Milwaukee is always a town that I look forward to visiting. I've had some mediocre sports experiences and some really good sports experiences, but I know no matter what, that I will find something good to eat.
It was with that in mind that I attended my first Milwaukee Admirals game at the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee. The Bradley Center can be a great venue, but for the Admirals it's just a little too big, especially on a weeknight.
The team has been a mainstay of the city since 1974 when they became a member of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Migrating throughout the years to the International Hockey League (IHL), then the American Hockey League (AHL), they've twice been champions. The first came in 1976 in the USHL, and the most recent was the 2004 Calder Cup victory.
Proud affiliate of the Nashville Predators since their inception in the NHL, the Admirals may not have the most ideal geographic relationship, but I did see several Predators jerseys among the smattering of Admirals, Packers, Brewers, and Wisconsin hockey gear.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Like I said, the food is good in Milwaukee. It may not be the place to find health food, but when I'm here, I want encased meats. You can choose from jumbo hot dog, jumbo bratwurst, or Polish sausage ($4.50 each). Bratwurst is the way to go, but if you want to take it up a notch, then try the Bradley burger ($8). It's your basic cheeseburger with caramelized onions, and then topped with a split bratwurst. I topped it at the condiment bar with some raw onions and pickle, and thought it was Wisconderful!
Another interesting option is the chicken pesto Panini ($7), which I tried and thought was pretty good, certainly worth the price. If you have a large group, try the victory knot pretzel served with three different dipping sauces ($15). Finally, there's the Milwaukee Fish Fry ($8.50).
Beer is plentiful as you may expect, with at least four separate bars open along the main concourse. There's a good selection, but if you want to keep it basic, then go with a Miller Lite or Leinenkugel at any concession stand ($5.50 for small, $7 for a large). The soft drink of choice is Pepsi ($3.50 & $5).
I was pretty disappointed by the overall atmosphere at an Admirals game. That's not to say there weren't some positive aspects. The fans were great (although small in number), and the large scoreboard hanging over center ice, accompanied by the large video boards on either end, are a great touch of technology.
That's where it ended for me though.
The biggest buzzkill of the night came during the first intermission, when the team from the seniors men's hockey league took the ice. The problem wasn't the skaters and their 83 year-old captain (awesome, by the way), but the series of commercials that ran loudly over the PA and on the video boards. A beer commercial, followed by an airline ad, then a series of upcoming Bradley Center concerts, followed by a bank commercial, and finally a local injury lawyer. It was ridiculous, disrespectful to the intermission participants, and mostly just dull.
Seats have chairbacks throughout, but the leg room is less than adequate and there are no cupholders. I did appreciate the diligence of the ushers who directed traffic and kept fans from moving about while the puck was in play.
I've learned enough to know exactly what I want when I am in Milwaukee. Eventually I may branch out again to try something new, but on this night, it was back to two favorites.
The first is Mader's, a slightly upscale German restaurant which has been an institution for over a century. I love their oxtail soup, but there are several great traditional German dishes to try. If you want the upscale food, with a little less pretention, then you can sit at the bar and order off the menu as well.
Another favorite has become The Old German Beer Hall. It's a friendly place with the expected selection of beers straight from Munich. The food is also good. Served on paper plates with plastic forks and knives, it is nonetheless good.
There are other establishments worth trying along Old World Third Street. If you get there early, take your time and enjoy the options.
There are a group of fans, concentrated in the Admirals' attack zone, who really do their team proud. They are hockey-savvy, menacing to the opponent, and fully engaged. The problem is that there just aren't enough of them. This is the real weakness of the Admirals playing in the Bradley Center, it's just too big for them. The nearly 3,000 fans that were in attendance during my visit were swallowed up by the cavernous arena. If the Admirals could play in a 6,000 seat arena, this fan base could be really special.
They are a cowbell-ringing crew, and clang away for almost every meaningful positive play in support of their team. After a goal, the fans incessantly taunt the opposing goalie, chanting his name three times slowly before yelling and pointing in unison, "YOU SUCK!" That's just good fun.
You won't find a problem locating a parking spot, but the $10 I spent for the lot at 1030 N 6th Street, just seemed a bit high for what I was getting from the experience in return. It was conveniently located, and on a rainy night like this, I did appreciate the proximity, but in retrospect I should have moved further away. The general rule is that you'll save $2 for each block that you move away from the Bradley Center. Go far enough and you may find street parking for free.
Concourses are wide and restrooms are clean and hassle free.
Tickets are issued through the annoying and costly Ticketmaster, meaning you get a hefty fee to supplement your ticket purchase for an Admirals game. Tickets go for $22-$29, and unless you find something right on the glass, there is no reason to pay any more than you have to. Avoid the Ticketmaster fees by getting your tickets at the arena the night of the game. Weekend games certainly have more folks in the seats, but you shouldn't have much of a problem finding a spot that you like.
In most cases, you'll spend $50 or more per person with parking, tickets, and food, and in the final analysis, this experience just doesn't live up to that price.
One point for the two championship banners hanging for the Admirals. The banners for the Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles are also a nice plus.
I'm a bit torn. On the one hand, there is good food, solid fans, and a great neighborhood. On the other hand, the hockey experience falls a little flat for the overall price. The decision of whether or not to attend an Admirals game comes down to your level of enthusiasm for the sport. I would rather make the drive to Madison to see the Badgers hockey team play in the Kohl Center, so if you need your hockey fix in the state of Wisconsin, that's probably the choice. Otherwise, you're in for a so-so experience at the Bradley Center when you see a Milwaukee Admirals game.
The Bradley Center is definitley too big for AHL hockey, but they aren't the only team in this situation. What surprised me the most were the fans. When I went there were only 5,000 in attendance, which isn't bad for the AHL, but they sure sounded like 10,000!
Any time a team plays 3rd or 4th fiddle in a building there are going to be atmosphere problems. Not much dedication to the minor league team in terms of signage and pictures. The video board is absolutely gorgeous however and they do what they can with what they've got. Have to give an extra point for one of the coolest logos ever.
Overall the Admirals provide a product that is better than most AHL experiences that I have had. If I have to choose between a nice bright building that is too big, or a dank, dark building that is smaller, I will go with the big one each time.
Kudos to the Admirals fans who made my trip fun!
1037 North Old World 3rd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53203
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