One can find reviews for stadiums on sites like Yelp and other resources on the Internet. But those reviews are not always from actual sports fans. StadiumJourney.com is a website that reviews stadiums all over the world, and does a pretty thorough and productive job doing it. I assessed their review of Miller Park, home of the Brewers since 2001, and found that while I had a different take on a few things, their review of Miller Park was very accurate and helpful, especially for those who haven’t visited the park before. The site does what they call a ‘FANFARE’ score, which is a composite of ratings for Food/Beverage, Atmosphere, Neighborhood, Fans, Access, Return on Investment and Extras. Each category gets ranked from one to five stars, five being the zenith. Overall, Miller Park gets a 3.9 rating on that site, which I would say is pretty solid and deserved. Miller Park is awesome, but it does have its drawbacks.
Food & Beverage: Stadium Journey=5 stars The Brewers Bar=4 stars
Stadium Journey duly makes note of cheese curds, sausage and beer. The poutine I’ve had at the park wasn’t all that great. It was OK, and I adore the elements that make up poutine: cheese curds, fries and gravy. But I’m sure there’s some better poutine out there that would make me really ‘experience’ poutine properly. That said, it is a ballpark-food item, so I don’t expect the best dish ever. GM Doug Melvin is a Canadian, and the Brewers have many ties to Canada from the front office down to players, so it’s cool that this regional dish is featured at the park.
For me, sausage is king at Miller Park, and the various sausages completely outshine anything related to cheese or cheese curds. Sausages outsell hot dogs at ONE stadium in MLB: Miller Park. It’s all about sausages for eats, and beer for drinks. Chorizo, Polish, Italian, Brat. ‘Nuff said. I agree with Stadium Journey that the widely available sauerkraut is a tasty indicator of how sausages are typically dressed in Milwaukee, and a nod to the heritage of the city. There is also the Secret Stadium Sauce, a tasty ‘mystery’ blend that goes well with sausages and dates back to the County Stadium days.
Beer at the stadium is certainly mostly Miller products, which is fine and expected, but there are areas to grab other kinds of beer, as Stadium Journey points out. Lakefront, Horny Goat, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Big Bay and others can be found around the park. I typically hit up the vendor on the first-base-side concourse, which is an easy place to access craft brews.
Overall the food is good at Miller Park. The sausages really represent the city and signify Miller Park’s ‘unique’ or ‘regional’ food. The other stuff available at Miller Park, food-wise, is pretty standard fare. Although Miller Park does do nachos extremely well.
Atmosphere: Stadium Journey=4 stars The Brewers Bar=5 stars
I would go with five stars on the atmosphere at Miller Park because first off, there is a gigantic party ringing the ballpark in the form of the sea of fans tailgating. There are the diehards that show up very early and the late-arrivals, but all have a good time whether it’s to grill up some pre-game snacks, toss a ball around or just have a few beers. The mood is very festive. Inside the park, I find the feeling of community to be very strong. Milwaukee is the smallest market in the majors, but the fans are very knowledgeable about the game and are aware of what’s going on. Milwaukee has a strong baseball tradition going back to the Braves and even back to the 19th century. The successful and well-supported American Association Brewers were among past teams that called Milwaukee home. Brewers games are all about fun. The team hasn’t always been as competitive as Brewers fans would like, but the fans have their fun whether the team complies or not. Beer-drinking, hanging out with friends and family, the game of baseball itself and celebratory events like the Sausage Race and songs like the ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ all mix together for a wonderful scene. Give us a good team, or even better: a winning team and a chance at the playoffs, and the fans will be into the action fervently. Brewers fans are very friendly and willing to strike up a conversation with outsiders, even fans of hated division rivals like the Cardinals and Cubs.
Neighborhood: Stadium Journey=5 stars The Brewers Bar=3 stars
Stadium Journey thinks of the tailgating scene as part of the neighborhood of Miller Park, which is actually totally reasonable. For me, that’s part of the atmosphere. I’m fully in support of Miller Park retaining the tailgating culture of County Stadium, and thus I’m not upset they didn’t build the ballpark downtown or on the lake. I also don’t want to see a strip mall or hotels built at Miller Park. However, the parking lots and industrial buildings nearby do offer little in terms of neighborhood or camaraderie. There are the bars on Blue Mound Road and National Avenue, which are a pretty easy walk to the park. Both areas are connected to the ballpark via relatively green spaces that are easy to traverse. I wouldn’t mind seeing something built up on Canal Street, though, which would also be close by. It would be cool if there was something more around besides a lot of pavement and interstate. There is a neighborhood around Miller Park, but it’s on the outer perimeter of the Miller Park zone. What I would really like to see is a street car linking Miller Park with downtown Milwaukee and the lakefront. Get it done!!
Fans: Stadium Journey=3 stars The Brewers Bar=5 stars
I’m not sure I understand Stadium Journey on this one, although I am rather biased in this case. Even when the Brewers amount to a losing team, the fans come out. The Brewers have a long history of futility, and frankly the franchise has not rewarded the city of Milwaukee often enough with winning play on the field. The fact that they have drawn nearly 3 million people year after year over the last five to ten years is amazing, especially in such a small market (and one that’s so close to Chicago, no less). Even if the team stinks, Brewers fans still come out to enjoy the games, to enjoy the tailgate, socialize or share the common purpose of supporting the team through thick and thin. Brewers fans show up more regularly and en masse than fans of certain other teams I won’t mention.
Access: Stadium Journey=3 stars The Brewers Bar=4 stars
Miller Park and Milwaukee in general (unfortunately) are most easily navigated by car. Personally I would love to see the transit options improved, especially because Miller Park is located miles away from many of Milwaukee’s most-densely populated areas. If you have a car or can carpool, however, it’s a breeze. Certainly buses work, and the many, many bar and restaurants that offer dutiful shuttle service are good options as well. Even though it’s miles away from Miller Park, a shuttle ride from a bar like Steny’s Tavern on South 2nd St is only like 10 minutes long and you can drink on the way. The shuttles are typically free and the drivers usually interesting characters. It would only cost you a buck or two in tips to experience reaching Miller Park in a very-Milwaukee way as you drink your beer in a bus with 15 other people and try not to spill. In addition, Miller Park can be reached quite easily by bicycle.
Return on Investment: Stadium Journey=4 stars The Brewers Bar=5 stars
Miller Park is one of the most affordable baseball parks in the nation, and the Brewers are constantly giving discounts for this and that. They’ll throw in a ticket for the state fair, Harley-Davidson museum, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, or the Milwaukee Admirals. Tickets are very affordable, and you can do most of your drinking cheaply in the parking lot. The Brewers are also beyond generous with their giveaways (e.g. in 2013, they’re giving away 10 different bobbleheads as all-fan gifts). Sausages are pretty cheap and unless you want to be a fancy boy (like me) and splurge on good craft beers, you can get away with swilling Miller products for a reasonable price.
Extras: Stadium Journey=3 stars The Brewers Bar=4 stars
The extras at Miller Park are things like the Sausage Race (which has been copied by many other teams), the mammoth scoreboard, that ridiculously robust kids’ zone, great views of the bullpens, incredible views from the concourses (especially behind home plate, which is more open and close to the action than any other stadium I’ve visited, and I’ve visited about half of the MLB parks), Helfaer Field, the parking lot scene (even after the game), the statues, the roof to shield the game from rain, Bernie sliding down the slide chaotically after a homerun, and listening to the one and only Bob Uecker call the game. That adds up to a lot.
Final Thoughts; The Brewers Bar Score for Miller Park: 4.3/5
Miller Park isn’t the best park for a baseball purist, but when you go, you know the game will be played. In a small market like Milwaukee, that’s a big deal because they can guarantee the game is on for fans that have to drive for hours to get to Milwaukee in the first place. A game that’s guaranteed to be played means that some guy from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan can come down in April or September without fear of sitting in a driving rainstorm or half a foot of snow. Miller Park is very affordable, especially the tickets, compared to many MLB parks. The vast opportunity to carpool and tailgate means that you can share the costs of food and beverages with others and eat and drink to your heart’s content before you enter the stadium. While it would be convenient if Miller Park were located in a more urban area with lots of shops and restaurants right there, that would destroy the tailgating culture of the Brewers’ fans and would mean there’d be less of an opportunity for fans to hang out and form what truly is a unique community in all of sports.
By the way, check out StadiumJourney.com for reviews of other stadiums, and you can add your own ratings as well.