"Beer built this city, but there is so much more to Milwaukee." (-Jewel, "The Milwaukee Song").
Milwaukee’s one of those incredible cities that everyone who doesn’t live here forgets about. Chalk that intentional amnesia up to the faded glory days of major brewers Schlitz and Miller. Insiders know there’s still a heck of a lot of folks here. Grew up in the northern suburbs but want a change of pace? Move to East Town. Accepted to Marquette’s Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering but don’t really feel like living in studentville? Try Avenues West. There’s a place for everybody in Cream City; but you still have to look for it.
What’s the deal with Polish flats?
Milwaukee has a rich history of Polish immigration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. These immigrants often built single-family homes with faux-Gothic or Victorian facades—then added onto these original structures to accommodate their growing families and finances. The two portions of the houses remained segregated; so Polish flats are now typically rented out as duplexes. Note that these units usually have smaller bedrooms, a fact that qualifies them as model apartments for the descriptors “historic” and “economical.”
I hear utilities are outrageous…?
Let’s face it: MKE gets flippin’ cold in the wintertime. If you fancy eating your breakfast cereal in a sauna, then hunt down those (not uncommon) units that offer heat and other utilities included. On the other hand, if you’re not made of platinum, get on the current fashion bandwagon and start sporting those wool sweaters indoors!
To the Left, To the Left…
Orientation is easy in the water-bounded cities of the Great Lakes. For Milwaukee, just look up (North Side), down (South Side), or to the left (West Side). Oh, wait—there’s also Downtown, a narrow strip between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan, and the East Side, anything north of Downtown, east of I-43, and south of, say, E. Capitol Drive. Phew! It’s time to flesh some of these areas out.
Downtown: “Downtown” Milwaukee typically refers to the CBD region north of the freeway in which the Pabst Theatre, Cathedral Park, and the School of Engineering (MSOE) lie. This region extends east to the lake, where you’ll find luxury 2BR condos for over $3000/month next to all-inclusive studios for $785/month. (Apparently, the consumer profile for Downtown Milwaukeeans is manifold.) South of the freeway—and technically still “downtown,” is the Historic Third Ward, an upscale, artsy district. Third Ward apartments are only slightly more affordable than Downtown’s: expect to pay at least a hundo per month for a 1BR (studio, loft, whatever), and over $2000/month for a 2BR. Apartment contracts in Downtown and Third Ward generally include heating.
East Side: The East Side winds north along the river through districts called Brady Street (a.k.a., “Little Italy”), Brewer’s Hill, Murray Hill, Riverwest, and Upper East Side. The closer-in areas are generally more expensive, further out being both studenty (due to UMW’s presence). Riverwest is the pick for hip, grungy folks: heaps of Polish flats in this neighborhood make it the inexpensive option (you’ll frequently see 1BRs for under $500/month and 2BRs for around $700/month). Lakefront studios around Brady Street run for $875/month; 1BRs for $1125/month.
West Side: Marquette is the first major neighborhood one meets when leaving Downtown for the West Side. Apartments in this area are suited to students: studios and 1BRs hover around $500/month and sometimes include utilities. 2BRs usually jump up to $1000/month. Cold Spring Park and its further afield neighbor, Washington Heights, are surburbany alternatives to real suburbia. These areas are popular with commuters to Downtown (7-8 minutes in a car; longer on an MCTS bus). Sure, there are lots of cute gelato shops, but if you’re not planning on renovating a Victorian home, you might find the lifestyle out here lacking. Not many 1BRs in these areas; instead, expect to pay around $700/month for a 2BR flat in Washington Heights.
South Side: Heading south, one notices a significant increase in taquerías per city block. If you’re like me, that’s all the more reason to consider it. Bay View, historically a company town for the mill, now hosts an annual parade as well as the perfect blend of practical professionals and bohemian youngsters. Commute time from this little hipster’s paradise is only 10-15 minutes to the CBD. Plenty of 1BR lofts (circa $650/month) and 2BR Polish flats ($750/month) make it obvious why this area is so popular. The only other South Side neighborhood you ought to know about is Walker’s Point (a.k.a., the 5th Ward). Expect more condos and lofts than historic flats: 1BRs start at $700/month and go up from there.
Got your bearings? Fabulous. Start hittin’ the streets and calling landlords. Just remember to bring a valid photo ID, some paperwork proving a source of income, and the willingness to commit to a 6-month lease (sometimes longer). Oh, and don’t ask why they call it Deutsch-Athen. Nobody knows.