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!
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.
On the last day of Summerfest, Sydney and I stopped in to see Toad the Wet Sprocket, and checked out the various food fare that is available at the Fest. Disclaimer: We didn’t get any pictures, due to phone problems; all photographs are taken from credited articles or image sharing websites.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alice Cooper: Actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que”, which is Algonquin for “the good land”.
Wayne Campbell: I was not aware of that.
During the summer, along the Milwaukee lakefront at the Discovery World museum, Point Brewing Company sponsors a free four-night outdoor movie event known as “Point Fish Fry and a Flick“. Catered by none other than Milwaukee’s most prolific restaurant mafiosos, the Bartolotta brothers, and serving Point beer and Ciderboys hard cider, the Point Fish Fry and a Flick has become a modern movie tradition in Milwaukee.
The events, starting at 5pm on selected Fridays, are free to attend, although you are charged for food and drinks (cash this year, as opposed to the all-too-frequent food tickets). The films themselves will start when the sun goes down (between 8 and 9pm), so don’t be in too much of a hurry. Food and drinks are cash-only (though ATMs are available), and bringing your own food or drink is disallowed. Keep in mind, the fish fry will typically not be available after the movie has started, so order early. Some seating is available under the main tent, but chairs and blankets are also allowed on the lawn.
As summer approaches our fair city, Milwaukeeans of all affiliations are taking to the streets and sampling the best that Brew City has to offer. Between the many excellent restaurants and suppliers dotting the city, the festivals taking place all the time, a farmer’s market in almost every neighborhood, and our growing number of food trucks, the choices are getting better and better all the time.
With that in mind, I’d like to talk about a few places I love here in the city, without going into too much detail on any of them. These aren’t necessarily my favorites (though quite a few are), but they’re my go-to places when I want something good and cheap, and I feel that no one should live in Milwaukee without having gone to every one of these places at least once: