The lake view is the same, but the minute your feet touch the ground, you know you are not in Chicago anymore. The vibe is different, more friendly, laid back.
It was a last-minute decision to come, but it's an easy drive to Milwaukee, and we arrived well before lunchtime. Milwaukee has more bicycle trails than you can shake a stick at, and, unlike Chicago trails, which are mostly linear, and therefore inherently somewhat redundant, the trails here make tantalizing loops, and you can often get back to your starting point without actually retracing your steps (imagine that!).
Originally, we thought we would ride a loop using the Hank Aaron Trail and the lower half of the monster 120-mile Oak Leaf Trail, but it was just too ambitious with almost half the day behind us. So instead, we headed north on the lakefront section of the Oak Leaf Trail, and then meandered along the trails that follow the Milwaukee River Greenway.
Along the way, we came upon the Riverside Park and lovely arboretum, and we poked around the unpaved paths for a bit before riding on. We were chatting idly about how nice a beer would be right about now, when, as if by magic, a iron gate appeared on the side of the trail with a little bearded man in a red hat, crooking his finger at us in a beckoning gesture. (No, seriously, it was just a very tempting "Beer Garden" sign above the open gate.) Deliciously refreshing New Glarus selections were offered in .5 and 1 liter steins, and we consumed our half-liters with relish at a rustic picnic table.
This seems like a good place to note that ONE LITER is a heck of a lot of beer. It is, in fact, approximately three regular beer bottles. Yet no one seems to bat an eyelash when a 110lb lady who looks like your aunt (she was in line ahead of us) orders a liter of Oktoberfest Bier, and saunters over to her table, lugging a beer stein roughly the size of her torso. There, she joins several other patrons, some of whom are working on their second liter, with empty steins waiting to be returned for their $5 glass deposit. Interestingly, no one seems to be getting terribly drunk. This is due either to that laid-back air we picked up on when we first got out of the car, or perhaps the little guy with the red hat had something to do with it.
Further down the trail we found a large bulletin board with all the summertime beer gardens helpfully marked on a map! On our journey that day, we stumbled upon another one, and this time we indulged in a brat to go along with the second half-liter. We enjoyed this simple repast while listening to a lederhosen-clad accordion player.
Not having spent much time in Milwaukee, we were unfamiliar with beer gardens, but I assure you that they are a fabulous innovation, and there should be at least one along every bicycle trail. It seems like a sure-fire money making opportunity, as most bicycle riders I know are also devout beer enthusiasts, and I am mystified that other cities, specifically Chicago, are devoid of trail-side beer gardens. Until our city catches on, we plan to make regular trips back to Milwaukee to explore its vast network of trails, and sample beer selections along the way.