What's New in...
by Kelsy Chauvin
Sometimes when you visit a place you wish you lived there. With its prime spot on Lake Michigan, humble Midwestern Milwaukee is that kind of city—always finding ways to make life a little more livable, from its refreshing friendliness, influx of economic development, beguiling art scene, and growing green consciousness.
Yet, to earn its great reputation, Milwaukee has had to overcome some serious stereotypes. After all, Brew City was once the humble home of Laverne & Shirley, TV's most famous bottlecappers at the fictitious Shotz Brewery. It's also the birthplace of some the world's most thirst-quenching companies, including Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz, and the greatest motorcycle manufacturer ever, Harley-Davidson.
This kind of legacy is what makes Milwaukee so intriguing today, as a place where history inspires renovation rather than replacement. Striped with bike lanes and a great bus network, in just the past few years the city has made eco-friendly urban planning key to its future. Local businesses have made the same commitment, finding innovative ways to grow sustainably—from donating compost to local urban farms to drilling geothermal wells for indoor climate control.
One of the city's fastest growing companies is Alterra Coffee Roasters, which started fueling Milwaukeans in 1993 and whose sustainably sourced coffees have since gone national. Its cafés are sprinkled around the city, but don't miss the flagship Alterra at the Lake (1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., Tel: 414-223-4551. www.alterracoffee.com). Located beside lush McKinley Park and Lake Michigan marina, locally owned Alterra transformed an old water pumphouse into a multi-level café and outdoor patio with delectable sandwiches and baked goods.
You need only to inhale to know that coffee is roasted on site. Perhaps even more impressive is that since 2002, the energy behind many of Alterra's cafés comes from wind, hydro, solar, and (here's a new one) biomass-decomposition power. To that end, the company is one of many in town that contributes spent coffee grounds and food waste to organic farms and gardens for compost.
In terms of architecture, the owners of this lakeside café, like many others, have smartly rehabilitated a great abandoned building rather than build a new one. The phenomenon is due in large part to the city's trademark cream-colored brick—which by the way is the source of Milwaukee's other nickname "Cream City." All over town, you'll find beige brick, sourced from the area's clay and at one time the most common building material. Now those native bricks are prized, and because their composition makes them tough to salvage, businesses prefer to keep them intact.
Lakefront Brewery (1872 N. Commerce St. Tel: 414-372-8800. www.lakefrontbrewery.com) is another one of those reuse-minded companies, choosing in 2000 to put its brewhouse in a former power plant. Lakefront isn't mass-produced like its local macrobrew forefathers, but it rivals them in taste and selection, pouring everything from gluten-free to cherry beer. It also hosts a hilarious $7 daily brewery tour that includes four draughts and a pint glass.
Milwaukee is clearly a thirsty town, and to raise the stakes is Great Lakes Distillery (616 West Virginia St. Tel: 414-431-8683. www.greatlakesdistillery.com). Opened in 2004 as the first distillery in Wisconsin since Prohibition, Great Lakes makes amazing small-batch, handcrafted Rehorst-brand vodka (try the citrus and honey flavor), gin, rum, brandy, and whiskey. The standouts here, though, are the red and green Amerique 1912 absinthe, so named for the year absinthe was banned (until 2007, that is). Daily tours (except Sundays) are free, and for just $5 guests can taste test five spirits.
After all that sipping, it's time to eat, and there's no better place than the
Milwaukee Public Market (400 N Water St. Tel: 414-336-1111. www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org). Inside are around 20 vendors carrying everything from the classic local fare (definitely sample some aged cheddar and Usinger's sausage), wine, fresh-baked goods, and every kind of ethnic food. It's one of the best places in town for lunch and hosts an outdoor Saturday market. When it opened its doors six years ago, the Public Market became an anchor for a whole Third Ward (www.historicthirdward. org) revitalization. The one-time warehouse district evokes New York's TriBeCa, with its boutique fashion storefronts, eclectic restaurants, and art galleries.
The Third Ward's newest queer bar is BTW Lounge (231 E. Buffalo St. Tel: 414-273-4289. www.btwlounge.com). Debonair owner Nick Kissinger opened BTW in early 2011, proclaiming it the only bisexual bar in the country, with the motto "We put the B in LGBT." Schemed in Tiffany blue and dark brown details, BTW attracts a mixed crowd for its fancy cocktails, dance parties, Tuesday drag bingo, Wednesday ladies night, and Sinful Sundays monthly discos.
Around the corner from BTW, you can
kick back at the new classic bistro Café Benelux (346 N. Broadway. Tel: 414-501-2500. www.cafebenelux.com), opened in June 2011. Taking full advantage of the repurposed-industrial trend in the Third Ward architecture, Benelux delivers great French and Belgian standards with a spin, like the mushroom ragout paired with steak frites, steamed mussels with five different accompaniments, and a dish filled with Canadian love: poutine with ale gravy.
Not surprisingly, Milwaukee is filled with neighborhood watering holes. Top among the queer spots is Walker's Pint (818 S. 2nd St., Tel: 414-643-7468. www.walkerspint.com), in the Walker's Point neighborhood. Though it leans toward the lesbian side, Walker's is a great mingling of genders who come for great happy hours, the outdoor patio, and killer jukebox. It's also in the heart of Milwaukee's gayborhood, with thumping dance joints nearby like Le Cage (801 S. 2nd St. Tel: 414-383-8330. www.lacagemke.com) and Boom (625 S. 2nd St. Tel: 414-277-5040. www. boommke.com), keeping (mostly) men busy all week.
Another more low-key option is Hybrid Lounge (707 E. Brady St. Tel: 414-810-1809. www.hybridlounge.net), the only dedicated gay bar on Milwaukee's east side. Perched on the end of East Brady—which the locals consider their most "Bohemian" strip—Hybrid is the new kid in town, drawing a fun crowd of queers nightly since early 2010.