The Hilton’s Renovated Monarch Lounge
Walter Schroeder had already opened many fine hotels around Wisconsin and the Midwest by 1927, but none were as prestigious as the Schroeder Hotel, a 25-story building at the corner of Fifth Street and Wisconsin Avenue that immediately announced itself as Milwaukee’s finest hotel. The building’s opulent Art Deco architecture carried through the hotel’s lounge, which, with the addition of an 82-foot-long serpentine bar in the 1940s, became a popular Downtown gathering spot. It’s not clear when the hotel’s cocktail lounge was converted into a ballroom—it was prior to 1972, probably sometime in the ’60s—but that remodel cost the room some of its character. A wall was erected to separate the ballroom from the hotel’s lobby, and the room’s floor-to-ceiling windows were also covered. Downtown had been cut off from one of its most illustrious bars.
Though the hotel was renamed the Hilton Milwaukee in 1995, a recent multimillion-dollar renovation has helped it reclaim its original 1920s elegance. As the final part of that project this summer, the ballroom was returned to its original purpose: Now called the Monarch Lounge, it’s a public cocktail lounge once again—and as grand as ever. The wall partitioning the bar from the hotel’s front desk has been removed, and the room’s towering windows have finally been unboarded.
“We tried to restore everything back to its original state,” explains Steve Magnuson, the hotel’s vice president of operations. “The three large chandeliers are original to 1928, and all the wood is original to 1928, too. We didn’t add any new wood; we just restored what was there.”
To be sure, the Monarch Lounge is a hotel bar. There are two large-screen televisions tucked away in the corner, near a media area where hotel guests can get some work done on their laptops or use one of the hotel’s iPads. But the lounge was designed with the general public in mind, too. At the other end of the lounge, there are a marble, stainless steel fireplace and a piano, which hosts live jazz on the weekends. The bar offers a variety of craft cocktails, with a menu that rotates seasonally, and a modest but thoughtful beer selection. It also serves appetizers, including calamari, cheese and olive plates, flatbreads and braised pork belly crostini.
“Our chef creates different appetizer specials and light bites,” Magnuson says. “It’s not fried food; they’re mostly lighter appetizers, served with a light dipping sauce.”