Venture off the beaten path to Milwaukee’s historic Walker’s Point neighborhood. First founded in 1835 as a fur trading post, Walker’s Point saw massive development from the 1800s through the turn of the century as the industrial revolution swept through Milwaukee. Today, abandoned buildings are being adaptively reused for loft apartments like River Place Lofts, office suites like the Tannery, event space like the Pritzlaff building and hotels like The Iron Horse.
The building that’s now home to The Iron Horse Hotel was originally built in 1907 by the architectural firm Buemming & Dick as a factory and warehouse for Berger Bedding Factory. Before it opened as the Iron Horse Hotel eight years ago, it was being used as cold storage.
The hotel’s name pays homage to the railroad nearby and to the Harley Davidson museum across the bridge (“Iron Horse” is a Victorian term for a steam locomotive and a nickname for motorcycles). The facade is original, including this capital detail that inspired the hotel’s logo.
Nearly all of the decor throughout the hotel is recycled, reused or repurposed. The bar, lined with 1920s drafting chairs, is made from the building’s original doors, and a giant copper mirror that hangs behind it has been repurposed from a stained glass church window in Pennsylvania.
Developer and carpenter by trade, owner Tim Dixon kept as much historical detail throughout the building as he could, including the boiler room door on the lower level that hides a private office.
The Iron Horse is the last original timber-beamed building in Milwaukee, and the 300-year-old pine beams throughout the lobby give the room structure and strength.
The lobby’s wrought iron chandeliers are made from motorcycle parts, light fixtures are made from baked bean cans, and there is an enormous flag on a nearby wall made from 32 ½ pairs of Wrangler Jeans.
Milwaukee’s famous Cream City Bricks that once protected the Berger mattresses from fire now separate the cozy lobby from the hotel restaurant, Smyth, which pays homage to the blacksmith. “Since we have a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts, we want someone to be able to step off their Harley and feel comfortable eating next to someone in a business suit,” says McGinnis.
Photos tell the story of a local blacksmith’s work, and tables built with reclaimed elm are wrapped with copper to give the restaurant an industrial feel.
The menu is upscale casual and honors “the blacksmith and his craft by creating cuisine that reflects the handcrafted, soulful trade of transforming raw materials into works of art.” Try the Spanish octopus for starters, then choose between entrees like lake trout or duck breast with baby leek.
The hotel is also home to The Yard, an outdoor bar and restaurant with a more casual atmosphere and menu.
Cozy up in the working library, where tables are made from reclaimed factory parts and well-worn bucket chairs from the bank of London surround what once was a money vault and now acts as a fireplace.
The same artist who created the denim art, Charles Dwyer, is a childhood friend of The Iron Horse’s owner and created most of the art throughout the hotel. He even mentored a homeless man he encountered on the street, Jerry Pfeil, and taught him how to draw. Jerry’s art hangs in the hotel bar: Branded.
The Iron Horse loves out-of-town visitors, but they also work hard to cultivate a community space for locals, with activities, events and workspace for Milwaukeeans. “Local is really important to us,” says Iron Horse Senior Sales Manager Katie McGinnis. That’s why the hotel bar features local beer, and their Friday happy hour offers discounts on local drinks.
A local company makes cocktail elixirs, available in your room’s mini fridge, and local artist Charles Dwyer created murals for the guest rooms that depict the beauty of Milwaukee women.
To cater to the motorcyclists the hotel welcomes from the Harley Davidson Museum across the river, the custom-made, Iron-Horse-shaped hooks along the wall hold up to 80 pounds for motorcycle gear (or wedding and bridesmaid dresses–whatever you need!)
When it comes to recreating a thoughtful and inventive new space from a priceless piece of history, it’s all in the details. Iron Horse does details. From the original timber beams to the Cream City Brick, and the hand-crafted, repurposed tables and chandeliers, Tim Dixon and his team have perfectly combined history and creativity to create a cozy and inviting space for everyone from a blushing bride to a badass biker. Book a room for your next visit to Milwaukee, enjoy a meal at Smyth, or a drink at Branded or The Yard. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from– stop into the Iron Horse, and you’ll feel at home.
As featured on Nick and Danielle’s Milwaukee date on The Bachelor.
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