In 1996, the Pabst Brewing Company shuttered their operations in Milwaukee, ending the company’s more than a century of brewing beer in the city. In Milwaukee’s early days, Pabst had been an integral part of the growth of the city. At one time it was the largest brewer in the world, one of the city's leading employers and hosted countless visitors to Milwaukee for brewery tours. Pabst was more than a brewery, it was a Milwaukee icon. In its heyday the brewery covered 20 acres of downtown Milwaukee, and at the time of the closing, included 21 buildings, many of which were built before the turn of the 20th century.
As the fortunes of the Pabst Beer brand declined, so did the site of the former brewery. Abandoned for a decade, it was not until 2006, when Milwaukee philanthropist Joseph Zilber bought the entire Pabst complex that the rebirth of the site began. Determined to give back to the city that had given so much to him, Zilber set out to create an entire community at the Pabst complex, one built with sustainable building practices, which would save and repurpose as many of the historic buildings as possible.
The result of Zilber's vision was The Brewery, one of five LEED Platinum sustainable neighborhoods in the world. Home to the UWM Zilber School of Public Health, Cardinal Stritch University, apartments, professional offices, and the soon to open Brewhouse Inn & Suites and Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub, The Brewery fulfilled the late Mr. Zilber's dream for the area.
As The Brewery began to rise from the rubble, the Pabst brand had a rebirth of its own. Discovered by the twenty something crowd, in recent years PBR has experienced some of the fastest growth of any mainstream beer in the country. It is only fitting that as the Pabst brand has risen, the building where it was brewed for over a hundred years is coming back to life as well.
Opening on April 25th, The Brewhouse Inn and Suites occupy the former brewhouse and mill house buildings at The Brewery. The Brewhouse retains many of the original features including the five-story kettle atrium with six enormous copper brewing kettles, wrought iron spiral staircase, and the two-story stained glass window of King Gambrinus, the patron saint of brewing.
Built in 1882, the hotel now has modern room amenities including a fully equipped kitchen with microwave, refrigerator, electric cooktop, and dishwasher. The headboards and dining tables in each room are made from timbers repurposed from the building during the renovation. Harvested near Sheboygan in the 1880’s, they are a perfect example of how the hotel has reused as much of the original building as possible during the process of converting it from a brewery into a hotel. The Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub is perfect for a quick refreshment or a full meal. In summer, the outdoor beer garden will be the perfect spot to end the day and take in some live entertainment.
The Pabst name is associated with several other must see attractions in Milwaukee.
The Pabst Mansion, located just west of The Brewery, was the home of the brewery's namesake Captain Frederick Pabst. Built in 1892, this 20,000 square mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been meticulously restored to its original splendor. It houses many of the families original papers and photographs, which offer a unique perspective on the life and times of one of Milwaukee's original beer barons.
Another must see is the Pabst Theater, which was built in 1895 by Captain Pabst as a gift to the community after the opera house, Das Neue Deutsche Stadt-Theater burned down. Today a non-profit corporation spearheaded by another Milwaukee philanthropist, Michael Cudahy runs the Pabst Theater. It is a perfect place to catch new musical talent or get reacquainted with old favorites making a regular stop on national tours.
Finally, The Best Place at The Pabst Brewery is a great spot to learn more about Pabst and the brewing history of the city. Proprietor Jim Haertel gives tours and explains the history from the founding in 1844 by Jacob Best, to its spot today as the twenty something beer of choice. Each tour includes a large sample of PBR or Schlitz, two of Milwaukee's most famous products. With a gift shop stocked with Pabst memorabilia, visitors are certain to find a part of Milwaukee to take home with them.
If you like history, or enjoy a cold brew now and then, be sure to make a visit to Milwaukee part of your plans this summer.
Peter Northard is the General Manager of The Brewhouse Inn & Suites in Milwaukee. In his thirty-year hotel career, Northard has managed numerous branded properties such as Holiday Inn and Radisson, as well as boutique hotels including The Brewhouse Inn & Suites. He has served on the Board of Directors of several organizations including VISIT Milwaukee, and the Greater Milwaukee Hotel Lodging Association, twice serving as President of the WHLMA. He currently resides in Grafton with his wife Lynne and their Bichon Frise Sophie. A lover of Wisconsin summers, when not working, he can be found biking the Ozaukee Interurban Trail or golfing on one of Wisconsin’s many magnificent golf courses.