Sometimes, you just need a change of scenery during the workday.
Maybe you’re a freelancer or work-from-homer looking to shake things up on a Wednesday. Maybe you’re tired of the oppressiveness of fluorescent lighting or you’ve grown wary of dueling conversations in your open-concept office. Perhaps it’s Diane in accounting giving you the stink-eye for no reason.
But probably, it’s just the sometimes-repetitive nature of office tasks and your brain’s biological desire for change and newness. (Gotta keep those neural pathways guessing.)
As a big fan of taking things off-campus and working remote a few hours a week, I’ve compiled eight spots in the Milwaukee area that are ideal for setting up shop and getting down to business.
Kickapoo Coffee, Third Ward
With its white-teal color palette, potted plants, mason jars, pour-over coffee contraptions, and sleek-but-warm wood furniture, entering Kickapoo sometimes feels like stepping into the post-makeover kitchen from every HGTV show ever.
The seating area and simple décor have an aggressively modern and refreshingly clean aesthetic that seeps into you; it makes you feel modern and refreshed, makes you feel ready to gracefully take on whatever comes your way. The clientele is mostly a mix of MIAD students and creative professionals (business hippies?), so bring an appreciation of peace, quiet, and artfully positioned hats.
If you’re looking for plentiful-yet-spacious seating and an impossibly quiet setting, Kickapoo is an ideal spot for tuning out city sounds and getting some work done.
Stone Creek Coffee - 5th Street Factory
A Stone Creek location was always going to make this list, but—curve ball—it’s the 5th Street Factory cafe.
Sure, the new Downer cafe was an achingly close second, with its dog-friendly patio seating, full food menu, walk-up order window, and buzzy location near UWM. And yes, the suburban Shorewood spot has a handy little parking lot and the Barclay Street one shares 88.9 Radio Milwaukee’s playlist and cultural cachet, but when it comes down to it, nothing’s going to beat a serene urban oasis with gorgeous dark-wood structural accents, industrial-inspired décor, an offensive amount of natural sunlight, and an iron-grate fireplace straight out of a PBS period piece.
I know, I know. Rochambo is on an increasingly college-y Brady Street. Its exterior and vestibule area look like you’re stepped into a coffee shop in Haight-Ashbury in the 1970s. You’re going to feel under-informed about tea. And yeah, it still carries a vague cigarette smell from before the 2009 smoking ban. But I promise you, you will get work done here.
The main floor of this Victorian duplex is bustling with people most of the day, but upstairs is where you’ll find a nice daytime hideaway. Once you climb the concert poster-plastered staircase, you’ll find low lighting paired with dark, colorful walls, a mile between each table, and so much peace and quiet you’ll forget you’re a mere floor above a major entertainment block. The second floor of Rochambo might just be one of the most peaceful places on Brady.
Milwaukee Central Library
Not even Wisconsin’s sweetheart Frank Lloyd Wright could come up with a design better than the one that stands on Wisconsin & 8th.
The Central library’s stunning architecture is worth packing up your laptop and camping out at a big wood table alone, but this paired with the countless books lining the walls, the several floors to spread out on, the towering archways, the marble columns, the quietly echoing voices in the distance, and the location in the heart of downtown, this one’s a runaway winner in the “public libraries I’ve confirmed have free Wi-Fi” category.
UWM's Golda Meir Library
Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel, is one of the Milwaukee area’s most impressive exports (come at me, Mark Ruffalo), and she’s the namesake of UW-Milwaukee’s library.
The building was constructed in 1967, just two years before Meir took leadership, and like many Brutalist buildings of this period, it looks like a stately, impenetrable fortress on the outside. It really does feel like you’re walking into a serious place where serious work gets done, but once you get inside, the building’s pleasant utilitarianism becomes comforting.
The ambiance manages to be both buzzy and quiet, the layout both maze-like and logical, the atmosphere both creative and intellectual, and the décor stodgy yet pleasantly familiar. There’s dozens of different work areas and stations to choose from, but try traveling to the second or third floor, making your way through the labyrinthe stacks, and finding the most far-flung corner you can. (My vote is for the second-floor nook that overlooks Hartford Avenue, across from Enderis Hall.)
Here, surrounded, by scores of books loaded with all the world’s knowledge and the aging-paper smell of all the world’s knowledge, there’s no way you won’t get work done.
Milwaukee Public Market
It’s loud. It’s busy. You may be swallowed up in the crowds and adopted by an out-of-state family. But you can definitely get down to work in the Milwaukee Public Market’s second-floor seating area.
If you hit up MPM after the lunch rush, grab a coffee or a juice and head upstairs. You should be able to score a table along the walkway on the north side of the building, but the seating in the main area is great, too. MPM offers free Wi-Fi, access to cuisines of the world, and endless people-watching. But it also offers that “lost in a crowd” sensation, where although you’re surrounded by people and conversations, you can easily tune out all the busy sounds and stay focused on your work.
Iron Horse Hotel Lobby
The Iron Horse Hotel just oozes upscale motorcycle-warehouse realness. Beam ceilings, exposed pipes, steel accents, cream-colored brick, deep reds, dark woods, and Edison bulbs abound. More importantly, free Wi-Fi, comfy leather couches, and hospitality professionals too polite to ask if you’re a guest abound.
Hunker down in the relative quiet of the lobby with your computer and act like you belong—you’ll be heads-down all afternoon.
Bet you didn’t know there was a name for the cafe in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, near that contemporary white-pillared corridor where all Milwaukeeans are required, by internet law, to pose pensively for their first Instagram post.
The coffee shop that’s located within the MAM is a lesser-known spot that’s perfect for getting work done. It’s peaceful, it’s serene, it’s clean and minimally designed, it has spectacular views of Lake Michigan, and and it boasts proximity to thousands of beautiful and inspiring works of art. And if being within several hundred feet of an original Hans Baluschek—that’s right, a Baluschek—doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, I really don’t know what will.
(Pro tip: try the Nutter-Butter knockoff cookie. Just do it.)
Gettin’ Honorably Mentioned
- Sidewalk outside the empty shell of a former Radio Shack
- Next to a Wi-Fi enabled potato
- Lightburn’s lobby (purchase required)
- Pick a bar, any bar!
- In the alley, behind the Apple store, after hours
- Long-term parking lot at General Mitchell
- Your usual desk, rotated 45º to the left
- Barnes & Noble cafe. Pretty sure those still exist.