Let’s try something new. I’m going to write about visiting an actual place, not just the preparations to go there or the abstract ideas about going there. One of my goals with this blog is to produce travel writing that people actually want to read. Not just a dull recitation of facts or a trite realization that underneath our differences, we’re all the same. Or at least I won’t go that route unless totally necessary. Like, if everyone I visit takes off their human suit to show me their identical alien bodies, then maybe I will concede that underneath our differences, we’re all the same green Martians. But I hope it doesn’t come to that. Anyway. Milwaukee.
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, USA
Length of Trip: 12 hours
Traveling Companions: Sessily, T & K
Method of Transportation: car, walking
Money Spent: brunch — $16, brewery tour — $7, gas money — $5, fancy pants dinner — $40, TOTAL — $68
Sites Visited: Pabst Mansion, Comet Cafe, Lakefront Brewery, lakefront and Milwaukee Art Museum, Roots Restaurant and Cellar
Unless you are heartbroken, good weather improves any situation. If you are heartbroken, good weather is only proof that the entire world is doing better than you are, and is happier for it. But if you are feeling grumpy, or frustrated, or even morose, a good dose of sunshine and blue skies will work away at your discontent until you give in to a more favorable outlook on the world around you. And if you are already happy, and with friends, and traveling to a new place, then good weather makes your friendship seem stronger and the visited city more hospitable. Directions are easier to follow, wait times seem shorter, and food tastes better.
How fortunate for us, then, that this past Saturday was absolutely gorgeous — 80 degrees and sunny. Milwaukee being on Lake Michigan, there was even a breeze floating through town that cut the heat just the right amount during the early afternoon. Milwaukee has a nice set-up along the lakefront, with a lot of wide paths, public art, and bikes and things for rent. T said he wanted to just look at the outside of the art museum, and I thought that seemed a bit pointless until we came upon it:
That art museum wants to go sailing on Lake Michigan, and I want to join it. How delightful would it be to cruise around the expanse of blue while touring the fourth largest collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings contained in one museum in the country? Answer: very. (See how I snuck in that fact there, despite previous promises to stay away from such things? But it’s a cool fact, you like having it, don’t lie.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that the Milwaukee lakefront really is beautiful (just look at that photographic proof), and the day really was lovely, but that I possibly found them even more so due to the fact that I had a fair amount of alcohol throughout the day. In the city of PBR, Miller, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and several craft breweries, are you surprised? I accompanied my delicious brunch of BACON PANCAKES (yes, they mix the perfectly crisp and juicy bacon pieces into the pancake batter and it is as good as it sounds) with the equally delicious Brunch Box, a beermosa with amaretto and Guinness mixed in. Beermosa, you say? Why yes, mix up some orange juice with a white beer and you have yourself a fine drink. The other ingredients just perfected it. (Thanks to Nick at Comet for inventing this drink.)
After this very good start, we went to Lakefront Brewery and got the best deal for my money in a long while. Seven bucks got us: a tour of the brewery, a souvenir glass, access to the riverfront deck, a coupon for a beer at participating bars in the area, and four 6 oz. pours of beer right there on the premises. I did learn a couple of things about the brewing process that I’d been curious about (what are hops? oh, that is the actual name of the plant that they take the flower from to add to the beer, etc.), which previous attempts to clarify by half-coherent friends at loud bars had not satisfied. We all made sure to try every beer available on tap, and shared our samples with each other. Everyone else enjoyed the Riverwest Amber, and while that was quite good, my favorites were the Fixed Gear (I guess the hipsters in my neighborhood affect me more than I thought) and the Rendezvous (a French Ale, they said, which seemed to mean close to a Belgian). The entire experience was only made better by the presence of a bachelorette party made up of women of all ages in the most ridiculous fancy dresses they could find. I’m talking 80s prom dresses, a Snow White/Belle from Beauty & the Beast hybrid, and a lot of tulle. I didn’t take any pictures of them, but here’s a picture of the giant beer mug that the Milwaukee Brewers mascot used to jump into (via slide from his game-watching balcony) every time the Brewers scored a home run. The mug is now housed at Lakefront Brewery:
While on our 3rd pour of free beer, Sessily, T, K, and I got into a discussion of perception and reality. No, it wasn’t a faux-deep “we’re all just specks in the universe, man” conversation. T said that he couldn’t remember the last time he was surrounded by so few hipsters (we live in Logan Square, an area of Chicago pretty well known for its trendy bicyclists), and we all agreed that yes, our fellow brewery tour participants were far more likely to attend sporting events than art-noise concerts, shop at The Gap rather than thrift stores, and hold a steady 9-5 instead of a part-time cafe job. (Please enjoy today’s edition of Stereotypes: Making Your Point Faster Than Truth Can.) Anyway, I said that Milwaukee has been voted drunkest city in the nation, and it’s a city of industry besides, so it’s got a reputation for being coarse, a little rough and tumble. In fact, most of the Midwest is probably seen in those terms by outsiders, I said. K, who is from Portland, Oregon, countered that he’d never thought of the Midwest in those terms; rather, everyone on the West Coast assumes the Midwest is full of unfailingly polite, boring types. True, I said, outsiders have that mostly insulting view of rural Midwesterners, but if you mention Chicago, St. Louis, or Milwaukee, they’ll tell you to watch out, those are dangerous places. Sessily pointed out that rural Midwesterners contribute to this idea of the cities being especially dangerous and shady, so the cities get it from all sides. (Also, now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I lumped in Milwaukee with those other two — does anyone think of Milwaukee as dangerous? Probably not. Sorry, Milwaukee. Please continue to give me beer.) It was an interesting discussion of how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how those perceptions affect the actual place we live.
We only day tripped to Milwaukee, and there’s a lot more to see, so I plan to be back sometime this year. But I can already say that the parts of town I saw were lovely, and the people, yes, were friendly. My takeaway, though, comes back to that delicious barley-and-hops concoction, beer. I was passing through the brewery gift shop, and a woman was trying to trade in her plastic taster cup for the souvenir glass. “Not til you finish your drink,” the gift shop attendant said. The woman looked warily at her almost-full glass. In other cities, maybe she would have been shown mercy. Maybe other cities would offer her as much time as she liked to finish it. But this is Milwaukee. This is The Nation’s Watering Hole. This is beer. The woman’s friend turned to her and said:
“This is Milwaukee. Slam it.”
Love it! Now I want to visit Milwaukee. My thoughts: In all fairness, St. Louis is, by any crime index, an incredibly dangerous city. As for the Midwest, I admit to thinking of it as kinda dull (but I grew up in Vermont, and I think its quite dull). However, I’ve only been to the Midwest three times. Twice I’ve been to Iowa City, where I have cousins. I was too young to really remember the first time, and the second time, I thought it was nice, and like a more interesting and diverse version of Burlington, VT. The third time was this weekend, to Minneapolis, MN. If any readers have been there, please explain this city to me. I was there for a wedding, but there was a lot of down time. The only time I saw more than about 6 people on the street (including late Saturday night), was at an art fair that seemed mostly populated by out-of-towners. I liked the architecture, I wished I could’ve gone to see some of the great art museums, it was amazingly clean, but where are all the people?!
Okay, fair enough, I’m a little scared of St. Louis too. But compared to DC and LA, I think it’s comparable.
And any time you want to up your Midwest bona fides, come on out to Chicago, where I will show you the many reasons why I love it here.