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Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Part 2

Source: Celebrity Cafe
by Janet Pope
August 4, 2006

“Schlemiel, Schlimazel....Move over Laverne and Shirley, Milwaukee has grown up and moved on without you.”

<< Part 1

Our tour took us down Lake Drive filled with historic mansions, all at one time belonging to the beer barons of yesteryear. Next, we passed the shops on Brady Street, on the lower east side. The local saying is "If you can't find it on Brady Street, you don't need it." So far, I hadn't seen one beer joint in sight, but I did see the Marcus Center for The Performing Arts, which houses the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. This town is busting at the seams with cultural opportunities- dance, art, theater, museums, etc. The Oriental, built in 1927, is one of the last art deco theaters, and the Pabst Theater is a theatrical gem from 1895.

Old World Third Street is crowded with 19th century detailed Germanic buildings, where specialty shops sell 70 varieties of sausages. Wisconsin Avenue is the main street, with an inter-mall spanning three city blocks, for great shopping.

Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin is conveniently situated between the Art Museum and Summerfest grounds. The good news for Milwaukee visitors is that it is a $63 million, state of the art, science and technology center. The bad news is that it does not open until September 2006- so again, another reason for a return visit. A few of us got a special sneak preview of this interactive science center "dedicated to innovation, entrepreneurship and exploration." The building is open and airy, lined with large windows, bringing in the lake view from all angles. The Discovery World complex consists of a Technology Building, an Aquatarium, 120-seat digital theater, outdoor dock, 200' deck, the schooner- Denis Sullivan and a 250-seat amphitheater. This is another "must see."


Our lunch stop was at Coast, named to celebrate the culinary cuisine brought to us by our immigrants from coast to coast. This three-year-old restaurant has a prime location, facing the Art Museum and the river walkway. At noon we ate on the outdoor terrace, and got a great view of the museum wings expanding and folding. On a beautiful summer day in Milwaukee, there could not be a better place to have lunch, catch a lake breeze or people watch.

The menu was created by Chef Jerry Garcia, and no he is not THAT Jerry Garcia. Besides the unique combinations of foods, a signature trademark here is their piping hot popovers, served with flavored butters, in place of the standard breadbasket. My lunch choice, though it was difficult to choose, was a creamy New England clam chowder and their hot-pressed Panini of the day, served with a creamy cucumber dill salad, a cool and refreshing alternative to French fries. Our group topped off lunch by ordering one of every dessert and spoons to go around. We taste-tested each confectionery treat and passed them around the table. I would highly recommend this procedure, otherwise you will just have to go back numerous times to taste each dessert- my favorite was the warm berry cobbler with ice cream.

Now we were ready for the long awaited "Summerfest." I was sheepish to admit to my hosts that I had not heard of Summerfest before, but over lunch I got a quick background. Summerfest is indeed billed as “The World's Largest Music Festival,” because they are celebrating their upcoming 40th anniversary by featuring 11 days of musical entertainment. Or maybe it earns that distinction because of the close to one million visitors from over 45 different states. But what impressed me the most was the 700 music acts, chosen from over 3,000 submissions, featuring eight headliners a night. All of these figures add up to a lot of talent and a lot of work which goes into putting it all together. Added to the 75 acres are 11 stages, 45 multi-ethnic food vendors, a children's area, a varied assortment of shopping marketplaces and 3,000 workers- 35 of whom work all year long to coordinate this. This is no ordinary music festival.

Upon entering Summerfest, I was struck by the magnitude of the grounds and the fun party atmosphere. A variety of music could be heard around every corner, and it felt as if I had just moved from one party to another. The stages are mostly outdoors and the crowds were laid back, either eating at picnic tables or dancing on them. For the price of a $15 admission, you can spend an entire day moving from rock to jazz to country.

The largest theater is the 23,000 seated Marcus Amphitheater, where String Cheese Incident was performing. Being over 50 might account for why I had not heard of this group before, but despite my ignorance, they brought the house down. I was excited to hear a song I recognized- "The Mighty Quinn" and words I could finally sing along to. Over the course of the 11 days, there were many acts I had heard of -Elvis Costello, REO Speedwagon, Lynrd Skynrd, Hank Williams Jr., Joan Jett, Alice Cooper, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Mary J. Blige, Paul Simon and dozens of others.

After the busy schedule we had touring Milwaukee, I thought I would stay a few hours at Summerfest and get the general feel of the atmosphere, but the atmosphere is contagious. It's all about the music. Everyone is swaying, tapping or humming along, and I was too. If you love live music of any kind, you will find some band or singer that you will like and will be caught up in the spirit of Summerfest. We caught the last van back to our hotel and I slept the restful sleep of a teenager, with the chorus of "Mighty Quinn" playing in my head.

Summerfest 2006 has ended its 11-night run, but now Milwaukee transforms itself into a city of festivals. The grounds are used each weekend for a different ethnic festival- Irish, Native American, Polish, African, German and of course- Italian, where you might catch a glimpse of Carmine "The Big Ragoo" Ragusa. If not, there's always hot calzones.

Milwaukee is a party place all summer long and a prime vacation destination all year. Though rich in brewery history, Milwaukee has morphed into so much more than pubs. As I said, move over Laverne and Shirley, happier days are now in Milwaukee.

Nothing's going to hold us back now Straight ahead and on the track now We're going to make our dreams come true.............Milwaukee did.