha Perkins, also known as Liz Bee Honest. Featuring local BIPOC burlesque and drag performers, the cabaret debuted at the 2022 PrideFest and was an instant hit. Brewcity Bombshells are the veterans of Milwaukee burlesque and hold shows in various venues across town.

Off Shore Fishing Charters

Milwaukee sits on Lake Michigan, where salmon and trout are abundant. Book a fishing charter for a perfect summer day and enjoy the water while at it. Off Shore Fishing Charters offer private fishing experiences for up to six people. Although this is a pricier experience, the price stays the same whether you are alone or with a group of friends.  

Bars and Clubs


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Milwaukee has a long LGBTQ+ history. “During the 1960s, more than 35 gay bars and gathering places existed in Milwaukee, even before the Stonewall Riots put the gay community and culture in the national spotlight,” reported Wisconsin Public Radio. Today, Milwaukee has only a handful of remaining establishments, including This Is It, a dimly lit bar that’s been open since 1968, and Walker’s Pint, one of the few lesbian bars left in the United States. Walker’s Pint hosts various events, including karaoke, a large selection of beer, an outdoor beer garden, and a pool table for entertainment. Hamberger Mary’s is a great place to grab a bite, watch a drag show, or both.

The Moving Galaxy Fitness Studio

Have you ever taken a fitness class while on vacation? They can be hit or miss, but not at The Moving Galaxy. The fitness studio was recently opened by industry veteran (and teacher of fitness teachers) Anna Argeropoulos. The studio offers various yoga and other fitness classes, starting as early as 6 am for the early birds. Membership is not required, and classes can be taken à la carte for just $25. The Moving Galaxy also offers scholarships and a weekday class that’s sliding scale, starting at $5.

Glassnote Candle Bar

If you’re a sucker for the perfect scented candle, you’ll have to try your hand at making your own at Milwaukee’s Glassnote Candle Bar. Choose the perfect scent combination while sipping on a craft cocktail before mixing the wax with fragrance and pouring it into the jar. Your night isn’t complete without naming your creation. Enjoy another cocktail while the candle solidifies, allowing you to take it home to enjoy that very night.

The “Domes”

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Officially called the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, the Domes are spectacular year-round and an attraction just minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Each of the three Domes has its own climate, featuring native plants, trees, and animals. The Domes are huge, with each nearly seven stories tall.

Where to Eat


Before a change in ownership, this restaurant served the best steak and eggs in the city. When the restaurants changed hands, the restaurant only improved, with a new and improved menu featuring dishes made in a wood-burning hearth in an open format kitchen and a hyper-seasonal menu. For the best experience, enjoy the chef’s tasting menu, featuring some dishes not available a la carte and allowing you to try a little or a lot of dishes. On the regular menu, the Steelhead Crudo is a standout, featuring a delicately prepared raw trout, the style of which varies according to what’s in season. For poultry lovers, chicken under a brick packs a crispy and tender flavor punch. The cocktail menu is fantastic, so be sure to order one with your meal. Most of the curated wine list features wines from small growers.

Taqueria El Cabrito

Taqueria El Cabrito (literally translates to the Little Goat Taqueria) is an old-school Mexican taco shop serving American favorites — like carnitas and Mexican Coke in the glass bottles — and more traditional fare like fittingly, goat, chicharrones, and tripe. Since it is open from 7 am until 10 pm on weekdays and 11 pm on weekends, it is ideal for all-day dining, date night, and dinner before hitting the bar or a show. While they do not serve alcohol, the service is very quick, and the food is impeccable and inexpensive. No reservations are required.



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James Beard Award-nominated Chef Gregory Leon’s Amilinda is certainly not a restaurant to pass up while you’re visiting the area. The fine dining Portuguese and Spanish-inspired menu is ever-changing and simply divine, and the desserts are worth saving room for. The restaurant itself is rustic, with wooden tables, exposed brick, and wall murals. Chef Leon’s seafood dishes, whether salt cod or sardines are particularly spectacular.


For Italian food that’s always spot on, you’ll have to make reservations to dine at Ca’Lucchenzo. The husband and wife-run restaurant focuses on handmade pasta and delicious wine and features a pasta bar in the center of the restaurant where you can enjoy your meal as you watch the pasta being made. Ca’Lucchenzo’s menu changes with the season, focusing on “Northern & Central Italy in the cooler months and Southern Italy and coastal regions in the warmer months.” Be sure to order the arancini appetizer, featuring an ooey-gooey fontina cheese in the center, with seasonal accompaniments.

Meat on the Street

Enjoy Milwaukee’s best Filipino food by visiting Meat on the Street. Owned by siblings Alexa and Matthew Alfaro, Meat on the Street has a location inside Eleven25 at Pabst Dining Hall, but thanks to their popular food trucks, you might find them at local festivals and other community events (and even some weddings). Everything they serve is nut-free with lots of gluten-free and vegan options, and wherever they are, they tend to be one of the best food options available. Their garlic fried rice is a flavor bomb. Be sure to try the lumpia—a type of Filipino eggroll.


Located in Whitefish Bay, just minutes from Milwaukee, couple Tamela Greene and Anne Marie Arroyo run a bustling restaurant called Moxie. The restaurant offers a relaxed dining experience with top-notch food and excellent service. The menu is broad, with starters including dishes like Coquilles St Jacques Bleu (scallops with a brandy cream sauce and breadcrumbs) and entrees ranging from cauliflower steak, bone-in tomahawk pork chops to hearty and delicious sandwiches.



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Morel exemplifies fine dining in Milwaukee, from the decadent bread service to its desserts. The menu is made up of primarily Wisconsin ingredients: the name is a nod to the morel mushroom, which is locally foraged. Here, the chefs like to “hunt” for seasonal ingredients to incorporate into their dishes, including a cheeseboard that is made up of the state’s local cheeses. The open-concept kitchen allows diners an opportunity to see how their dishes—ranging from smoked pork belly to pumpkin gnocchi with charred oyster mushrooms and sage—are made. Kick back with a specialty cocktail from their curated menu, and since they have dishes to meet a variety of different diets, rest assured that your dining companions will find something they love as well. Reservations are recommended.

Tofte’s Table

This family-owned restaurant is located about 30 minutes from the center of Milwaukee, but it is worth the drive for their reliably good, upscale-feeling food at a reasonable price. The menu is broken into categories that include Plants, Poultry, Sea Creatures, Steer, and Hog, making it easy for diners with dietary restrictions. Try their shareable plates, which include dishes like wild mushroom risotto, fried chicken with maple drizzle, and duck confit tostadas. Try a cocktail made with small-batch Wisconsin spirits (especially the Door County Cosmo). While Tofte’s Table is family-friendly and ideal for meals with a bunch of friends, make sure to book reservations in advance.

The Diplomat

Originally opened in 2017 on the buzzy Brady Street, which is packed with trendy bars and coffee shops, The Diplomat has received a lot of critical praise, including the prestigious James Beard Award for the Best Chef in the Midwest 2022, spotlighting head chef Dane Baldwin. However, despite all the national attention, the restaurant’s main goal is to appeal to the everyday diner with a menu of “locally prepared, approachable American fare in a sharable plate format.” The dishes range from impeccably fried mushrooms to crispy anchovies with a sunchoke “potato salad” to a larger-format knife-and-fork chicken. You’d be comfortable here in casual jeans and a t-shirt or dressed up a little more, but the vibe in the plant-filled dining room remains relaxed.

Where to Stay

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The grand, brilliant Pfister Hotel was built in 1893 by father and son team Guido and Charles Pfister, both German immigrants. While the rooms are classic for a hotel, the decor in the common areas is simply magical and over the top year-round. Home to the largest hotel collection of Victorian art, this is a must-stay hotel for romantics, history lovers, and anyone who wants a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


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The hotel has hosted many illustrious guests, including President Theodore Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson. Be sure to stop at the bar on the 23rd floor, which has an incredible city view.

tedpatchell2087 May 14, 2023

I like Milwaukee, but for some reason it's become expensive to get to! Airfares and even bus fares are now costly.