Milwaukee: What’s new?

Boring Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, I haven’t been totally honest with you.

I said this would be a food blog, but it’s become a bit more than that to me. This is my love letter to the city where I grew up, its food, places, people, and overall beauty.

Milwaukee was the first city I really lived in; I grew up about 50 miles south of here, in Kenosha, and I never really felt like I fit in there. I had far bigger aspirations than would fit in the woodsy bedroom community of Pleasant Prairie or the raise-your-kids neighborhoods of the city of Kenosha. I had my head in the stars too often. Being in a robotics program in high school introduced me to the city, but coming here to attend college at MSOE really made me fall in love with it.

Now that I’m a bit more worldly, I have my Bachelor’s degree, a good job downtown, and a beautiful fiancee, I’ve been meaning to give back as much as I could to the city that’s given me so much, and this blog is one of the ways I intend to do so. I wanted to get back to this in a way that I see fitting; starting off with gushing about what’s going on with the city and why I’m so excited, before taking the chance to dive back in with the food, music, architecture, events, and people that deserve to be praised.

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Oriental Theatre – Keep Milwaukee Weird

So, in my last post, I announced that I would be starting my own little “Keep Milwaukee Weird” series, and as promised, my first post would be covering the historic and beautiful Landmark Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee’s Lower East Side. Voted “One of the 10 Best Movie Theaters in America” in 2005 by Entertainment Weekly, the Oriental is a landmark of Milwaukee’s “alternative” East Side.

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Keeping Milwaukee Weird

Milwaukee is a pretty weird city. We’re a bastion of liberal hippy feel-goodness in the otherwise excessively conservative state of Wisconsin, a conglomeration of food, art, music and design, and a gathering place for students, professionals, and other city-dwelling folk. Yet for some reason, unlike cities like Portland, OR, Austin, TX, and Santa Cruz, CA, we don’t seem to have a Keep Us Weird-style campaign. Heck, it’s been three and a half years since OnMilwaukee posted an article about it, and we still haven’t banded together to come up with anything. What gives, my fellow freaks?

Milwaukee’s got plenty to celebrate in terms of the wacky and the weird, and some of it is definitely at risk of disappearing. I’m going to be doing an ongoing series on some of the coolest oddities in this grand city, and it’s not going to be limited to food (although I’ll definitely be covering some quirky local grub stops along the way). If anyone has any suggestions for things I should cover, use the power of the Internet and tag your posts #keepmilwaukeeweird. I’ll try to monitor things on my end, and if I see a suggestion that’s worth covering, I’ll add it to my list.

The first place I’ll be covering in my reviews is somewhere very dear to me: the East Side’s beautiful and historic Oriental Theater (2230 N Farwell Ave). Stay tuned, folks!

Where Old and New Meet: Transfer Pizzeria Café

Imagine, if you will.

It’s the late 1940s or early 1950s. America has cemented itself as the enforcer of the free world, wielding nuclear weaponry, military mass, and sheer willpower, and bringing justice to those who are threatened wherever evil amasses. The American populace is riding high on post-war enthusiasm, embracing the new technology and economic luxury provided by our victory over the Axis of Evil, breathing easy after the elimination of both the Nazis and the Japanese war machine, and generally resting on its laurels.

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The Greatest Show On Earth

It’s mid-June in Milwaukee. Amid the shining sun and hot pavement, a familiar scene plays out.

All over the city, officials and city workers are scrambling to get the information out, not just to concerned citizens, but to the rest of the world. Buses are being rerouted. Highways that have been closed for over a year are being reopened; some say, just in time.

It‘s coming.

Summerfest logo (image stolen from
(image stolen from

For those who don’t understand the meaning of that goofy red smiley face, it’s simple. Since 1968, Milwaukee has played host to a summer music festival called Summerfest; since 1970, that smiley face has served as the festival’s logo.

Since 1999, it’s held the Guinness World Record for the title of “World’s Largest Music Festival” every year; this year, it expects to bring in between 800,000 and 1 million visitors.

Held at the Henry Maier Festival Park on the Third Ward’s lakefront edge over the course of 11 days in late June and early July (including Independence Day), and spanning 11 stages, 700 bands, arguably the state’s largest fireworks display (The Big Bang), and dozens of food venues, the “Big Gig” has earned its place as one of the must-see summer attractions of Milwaukee.

From headliner acts including The Rolling Stones, Kings of Leon, and Florida Georgia Line, to free stage acts like Walk the Moon (a personal favorite of mine since I first heard them perform Anna Sun at the Fest years ago), Weird Al Yankovic, and Lindsey Stirling, to sideshow performers, robotics demonstrations, weightlifting displays, kids shows, face painting, merchandise booths, local microbrew vendors, and so on, it’s Milwaukee’s musical equivalent of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras (just a lot cleaner and with slightly less public debauchery).

And the food is fantastic.

Henry Maier Festival Park plays host to dozens of food vendors during the festival, from permanent and semi-permanent fixtures such as Kokopelli’s Pub, Saz’s, and Mader’s, to lemonade and hot dog carts, chain restaurants like Qdoba and Wendy’s (ehhh), slushie vendors, and the delightful portable booth of Sil’s Mini Donuts (a Milwaukee favorite, forced to leave their drive-thru building on North and Oakland a few years ago, citing rising costs).

This year is special for Sydney and I; it’s the first year that she’ll be 21, and her birthday is the first day of Summerfest. While we aren’t planning on attending the Fest that day (we’d rather see the fireworks from elsewhere, and pick up her commemorative birthday mug from Rosie’s on Water), it’s something we won’t be able to pass up.

So, Milwaukee, grab your suntan lotion, your tanktops, and your big plastic sunglasses; it’s Summerfest time.

Fabulous, Darling!

PrideFest Milwaukee (photo stolen from
PrideFest Milwaukee (photo stolen from

In only a few short hours, PrideFest Milwaukee, the “most dynamic pride festival, featuring the largest LGBT music showcase in North America” will officially commence. It’s such a big deal, Google changed their search results page to include a custom border. I couldn’t be more proud.

Custom Pridefest Border on Google!
Custom Pridefest Border on Google!

A longstanding tradition among Milwaukee’s sizable LGBT community, PrideFest is entering into its 28th year. Taking place on Summerfest grounds with a fully volunteer-based crew, this year’s PrideFest marks a few special occasions: This is the first year where gay marriage in Wisconsin is legally recognized for every day of the festival (as opposed to that debacle in the courts during last year’s PrideFest between U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb and WI Attorney General JB Van Hollen); in addition, it comes hot on the heels of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 7, in which Milwaukee-based drag queen Trixie Mattel (who I met through Rocky Horror, once upon a time) was seen as a fan favorite throughout the season, even being eliminated not once, but twice, largely by technicality.  (She still should’ve won.) The plastic queen herself will be serving as an emcee of sorts, playing host all three days to Trixie Mattel’s Funhouse, a VIP-only meet-and-greet establishment within the festival, serving food, drinks, and snacks, and providing music and lots of shade.

The event takes place from 3pm to midnight on Friday, noon to midnight on Saturday, and noon to 10pm on Sunday (with the Dance Pavilion closing at midnight). Tickets start from $16 at the gates for 1-day admission (tickets were $13 by online order, but that’s closed already), and go up to $100 for 3-day exclusive VIP access. (I’d post more about this, but as of writing this they TOOK DOWN THE PRICES FROM THEIR WEBSITE!)

In addition to the festival, on Sunday, June 7th at 2:00pm, there will be the Milwaukee Pride Parade, traveling from 2nd and Lapham in Walker’s Point up to 2nd and Oregon. (Note: The festival and the parade are not legally affiliated with one another, but they coincide on the same weekend every year.) I will be walking in the Pride Parade with the cast of Sensual Daydreams (Milwaukee’s Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast), and I’ll be attending PrideFest in Riff Raff attire afterwards, rain or shine. (Sydney will probably be there as well, though she’s recovering from having gotten all four of her wisdom teeth removed on June 4th.)

There will be festival food (good festival food, actually) available at PrideFest; I plan on availing myself to it, and reporting back to you readers on the festival, the parade, the food, and the whole crazy mess every year inevitably turns out to be.

As a side note, don’t forget that today is the second day of Downtown Dining Week! Check my other post for details.