The city of Milwaukee is a classically underrated American city. With its friendly charm, amazing beer culture, festivals every week of the summer, a nice arts scene, some stunning old buildings, and several James Beard renown eateries, Milwaukee isn’t a bad place to be. Its people are nice in that classic Midwestern sense. It’s a city that brings something to the table and takes nothing away.
Which makes it odd that American Family Field is such a polarizing place. The locals defend this place to the max: no fan base loves its stadium more than Milwaukee Brewer fans love this park. Yet it faces a lot of criticism from ballpark aficionados for its odd-shaped roof, irregular sightlines, confusing flow, and ugly interior.
Overall, it’s a fun place to watch a game. After all, if you can’t have fun in Wisconsin in the summer, you’re likely not trying. But it has flaws, which is why it sits near the middle of the pack.
Exterior aesthetics 6/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 6/10; Sightlines & seating 6/10; Amenities & entertainment 9/10; Flow 3/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 4/5; Grand entrance 4/5; Sense of place 5/10; WOW Factor 20/30. Total 68 points divided by 2 for 34
There are a lot of nice touches, but the actual seating area and visual appeal of the place is decidedly meh.
- While it’s a roofed facility, there’s a lot of natural light that comes in from the side arches and the outfield even when the lid is closed. There was a night game when they closed the roof during the game while I was in the concourse, and when I came back, it took me a little time to realize it was shut.
- Much of the lower level and all of the loge level concourses are open for a view of the field as you stroll
- Given they decided to go retro, the green iron roof is a nice choice as it evokes worn copper. As a bonus, the (usually ugly) equipment and rails needed to move the roof are hidden.
- The parking lot is built with the tailgate experience in mind and includes several concrete tubs into which used hot charcoal coals can be dumped once it’s time to go to the game. There are also a couple of grassy areas for the earliest arrivals and rentable tailgate pavilions.
- The Brewers have one of the most surprisingly good attractions of any park in baseball. The Bud Selig Experience, while perhaps a tad self-congratulatory, is a nice film about how baseball was saved in Milwaukee with the building of this stadium, culminating in a really good hologram presentation from Bud himself from the confines of his old office. Absolutely worthy of your time.
- There’s a nice wall of honor celebrating past Brewer “greats”, though the bar doesn’t seem quite as high as with other teams (Sixto Lezcano? Moose Haas?)
- The kid’s area is comprehensive and a real draw for young ones
- And finally, one of my favorite touches in all MLB is the Bob Uecker statue. It’s situated in the last row of the upper deck behind the plate with an obstructed view of the field. It’s a great chuckle for those of us old enough to remember his great old Miller Lite commercial when his freebie seats (“for being an ex- big leaguer”) ended up being in the nosebleeds and not “the front roooww”.
- Why did the Cream City use a red brick exterior façade? Something colored more like PNC Park or Target Field would have likely been the play here instead of going for a retro look in suburbia. While I give props to the clock tower, the architecture seems like a miss.
- Critics have referred to the unattractive fanned roof as “shaped like a giant tarantula” or “a space vulva”. I don’t think either are compliments.
- There are four full decks of seats (versus the usual set up of lower deck, club level, a row of suites, and an upper deck) with the suites being on the club level. By the time you get up to the 400-level, you’re both high and far from the field. Given the park’s modest capacity of 42,000, you really do feel like you’re away from action.
- The concourses are a tad confusing, especially the lower level. It feels like you’re bobbing and weaving through a rat maze rather than enjoying a simple walk. The Home Plate club area seems to block a larger chunk of the view than at other parks.
- The panoramic view from the infield seats isn’t great. There’s no real view of the city (or anything really), and the outfield seats feel like they were randomly assembled in chunks.
- Dead center field is a dead zone. If walking around the park, you come to very narrow concourse with nothing there as you pass through centerfield. Given they had unlimited land, I wonder why they did it that way.
- There are obstructed view seats caused by roof pivots. Any new park should have clear views from all seats.
- In the old stadium, Bernie Brewer would celebrate a home team home run by sliding into a big mug of beer. Modern sensibility somehow made that verboten, so now you just have a mustached mascot going “Wheeee” down a twisty slide.
- Considering the amount of cheese and beer consumed, you’d expect wider seats
As much as I like Brewers’ fans, they’re wrong. It’s not the “best park in baseball”.
You’re in cheese and sausage country. Even so, there’s a surprisingly good variety of fare at American Family Field. And a lot of cheese and sausages.
Restaurant to Be Named Later took over the space vacated by Friday’s and offers good Wisconsin comfort foods at stadium prices. There’s a surprising amount of good Hispanic foods including elote in a cup, pork stuffed tamales, tacos, a chorizo breakfast sandwich, and the El Cubano grilled cheese. And the burgers are good (the Pepper Brandy Burger was excellent).
The fried cheese curds are yummy and classic Wisconsin. The park also offers several foods vying for “the most Sconnie thing ever” (a.k.a. dinner and an angioplasty): the Wisconsin Ultimate Cheese Fry involves beer-battered twisty fries, curds, cheese sauce and applewood-smoked bacon; the “Dog N’ Brat Show” features a hot dog stuffed into a bratwurst; the “Wisconsin On My Mind” dog is topped with cheddar, curds, and ranch; and the “Badger State” dog is topped with cheddar, bacon, cranberry jalape“ño ketchup, and tater tots.
But my personal fave are still the sausages: bratwurst, hot dog, polish and Italian. I tend to “eat for the cycle” and have one of each, then feel guilty watching the sausage race. The old-school brat, even with a change in vendors from Klement’s to Johnsonville, still delivers joy today. Have one with some sauerkraut and secret stadium sauce, as has been done at Brewers games for nearly 50 years, and let the happy wash over you. It’s one of my favorite dishes in all of baseball.
Considering the team is named the Brewers, the park was originally named after a brewer, and the city has a great beer culture, you would expect this to be a beer haven. Alas, Miller so dominated the concessions for years, it was hard to find any local gems: you were likely drinking Miller or Leinenkugel’s. And the vendors’ offer is still limited to Miller (and Miller-owned brands including Blue Moon, Redd’s and Terrapin) or Leinie’s.
This improved greatly recently. Today, there IS more interesting local stuff available, but you may need to change levels to get it. On the loge level at the Local Brews stand, you can get a pint from a number of amazing Wisconsin brewers including Lakefront, Wisconsin Brewing, New Glarus, Milwaukee Brewing, Titletown, Central Waters, Third Space, Good City, Raised Grain, City Lights, One Barrel, MobCraft, Fox River Brewing, Hinterland, Specher and Point Brewing. Other levels offer a more limited selection smattered about. You can also find stuff from Hofbrau and Hacker Pschorr if German beer is your bag, as well as a pricy 12-oz can of famed local gem, New Glarus’ Spotted Cow. The great beer may not be everywhere like in the best of the best beer parks, but Milwaukee’s ballpark is now indeed a beer haven.
Some local leaders wanted the park in downtown Milwaukee, but Bud and co ultimately settled on the old Country Stadium site a few miles west of downtown. Despite being fairly close to the town center, it acts like a suburban park; for the most part, it’s a self-contained “drive in/drive out park” that really should score a 2 here.
The thing is, the “drive in” part often happens hours before game time. The tailgating in terms of both quantity and quantity feels more like a college football game. KC, Oakland, Texas and the White Sox have some scene, but really there’s no baseball tailgate like this one. The number of hibachis, cornhole games, and coolers will amaze you. Picture it as a giant pop-up bar with cheap beer prices. While muted on bad weather days and on weekday day games when the kids are still in school, summer weekends are particularly lively. It’s as good as any bar in town.
If you’re not carrying, or are in town without a car, there are a few sports bars a long walk from the park (they also offer shuttles for their patrons). And because over 40 bars, mainly in downtown or nearby Story Hill, vie for pre-game Brewers business by offering a free shuttle to American Family Field for their guests, being in the immediate “neighborhood” matters a little less.
If I did half points, this would be a 3.5. Brewer games cost a little below average. Good low infield seats can often still be had for about $50. Concessions and parking are around league average.
It’s an easy drive right off the highway getting in. Exiting can be a little ugly, especially from Preferred Parking lots closer to the stadium. And be careful: a few too many Brewers fans likely shouldn’t be behind the wheel after a game.
There’s a Brewers bus that goes from downtown every 30 minutes that is convenient. And there’s the aforementioned bar shuttles that’ll get you in and out.
The “space vulva” keeps the North cold and wet away. And Wisconsin summers can be lovely.
This is one of only 7 parks that get a score of 17 or more on this metric. There really is a great buzz at a Brewers game. (Or more accurately, you likely have a great buzz at a Brewers game.)
This is a franchise that has only been to one World Series in its life and has never won one. It had a 25-year post-season drought. Yet since American Family Field opened, attendance has been good, which shows the passion of these fans. And in the past few years, with a strong team, they’ve averaged over 36,000 a game.
A Brewers tailgate rivals some of the best pre-game bars for enjoyment. Much of the crowd then enters the stadium well-lubricated, yet they generally remain “happy” rather than belligerent.
There are some great in-stadium things that add to the vibe. The Famous Racing Sausages compete in the pre-eminent costumed mid-inning race in baseball; the excitement in the seats is genuine and palpable. The merchandize shop offers all sorts of novelties including stuffed plushies of the Racing Sausages. The Sausages will even often come out on the bridge between the stadium and the General Parking lots to meet the tailgaters (sometimes I high five them with a little guilt given I may have just eaten one of their kin in the parking lot).
The 7th inning stretch with the Beer Barrell Polka always brings a smile to my face. I find myself humming “roll out the barrel” for a few days after a visit to this place. So even if the stadium itself lacks a sense of place, the food, the drink and the traditions let you know you’re in Milwaukee.
It really is an enjoyable experience, one of the most fun in baseball. I always look forward to coming here.
OTHER FUN THINGS TO DO
Three fun Milwaukee eateries:
- Mader’s (Westown. Venerable authentic German restaurant with a turret and full sets of armor as décor, known for their giant pretzel, beer served in glass boots, and the German sampler platter.)
- Safe House (Downtown. Fun spy-themed restaurant that’s part escape room, part dining.)
- Odd Duck (Bay View. Funky small plates and great cocktails at what may be Milwaukee’s “coolest” resto.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
The parking lot is likely your best option. It’s the best tailgate in baseball, and feels more like a Badgers game except in blue and yellow. If you prefer an actual establishment
- Kelly’s Bleachers or J&B’s Blue Ribbon: two classic sport bars close enough to walk to the park. Or take their free shuttles.
- Saz’s State House (Miller Valley. Classic Milwaukee restaurant serving American cuisine, including good baby backs, and relatively cheap drinks. Free shuttle to the ballpark.)
- Third Space Brewing (Menomonee Valley. Brewery 2 miles due east of the ballpark with an industrial chic and lots of space.)
One bar in the area worth hitting: (I give you a few because Milwaukee is a drinking town)
- Burnhearts/1840 Brewery/Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge (Bay View. Three great places 2 miles apart. Burnhearts is a classic local bar with an excellent beer list. 1840 is an urban farmhouse, and a worthy player on Milwaukee’s craft brewing scene. Bryant’s is a classic lounge with the best cocktails in town and velvet wallpaper.)
- Romans’ Pub (St. Francis. Serious beer bar with an austere “no bros” vibe)
- Barnacle Bud’s (South Milwaukee. A boater’s bar with a great patio and a chill by-the-water vibe that feels more Floridian than Sconnie.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Eagle Park Brewing (Lower East Side. Maybe the best brewery in town with a great range of well crafted brews. While in the area, also hit up Hacienda Beer Co. Great beer, good food and amazing service.)
- Milwaukee Brewing Company (Arena District. Large new space with taproom and expansive beer hall)
- MobCraft (Walker Square. Spacious taproom serving up interesting brews including some crowdsourced recipes)
- Bonus recommendation: New Glarus (Closer to Madison but may be worth the nearly 2-hour haul for beer nerds. Renown bucolic brewery licensed to only serve in Wisconsin.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- A brewery tour. The Miller Brewery Tour is great. Beer lovers may also check out Lakefront Brewery who also put on a great tour and have Bernie’s old chalet on display.
- Riverwalk/The Bronze Fonz (Nice area with a statue of the coolest TV character ever)
- Harley Davidson Museum (world-class museum dedicated to the history of America’s bike. As a bonus, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is just a few blocks from here for a nifty 1-2 punch.)
American Family Field won’t win any beauty contests. But attending a Brewers game is one of the more joy-inducing experiences in major league baseball. In some ways, it’s more like a Big Ten football atmosphere than one of 81 home games. Prepare to loosen the belt a notch or two and let loose. Zing, Boom, Tararrel. You’ll have a barrel of fun.