Ambassador Hotel goes for hip history in Milwaukee with mixed results

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Located in Milwaukee, an easy drive to Brown Deer Golf Club and Erin Hills Golf Course, the Ambassador Hotel is full of an authentic 1950s vibe. Just don't expect those 21st centuries thrills, and go with the flow at the retro boutique hotel.

Ambassador Hotel - Milwaukee
The Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee has the most distinct old-school elevators in the Midwest.
Ambassador Hotel - MilwaukeeAmbassador Hotel - LoungeErin Hills Golf Course
If you go

MILWAUKEE - The first time you use the old-school push-door elevators with the distinctive gold-colored doors, you might think someone is playing a trick on you. When did anyone who wasn't working in the early 1950s have to open an elevator door?

Is this a hotel or a trip to the set of "Mad Men"? And if the Ambassador Hotel in the far western edge of downtown Milwaukee is trying for "Mad Men," where's the friendly elevator operator?

Okay, the Ambassador Hotel ( truly does need to hire an elevator attendant if it wants to achieve the historic 1920s atmosphere it's going for.

Until then, it will not take you long to figure out how to operate the elevator doors yourself. You wait until the sign telling you the actual elevator car is there appears in the little glass window, and then pull on that gold handle.

It's sort of cute. Which sums up the Ambassador Hotel experience. You're not going to love this hotel. It might even annoy you a few times. For example, waking up one morning to find that the front entrance drive right outside the hotel's main doors - the one you walk across to get to the parking lot - has been completely torn up even earlier that morning. Without any warning.

So, the walk to the car turns into a gingerly trudge across chunks of rocks. Traveler's tip: Suitcases do not roll well across giant rock hunks.

This is unlikely to happen during your stay, though. How many times can they replace the front drive overnight, after all?

The more typical annoyances will be the tiny bathrooms in the standard rooms, the somewhat shady location - and maybe even those elevators.

Ambassador Hotel deserves credit for trying, though. In a Milwaukee area full of cookie-cutter hotels where you might not know if you're staying in the beer capital or Cleveland, Ambassador is more distinctive than the kid who dresses up as a kitchen sink for Halloween. It's anything but your standard Joker mask. You can even open your room's small windows. There's noticeable pride from the staff in being different, too.

They want you to love this quirky boutique-style hotel.

The lobby stands up to the buildup, too. You arrive at this nondescript old-apartment-looking building in a borderline questionable area of the city and immediately start expecting the worst. Instead, you walk in and find a gleaming marble floor with a distinctive pattern by a lounge that could almost have been lifted from a "Sex In The City" set.

It's like walking up to a four-wide trailer and finding a mansion behind the doors.

With a good place to drink (on this night, there was a mix of professional businessmen and women types in Ambassador's bar lounge) and a restaurant named Envoy that's anything but just Midwest steak and potatoes, Ambassador can make for a more than good enough golf base.

It's extremely easy to get to Brown Deer Golf Club, the must-play municipal course that hosts a regular PGA Tour tournament, from here. With freeway entrances close to the hotel, it's as convenient for getting to Erin Hills Golf Course, the out-in-the-farmland 2017 U.S. Open favorite, as almost any hotel besides the one above Erin Hills' clubhouse.

There are some underrated perks, too.

"Free parking and free wireless Internet is pretty big for us regular people on vacation," golfer Erica Schapria said. "We don't have Wall Street CEO expense accounts."

Another essential freebie supplied by Ambassador in recognition of its bad location is the gratis shuttle that will take you anywhere in downtown Milwaukee. This is actually a pretty walkable city. You just don't want to be walking at night near the Ambassador. There's really nothing for tourists around, and getting lost near the hotel one night while driving, I thought I'd stumbled upon a never ending episode of "Cops."

Ambassador's free shuttle can take you to several walkable areas, though - from Marquette University, which is right in the heart of the city, to along the water.

When you're back in your room on "the western edge of downtown" as Ambassador's Hotel literature tries to couch it, you'll have a TV with a number of free premium movie channels (more than one HBO, for starters) and a comfortable enough bed.

Remember that this building has been around since the 1920s, and maybe you'll even get a wash of nostalgia that compels you to go down to the lounge and order one of the original beverages from its 1928 menu. Don't worry. The liquor's new, just the way it's prepared is Titanic old school.

Ah, life at the Ambassador Hotel.

You probably won't be overly thrilled. But you likely won't be crushingly disappointed, either.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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