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Pabst Theater

144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The fourth-oldest continually operating theatre in the country, tickets aren’t required to appreciate Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater. A national historic landmark and the largest theater in Milwaukee’s Theatre District, this 1895 spot is Gilded Age opulence inside and out. Commissioned by beer magnate Frederick Pabst as a German-style opera house, this venue still brings in household names worthy of its stage.

Over 100 years ago, Milwaukee had the largest population of Germans outside of Germany—German beer halls, German newspapers, German schools, and German-inspired architecture were all common. The Pabst Theater is a remnant of this era, when “Brew City” was earning its name and folks like Frederick Pabst were still growing their fortunes.

Today, the Pabst remains as opulent as ever: You won’t miss the two-ton Austrian crystal chandelier over the auditorium, the Italian Carrera marble staircase, and the gold-leafed proscenium arch. The 1,300-seat venue puts on roughly 100 shows annually, from comedians and musicians to writers.

  • All tickets include the option of discounted parking at nearby garages.

  • The venue has several ADA-accessible seating areas.

  • Only small bags—roughly the size of a piece of paper—are allowed inside the theatre.

If you have tickets, you’ll have the option of including discounted parking with your purchase. Park in the Mac Structure at 777 N. Milwaukee St. or the BMO Tower Garage at 771 N. Broadway St., and make sure your pass is displayed in your window. Otherwise, the Milwaukee Streetcar can get you within a few blocks, or you can nab a taxi or rideshare.

Most visitors will arrive at the Pabst Theater with tickets to that night’s performance. If that’s you, come at least 30 minutes in advance to appreciate the structure’s elegant details. Doors are typically locked outside showtimes—without tickets, you’ll have to settle for a glance inside during a show or admire the theatre from its exterior.

In the mid-1800s, Milwaukee was known as “Deutsche Athen,” or German Athens. The town was so German the Pabst Theatre ran exclusively German-language productions for nearly 20 years. Eventually, that fell out of vogue, forcing the venue to run English programming. Today, vestiges of Germany—in beer halls, fish fries, and German schools—hang on in Brew City.

Constructed in 1985 for the second time after the first one burned down, the Pabst Theater still stands in the heart of Milwaukee’s theater district. It was named after its owner at the time, Brewer Frederick Pabst, and built in an American German architectural style, playing a part in German-American culture.

There are around 1,300 seats at the Pabst Theater. Several were replaced in a renovation in 2000, where the ventilation system was also upgraded, and Cudhay’s Pub was added to the lobby. You can even take your drinks into the theater and drink at your seat.

All sorts of performing arts are shown at the Pabst Theater. Concerts, ballets, plays, and events like the Napoleon Dynamite Cast Reunion have been played at the theater. Its European opera house backdrop is an excellent venue for several artistic performances. Check the website to see what’s on.

The Pabst Theater was built in 1895. Previously, there had been another opera house on the site, but it burned down. After Frederick Pabst bought it, Otto Stark was commissioned to design and build it. It only took six months to build and was in the German Renaissance Revival style.

The Pabst Theater Foundation currently owns the theater. Up until 1953, the Pabst family owned it themselves. In 1961, the Common Council of Milwaukee took ownership, but the foundation still managed it. The city took over complete management after an issue with unionized stagehands in 1969.

The Pabst Theater is named after German-American Captain Frederick Pabst, the original owner, who purchased it in 1985. He was also one of Milwaukee's great beer brewers, and The Pabst Brewing Company was named after him. He also built the Pabst Building in Milwaukee and the Pabst Mansion.


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