88Nine celebrates one year in its Walkers Point home at the inaugural Fall Ball. The evening entertainment includes a rooftop reception and the Dueling DJ Dance Jam, as well as Rock Star Karaoke, with a live backing group of Milwaukee musicians featuring members of Fresh Cut Collective, RAS Movement, The Willy Porter Band, The Cavewives, The Lackloves and Radio Radio.
6:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 at 88Nine Radio in Milwaukee; general admission $75, backstage pass $125; radiomilwaukee.org
Bet you didn’t know the rickety bridge in Walker’s Point had its own name — or that it carries mile-long trains packed full to the brim with highly flammable crude oil right past residents every day, despite its crumbling supports. In an effort to raise awareness of the issue, organizers with Citizens Acting for Rail Safety (an organization concerned about the increasing number of those dangerous trains) have arranged a party to celebrate the bridge’s 99th anniversary. The free, family-friendly event will feature comedy sketches, cake, a piñata and more.
At First and Oregon Streets, Milwaukee. Visit CARS’ Facebook page for more details.
10 a.m. Aug. 29
Theatre Gigante kicks off its 2015–16 season with this unique show at its Walker’s Point studio. Former Gigante performer Frank Pahl will lead his band Little Bang Theory in performance of a live soundtrack to surreal, stop-motion animated films from the ’20s and ‘30s, including the acclaimed short The Mascot, an influence on filmmakers all the way up to the present day. Little Bang Theory performs entirely on children’s instruments and toys, making the act the perfect accompaniment.
At 706 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee. Seats are extremely limited and can be reserved at 414-961-6119. Suggested donation is $15.
8 p.m. July 10 and 11
The neutral white of The Pitch Project’s main gallery space is bathed in a wash of pink light. A couple of camping tents are pitched in the corners, kitted out with sleeping bags and other sundry outdoor necessities. Off to one side, a pedestal holds a monument of Busch Light beer cans. On the walls, photographs show 20-somethings frolicking outdoors in the summer, guzzling beer and cuddling a scruffy cat.
Has camp culture gone campy? In this exhibition, called LIT UP, it is humorous and insular, filled with deadpan irony. The artistic duo behind the installation, known as Gurl Don’t Be Dumb, includes Brooklyn-based Jamie Steel and Eileen Mueller, a Milwaukee native now living in Chicago. Establishing GDBD in 2011, the pair has engaged in a variety of curatorial projects, and LIT UP represents a new direction in their collaborative work, but it’s consistent with their established playfulness and humor.
The inspiration for this exhibition, which was originally presented as a one-night show at Forever & Always Projects in Chicago, goes back to a 2013 residency at ACRE (Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibition) in rural Steuben, Wisconsin. The end result is a sort of play on stereotypes, particularly dudes who use nature as a drinking venue. As the artists describe in their exhibition notes, “This is your Styrofoam cooler emitting a soft pink glow, this is your moonlight skinny-dip LIT UP.”
A video in the front gallery brings the combination of camaraderie and bravado together. The artists are nonchalant behind sunglasses, sitting in plastic chairs opposite each other in a grassy clearing. They throw plastic darts at each others’ feet, taking three shots at a time, and then a guy clambers in to collect the darts to be thrown again. The point of the lackadaisical dart game becomes apparent when one punctures a can of beer on the ground, shifting gears into a drinking game in which beer is sucked down from the pierced opening. With a stomp and a squash of the nearly empty can, the video ends.
In another gallery, a pop-up shop offers prints, accouterments and “schwag” from earlier exhibitions curated by Gurl Don’t Be Dumb. The humor and self-referential irony are scaled down to more easily portable sizes and price points.
LIT UP is a playful exhibition, one that absorbs and deflects heavy-handed seriousness. It may suggest questions about frayed stereotypes and gender, but is also about a manner of fun. If there are statements to be made, they come through under the haze of a soft glow rather than direct glare.
LIT UP: Gurl Don’t Be Dumb continues through Jan. 17 at The Pitch Project, 706 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee.
The university semester is winding down, making this a great time to visit area campuses to catch exhibitions before they close. Not to worry, these won’t be on the final.
Through Dec. 6
If you’re interested in contemporary art with a digital twist, do not miss this exhibition. Nathaniel Stern and Bryan Cera present solo and collaborative installations that engage the viewer in a variety of sensory experiences, including sound and movement. The underlying question of the exhibition is a meditation on how technology influences our actions. This is a happy collaboration between people and machine.
At Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design’s Frederick Layton Gallery, 273 E. Erie St., Milwaukee.
Through Dec. 12
This exhibition opens a discussion about Native American culture in the context of the 21st century, asking how traditional stories and customs are preserved in the rush of modern life and what is the impact of European influence on character and socioeconomic structures. There are a number of striking pieces in this exhibition, particularly the paintings by Bunky Echo-Hawk, who deftly uses pop culture references and aesthetics to open up questions about Native American identity and acceptance.
At UWM’s Union Art Gallery, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
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Drive south from downtown Milwaukee into the Walker’s Point neighborhood, where you can enjoy some of the best farm-to-table food in a city that prides itself on being the heart of America’s Dairyland.
Your first stop should be La Merenda, a tapas bar where farmers and artisanal food producers vie to get on the menu. With so many restaurants naming their suppliers these days, serving local food seems unremarkable and increasingly faddish. But Peter Sandroni and a growing group of like-minded chefs have demonstrated the power of buying locally.
When Sandroni opened La Merenda in an old woodworking shop seven years ago, Walker’s Point had only one truly notable restaurant, Peggy Magister’s Crazy Water, a pricey-by-Milwaukee-standards bistro with a quietly loyal clientele.
Today, its neighbors include Braise, run by James Beard nominee Dave Swanson; c. 1880, operated by Thomas Hauck, the former executive sous chef at Citronelle in Washington; and Blue Jacket, a Great Lakes-themed restaurant that’s rapidly making a name for itself after opening last summer. Magister has opened a second restaurant in the area, called All Purpose, or AP.
The restaurants are within blocks of some of the city’s most acclaimed artisanal producers, including the cheesemaker Clock Shadow Creamery, Purple Door Ice Cream, Atomic Chocolate Co., Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. and Great Lakes Distillery, which makes small-batch spirits. Sandroni has made a point of buying from these companies and encourages other chefs to do so as well.
He knew the dark, dead-end street where he opened La Merenda on Valentine’s Day in 2007 was a gamble. Customers were afraid to walk too far in a section of the city with few street lamps _ a problem that remains. But the artsy and upscale neighborhood to the north had no space left for a newcomer, and the neighborhood just south was rapidly filling with hipsters.
Sandroni’s menu has a few staples — ravioli and empanadas stuffed with seasonal vegetables, meat and sometimes fruit. The ravioli on the current menu — filled with winter squash and soft quark cheese from Clock Shadow Creamery — comes in a brown butter that is swoon-worthy. Later in the year, the squash may be replaced with mushrooms or spinach.
Another mainstay is patatas bravas y chorizo, a dish of fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce with Spanish pork sausage. The potatoes cut the heat in the sauce, leaving the dish sweet and tangy.
A similar dish with a Wisconsin twist features LaClare Farms goat cheese curds melted on garlic crostini under a tomato and chorizo cream sauce. You might want to order a side of Rocket Baby Bakery bread to wipe up the extra sauce. Or, order the bread just to taste Sandroni’s homemade jams and butters flavored with garlic, herbs or spices.
Most La Merenda small plates run $7 to $10 and are designed to be shared among four people. With a group of six to eight, it’s possible to order much of the menu and still walk away with a bill of $20 to $25 per person.
The restaurant’s top seller also is its most expensive, a $15 Argentinian-style grass-fed beef marinated in chimichurri, grilled and served with mashed sweet plantains. The beef is fork-tender, and the plantains put mashed potatoes to shame.
The cost of the dish reflects Sandroni’s recent switch from a national meat supplier to a farm north of Milwaukee. Knowing the cows are treated right, he says, is worth the higher price.
If You Go . . .
LA MERENDA: 125 E. National Ave., Milwaukee, 414-389-0125, http://www.lamerenda125.com/index.html
CLOCK SHADOW CREAMERY: 138 W. Bruce St., Milwaukee, 414-273-9711, http://www.clockshadowcreamery.com/ .
PURPLE DOOR ICE CREAM: 138 W. Bruce St., Milwaukee, 414-231-3979, http://purpledooricecream.com/
ATOMIC CHOCOLATE CO. (inside Times Square Bistro and Pizzeria): 605 S. First St., Milwaukee, 262-384-1236.
GREAT LAKES DISTILLERY: 616 W Virginia St., Milwaukee, 414-431-8683, http://www.greatlakesdistillery.com/
Zak’s Cafe, 231 S. 2nd St., is new and a bit off the beaten track, but I predict that it won’t be long before it’s hard to get a table there.
Following a day of shopping, we showed up in early evening at this bistro-style eatery, located in a newly renovated Walker’s Point building. I opted for a pair of appetizers instead of an entrée. The mix and match “slider” flight offered me a choice of three mini-sandwiches. The burger featured lean ground beef topped with apple-wood smoked bacon and rich cheddar cheese. Pulled BBQ pork was topped with cheddar cheese as well as crispy fried onions. The standout was the seared ahi tuna with arugula, caper remoulade and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Not bad for $9!
Next time I may mix it up and check out the orphan of the selection – a Cubano slider, featuring smoked ham, pulled Cuban pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle.
The sandwiches proved so filling that I barely touched my salad. However, the combination of fresh slices of pear and Maytag blue cheese, arugula and candied walnuts drizzled with a light vinaigrette was not wasted. It held up quite well, and served as an excellent lunch the next day.
My dining partners were all in the mood for fish, and since it was Friday, most of the seafood dishes were on special. The Friday night fish fry for $12.95 featured three large pieces of cod (perch is another option), coated in a light beer batter and served with choice of French fries or potato pancake. The fries succeeded better than the slightly greasy pancake. A side of cole slaw, usually a nod to veggies, stood on its own. The creamy sauce was used sparingly and had a bit of a kick. I could have eaten an order as my entrée.
There also is the option of getting a combo platter featuring beer-battered cod, perch and shrimp served with baked potato for two bucks more.
One of us opted for the healthier, but no less delicious rainbow trout. Lightly breaded and pan-seared, it featured a light and refreshing lemon parsley burre blanc and steamed broccoli for $14.95.
For meat eaters there are a variety of options, including steaks and chops, all served with a choice of cabernet demi-glaze or green peppercorn sauce. Meat entrées range in price from $12 to $20. Vegetarians aren’t left out – there are roasted veggie dishes as well as a number of pasta options.
Whatever you do, save room for dessert. While the cakes are not made on premises, they are made by hand. The carrot cake is among the best I’ve ever eaten, while the red velvet was far moister than many versions I’ve sampled. Whatever you order, get it with artisan ice cream, sourced from a nearby vendor. On the night of our visit one of the flavor options was peppermint candy cane. All I can say is that if that ice cream were a man, my husband would be in trouble.
Zak’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast menu is available until 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with brunch served from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
The brunch/breakfast menu intrigued me with such tempting dishes as two varieties of breakfast burritos, brioche French toast and four varieties of eggs Benedict, including one with lobster and another with king crab.
For more information, call 414-271-5555 or go to www.zaksdeli.com.
A fire that broke out shortly before 4 a.m. on May 18 destroyed Boot Camp Saloon, the popular leather bar in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.
It took firefighters an hour and a half to control the two-alarm blaze at 209 E. National Ave., according to the Milwaukee Fire Department. News crews reported that half the building was fully engulfed, with flames shooting as high as 30 feet into the air.
Officials were on the scene early May 18 investigating the cause of the fire.
Although the building was called a total loss, much of the damage was near a deck on the south side. The bar is connected to a house but no injuries were reported.
WiG was unable to reach Si Smits, who has owned the bar for nearly 30 years and reportedly lived above it, prior to press time.
Like San Francisco’s The Castro, New York City’s Chelsea and Chicago’s Boystown, Walker’s Point serves as a sort of nucleus to Milwaukee’s LGBT nightlife. For years, gay and lesbian bars and clubs have flourished in the area, also known as the Fifth Ward.
But a growing number of LGBT Milwaukeeans, particularly younger gays and lesbians, don’t like having their social life confined to the South Side neighborhood. They feel it’s isolating.
In 2007, the Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar was formed as an “alternative scene for folks who crave something different than what the gay Walker’s Point circuit offers,” says the group’s website.
The first Friday of every month, MGGB organizes a “takeover” of one of Milwaukee’s straight bars by rallying hundreds of members and allies via Facebook and Twitter announcements. The location of the “takeover” is announced the day of the event, and “guerrillas” show up unexpectedly at the designated bar that night.
Three years after the first guerrilla attack, 2010 could be considered the year of the LGBT takeover of East Side and downtown nightlife. Two gay bars have opened in those neighborhoods, and several otherwise straight venues have begun promoting gay nights.
Before Walker’s Point became the focal point of the city’s gay nightlife, the East Side served that role, says Joe Brehm, owner of This Is It! at 418 E. Wells St. Milwaukee’s oldest gay bar, This Is It! has operated continuously for more than 40 years.
“I think the East Side was always more accepting of diversity than other (Milwaukee) neighborhoods,” Brehm says.
Hybrid Lounge helped revive the East Side’s gay tradition in March, opening at 707 E. Brady St. and becoming the only gay bar on the popular Brady Street corridor.
In June, Tempt opened downtown at 324 E. Mason St. Tempt promotes itself as filling the void of LGBT bars and nightclubs downtown, using the slogan “Let us ‘Tempt’ you with what Milwaukee has been missing!”
Also opening this year on the East Side – and just steps away from Hybrid Lounge – was “Beyond Pleasuredome” at Trocadero’s Redlight nightclub, 1758 N. Water St. “Beyond Pleasuredome” picks up where the upstairs nightclub’s original gay night, called “Babylon,” ended in 2008 with the close of Redlight to the public. Trocadero general manager Chad Ellingboe says the nightclub revived Thursday gay nights in response to patron demand.
“Beyond Pleasuredome” advertises itself as a dance party for anyone, “gay, straight or undecided.”
“We just want to offer good drinks and good music to anyone,” while “trying to be as gay-friendly as possible,” Ellingboe says.
According to him, East Side patrons appreciate the opportunity to drink and mingle closer to their homes, and the gay night also draws University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee students.
Notte Nite Lounge, 1033 N. Old World Third St., also started a Thursday gay dance night called “Crave” in October. That same month, Coa, located at Bayshore Towne Center in Glendale, initiated a Tuesday gay night.
“We’re the first of our kind in this area,” says Enrique Torres, Coa’s general manager. “We want to make the gay community
comfortable in a different location.”
Brehm says he’s happy with the expansion of LGBT nightlife beyond Walker’s Point and does not regard the new activity as a threat to his business.
“Milwaukee for its size has more gay bars than other cities of its size,” he says, adding that no matter what the neighborhood, “Milwaukee is very welcoming.”
It’s home to gay bars, arts organizations, antique stores and ethnic restaurants. It draws struggling artists, ballet dancers, budding entrepreneurs, gay men and lesbians.
In a neighborhood dominated by drab and often gritty industrial buildings, the four-faced Allen Bradley Clock Tower (listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the largest four-faced clock in the world) is not only a standout, it’s an apt symbol for a community on the brink of change.
Just a few blocks south of the hot Third Ward and north of the popular Bayview community, Walker’s Point is well-positioned for development.
“Realtors and brokers in the city have already renamed the area ‘the Fifth Ward’ because it will encompass a little more than Walker’s Point,” says Jim Dieter, owner of Blackhawk Antique Market, a 36,000-square-foot warehouse space. “The economy has slowed the growth down a little, but a lot of people are acquiring properties here right now. There are some things in the pipeline that haven’t taken off yet. Walker’s Point is ready to boom.”
Chris Allen, marketing manager for the Milwaukee Ballet, agrees. “What you’re seeing is the Third Ward is starting to move south and Bayview is expanding north,” Allen says. “That’s part of the reason why things are starting to pick up here in the neighborhood.”
Once a thriving manufacturing area, Walker’s Point offers an abundance of turn-of-the-century warehouses. That’s one reason the Milwaukee Ballet decided to make Walker’s Point its headquarters back in the early 1980s. “We needed a big building with lots of open space, and we’ve taken advantage of every square inch here,” Allen says.
The building, located at Fifth and National, used to be the Tivoli Schlitz Beer Garden. “You can still see the logo above our doorway,” Allen says.
Old warehouses aren’t all that draws artists to Walker’s Point. Cheap rents help, and so does the neighborhood’s location. “I think because the neighborhood is so close to MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design) and nearby galleries, a lot of artists and entrepreneurs just end up here,” Dieter says.
Many of the local business owners in Walker’s Point are part of the gay community. “This has been Milwaukee’s gay entertainment district for many years,” says Paul Masterson, executive director for the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, an organization dedicated to presenting and promoting LGBT-relevant art. “But unlike places like Halsted Street in Boystown, it’s not concentrated in just one area.” The fact that the bars in Walker’s Point are spread out in small clusters creates a lack of cohesiveness, but the biggest complaint among patrons and owners alike is the grungy, uninviting feel of the commercial district, especially along Second Street.
“It’s a tough area to develop, because the neighborhood is largely warehouses and factories, which might not necessarily lend themselves to places like coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants,” Masterson says. “There’s some new development here, but it is primarily evening entertainment. As the neighborhood develops, hopefully we’ll see some daytime venues that create more daytime traffic.”
A city streetscape project, scheduled to begin this spring on Second Street, could prove to be the catalyst. According to Ghassan Korban, coordination manager for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works, the project will effectively narrow Second Street to create needed green space between the curb and the walk, roughly five feet on each side. Plans include trees, greenery, bike paths, a parking lane and new harp lights.
While there are currently no plans in place to make Walker’s Point a designated gay neighborhood — similar to Halsted Street in Chicago or the Castro in San Francisco — it’s not out of the question in the near future. Many developers and business owners think the streetscape project is the first step towards making the neighborhood a true destination.
“Right now, Walker’s Point is very industrial-looking and desolate, because there’s no greenery,” Korban says. “We hope that the improvements will enhance economic development by making the area more inviting, encouraging people to bike and walk more. We think this neighborhood is on the verge of becoming more vital.”
The available housing stock in Walker’s Point consists mostly of Victorian single-family homes and rehabbed historic lofts. According to Coldwell Banker real estate agent William Urban, a studio loft in the S2 building on Second Street, featuring 12-14 foot ceilings, costs about $65,000. A single-family home in the neighborhood can cost anywhere from $20,000 (for a foreclosed as-is home) up to about $350,000.
While the residential sector in Walker’s Point lags behind its commercial district, there’s plenty of potential for growth, Urban says. “There are a couple of city blocks that are practically wide open down there,” he says. “There’s a big void in the Fifth Ward just waiting to be filled.”
Many people think it’s just a matter of time before Walker’s Point — or the Fifth Ward — takes off. Appropriately, the Milwaukee Ballet plans to stage “Peter Pan” this spring. The world premiere production will feature original costumes, choreography and score — not to mention Peter Pan flying through the air. “Peter Pan has been done before, but as a ballet, not very often,” Allen says. “This is an interesting, exciting time for us. We’re on the cusp of change.”