We stopped at 50. (But we've already got big plans for next year...) See these delectable, dynamic, inherently defensible rationales for our deep devotion.
By Kurt Chandler, Ann Christenson, Alexa Grunwaldt, Matt Hrodey, Marcella Jones, Sarah Lange, Howie Magner and Sara Trimble
Edited by Claire Hanan
It’s that time of year again when we haul out the nostalgia machine and count the reasons why the people, events and places make us appreciate living in Milwaukee.
Take the traffic. “It’s not that bad,” says Senior Editor Matt Hrodey, who used data to chart how our traffic congestion compares to that of other similarly sized cities. “This isn’t Rhinelander,” he reminds us. “There are going to be other cars on the road.” See? Even we need this annual dose of love and affirmation, and luckily, this city often makes it easy.
1. Milwaukee Public Market’s Ticket Takers
In the long list of underappreciated jobs, parking lot attendant has to be near the top. That isn’t the case at the Milwaukee Public Market, where its parking lot attendants “can literally make or break people’s day,” says Paul Schwartz, the Public Market’s operation and communications manager. We can attest to that. Rain, shine or sleet, Beth, Charlie, Jeff, Ben, Kayla and Cesar are out there, helping drivers with their ticket stubs. So is Lucas, often with his guitar, which he has been spotted playing with a smile even in the most inclement weather. Taking these tickets was Lucas’ first job, Schwartz explains, and he expressed interest in learning to play the guitar in his downtime – an A-OK perk of the job. It wasn’t long after he had taught himself to play that he worked up the confidence to perform at an open-mic night in a Riverwest bar. “When I hired him, he could barely look me in the eye,” Schwartz says, “and now he can get on stage.” (CH)
2. Greater Together
This campaign, which was started by the local chapter of the American Institute for Graphic Arts and a number of social justice advocacy groups, launched last year by highlighting statistics about Milwaukee that are anything but lovable. Milwaukee’s racial segregation was worse than just about any other city, and our economic inequality wasn’t much better. The campaign eventually awarded Nichole Yunk Todd $5,000 to be used toward creating a universal driver’s education program – a good start in correcting these longstanding imbalances. (CH)
3. The Cranky Cruller
We agree with celebrity chef/TV personality Alton Brown – the cruller at Cranky Al’s (6901 W. North Ave.) is rad. The dense, glazed pastry isn’t tooth-torturingly sweet, though all texture and flavor signs point to a colossal carb coma. (AC)
4. Madam Chino
Since 2003, Vanessa Devaki Andrew has been waving the sustainable fashion flag with her clothing company, Madam Chino. In 2009, she started using T-shirts from bulk used textile outlets called “rag houses” to create “soft sculpture” pieces, including dresses, crop tops and woven necklaces. She now dabbles in printmaking, too, which puts her drawing and painting education to use. While she’s steadfast in her mission to create sustainable clothing, she’s equally resolved to keeping her considerable talents right here in Milwaukee. (CH)
5. Sidewalk angel
Toni’s Hoarder’s World (203 N. Broadway St.) may have closed, but you can still catch its owner’s purebred golden retriever, 8-year-old Champ, lounging around on the sidewalk outside, as his other owner (Dave Rudig of Paintball Dave’s) is still very much in business. Champ, who was named after Muhammad Ali, regards the Third Ward’s foot traffic with utter coolness and serenity. Your hurried petting is merely a bonus. (MH)
As timeless as we thought the movie Mean Girls would remain, “If you have sex, you will get pregnant, and die” does not pass as sex education advice. Kristen Donat, program coordinator for 414ALL, promotes education on several fronts: sex and relationships, pregnancy prevention and condoms. “[414ALL] is definitely a piece to the puzzle that aided in the reduction of unintended teen pregnancies in Milwaukee,” says Dyon Bryant, program coordinator at Diverse & Resilient. (ST)
7. Trivia Culture
In any week, more than 30 area pubs host trivia nights where patrons form a team, grab a brew, and sit down for some head-scratchers. The competition can be tough (we’re looking at you, Milwaukee Brat House), but the general mood is relaxed. Just don’t forget to put your phone away, because cheating will earn you both boos and the boot. (CH)
8. Alverno Presents
What started as the Society of Fine Arts in 1959 has since become one of the city’s most inventive and anticipated performing arts series each year. David Ravel’s Alverno Presents continuously reinvents cross-disciplinary performance, including this season’s “Bronx Gothic” performance by Okwui Okpokwasili (Feb. 12-13) and Christopher Porterfield’s “How to Write a Popular Song” (Jan. 30). (CH)
9. The Traffic
It’s not that bad! As of August, out of 53 U.S. metro areas with more than 800,000 residents, Milwaukee ranks 38th in traffic congestion. The TomTom company data below reveals the worst cities and where Milwaukee ranks. (MH)
Ishmael Ali, known as IshDarr, is without a doubt the year’s most buzzed-about local rapper, and not just in Wisconsin. While this Messmer HS grad’s popularity has easily outgrown the state line, his lyrics and music videos have remained Milwaukee-centric, like in his extra-catchy “Too Bad.” (CH)
11. Karen Dalessandro
Locals who prefer a little twang in their radio music know well the dulcet tones of Karen Dalessandro. For just as sure as country songs reference mama, trains, trucks, prison and gettin’ drunk, Dalessandro has been an on-air stalwart at WMIL-FM 106.1. The Detroit native joined the top-rated radio station in 1998 and was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in June. (HM)
Three Ways to Get Happy
These three happy hours rate high on the Richter Scale of satisfaction
524 S. Second St., Tues.-Sun. 4-6 p.m.
All good things come from Spain? Perhaps. All good things here come 8 bucks, tops, mostly under. Order the shot, beer and a pepper – Estrella beer, and a shot of peppery liqueur with a spicy-sweet guindilla pepper. Use the potent liquids to wash down plentiful $3 bocaditos (little sandwiches in a dozen filling options, from shrimp to chorizo with pickled cranberry jam), a tasty little ham and cheese plate ($6), deep-fried olives ($3) and other nibbles.
13. Bosley on Brady
815 E. Brady St., Mon.-Fri. 4-6 p.m.
Raising the bar, Bosley has 20 plates (mainly fish or seafood) priced from $4-$7. Best bets are the Maryland-style crab cake with slaw, fish tacos and fried green tomatoes with grilled shrimp and lemon hollandaise sauce. Great deals on beer, too ($2.25-$3.50).
14. Story Hill BKC
5100 W. Bluemound Rd., Tues.-Sat. 2-5 p.m.; drink specials until 6 p.m.
Unusual in that the “happy” starts early, much earlier than the norm – 2 p.m. The menu straddles the line between lunchy and snacky. A shredded chicken with pickled carrots salad, Wisco cheese plate, and Story Hill burger with jalapeño mayo and Carr Valley cheddar are some highlights ($7-$12). $2 off tap beers and tap cocktails. (AC)
15. Support for Down Syndrome
A lack of resources for individuals with Down syndrome and their families drove an Illinois mother to create GiGi’s Playhouse, a nonprofit that offers no-fee programs, learning and therapeutic opportunities, inspiration and support for children and adults with Down syndrome. Milwaukee welcomed the state’s first GiGi’s location – at 8685 N. Port Washington Rd. – in March of 2015. It spreads a powerful message of empowering people, no matter who they are. (AC)
16. The Bat Signals
Ever seen a bat? In late summer, the staff at Havenwoods State Forest (6141 N. Hopkins St.) host a twilight Bat Hike that presents the city’s best chance to see one of the winged fliers in its natural habitat. Aiding the hunt is an electronic bat detector, which picks up on the bats’ high-frequency echolocation sounds. These creatures of the night have also been spotted on the Beerline Trail, just south of Kern Park. (MH)
17. Polka Culture
Polka – the style of dance music that originated in central Europe – has a best friend in Wisconsin, which adopted it as the official state dance. Throw in some mugs of beer, squeeze boxes, and the “Beer Barrel Polka,” and it’s all eye-rolling kitsch. Local filmmaker/photographer Dick Blau went beyond the stereotypes to nab the joie de vivre in “Polka Heartland,” an exhibit of 30 incandescent photos that ran in early 2015 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, and formed the basis for the eponymous book. (AC)
18. Terry Schaefer
Downtown has lost much of its fashion points to its southern sister, the Third Ward, but since May of 2014, Terry Schaefer and the co-owners of MKE Fashion Incubator have been helping it reclaim the couture crown. It was then that she started the Incubator, a place where new designers employ “sewists” to bring their illustrations to life, and where Milwaukeeans young and old can learn sewing skills. It is ventures like these that keep Milwaukee stitched to its manufacturing roots. (CH)
19. Joe Wray
We don’t have enough fingers to count the drinking establishments where this acoustic singer can be found a-crooning. But we can strongly recommend you catch his contemporary covers and original tunes by checking his schedule posted at facebook.com/joewraysings. (CH)
20. Vegan Treats
Tasted by a certified grain-, egg-, dairy-, gluten- and sugar-loving mouth, the chocolate brownie cupcake from Blooming Lotus Bakery (2215 E. North Ave.) – whose kitchen is free from all of the aforementioned – leaves nothing to be desired. Yes, the texture is different – denser and gooier than traditional cupcakes, but by substituting ingredients like coconut palm sugar, quinoa flour and chia seeds (instead of eggs), owner Susan Goulet captures the richness associated with a decadent dessert. Best part is that it won’t result in a gut ache. (AC)
21. Mary Nohl’s House, the Fox Point trove of folk art, is staying put, damn it.
22. “Welcome to Cleveland” Guy
We’ve known this sign was comedic genius ever since its debut almost 40 years ago, but now the rest of the world knows it, too. Thanks to a viral revitalization of the “Welcome to Cleveland” guy during the 2015 NBA finals, the digital world went crazy sharing his prank. Mark Gubin, who lives next to Mitchell International Airport, painted the sign on his studio’s roof to jokingly confuse passengers descending into the city. It has now become more popular than the art inside his gallery and perhaps Cleveland itself. (ST)
23. The Wildlife Caretakers
Although they haven’t taken in the phantom lion-at-large, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the Wisconsin Humane Society takes care of 5,000 injured, sick and orphaned wild animals each year. Their patients include ducklings, raccoons and turtles. In addition to rehabilitative services, the center provides advice to animal lovers and loathers alike, offering brochures titled “Does this wild baby need help?” and “Preventing Wild Animals from Eating Your Garden.” (AG)
24. You Can Run or Bike Over the Hoan
After the DOT killed the idea of a bike path on the Hoan Bridge, the dreams of many a pedaller were temporarily crushed. But twice a year, runners and bikers are permitted to catch a glimpse en plein air of the city’s skyline at its prettiest: Summerfest’s Rock N’ Sole run and the United Performing Arts Fund’s Ride for the Arts. (CH)
25. Xavier Ruffin
This MIAD grad and former Spreenkler designer is taking graphics, both moving and staid, to new heights. Ruffin now runs Dopamine Productions, a design firm that also produces music videos and motion graphics for local musicians like Klassik, and national acts like Macklemore, Prophetic, T.I. and Riff Raff. As they say, he’s making moves. (CH)
26. Gwen Jorgensen
She’s an early favorite for the 2016 Olympics, but not too long ago, she was stepping onto the podium for the first time at her Waukesha South High School track meet. Gwen Jorgensen is an accountant turned world triathlon champion who’s accomplished something no other female in Milwaukee – or the world – has ever done: She’s gone more than a year without a World Triathlon Series loss. That’s 12 wins in a row, and counting. While we log 20 hours of Netflix in our spare time, she logs about 200 miles a week in training. Only after that does she decompress with a nice bottle of wine. (ST)
27. Radical Peace
Arno Michaelis is a former white supremacist rocker, and Pardeep Kaleka is the son of slain Sikh Temple of Wisconsin leader Satwant Singh Kaleka. Together, they created one of the area’s most vibrant anti-hate groups, Serve 2 Unite, which has put on riveting presentations for school groups, hosted youth leaders from Iraq, and sought other ways to transmute tragedy into strength. S2U’s Global Mentors program brings speakers like Michaelis and Kaleka into area schools to talk about loss, letting go of prejudice and finding forgiveness. (MH)
28. Carter Lupton
If Milwaukee has a stand-in for Indiana Jones, it’s Carter Lupton, the head of anthropology and history at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Lupton is no matinée idol, he’s the real deal, and he’s been at the museum for 39 years. When the Bronze Age city of Tell Hadidi, Syria, was unearthed along the Euphrates River, Lupton was there, trowel in hand. When an ancient site in the Yucatan Peninsula was excavated and restored, Lupton was there. When the MPM re-created famed Egyptian King Tut riding in his chariot, Lupton was there. After nearly four decades, Lupton’s reputation is, ah, well-preserved. (KC)
29. Gamer Havens
A few years ago, Milwaukee was in dire need of gaming shops, the sort of places where you could hunker down for a Magic the Gathering tourney. These days, stores are popping up in the metro area like magic mushrooms. Joining Board Game Barrister (locations in Greenfield, Bayshore Town Center, and South Milwaukee), we now have Elements of Gaming (932 E. Rawson Ave., Oak Creek), The Table Top Hobby Game Shop (2863 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), Pink Bunny Games (1204 Minnesota Ave., South Milwaukee) and Game Universe, with locations in Franklin, Menomonee Falls and Brookfield. (MH)
30. MKE Black Business
In April 2015, father-daughter duo Curtiss E. Harris and Lynn Harris Farmer launched their website Milwaukee Black Business in an effort to connect the city to the area’s 7,000-plus African-American-owned businesses, churches and organizations . Lynn’s marketing and social media experience, and Curtiss’ historical knowledge and contacts have made them an intergenerational dream team. In addition to their directory, Milwaukee Black Business profiles African-American-owned businesses and offers advice to small-business owners. “There’s something about having deep roots in one community to have deep change,” Lynn says. (AG)
31. Our Local Jazz Legend
At 79, Dick Eliot has spent a lifetime playing behind stars, and he won’t be stopping anytime soon.
How did you get your start?
My father was a musician and did nightly rehearsals with my brother, Don, and me. Milwaukee was a thriving jazz town, and I started performing all over the city in my teens. I had planned on teaching music here, but when I was drafted in 1960, I was put in the NORAD Command Band under Lt. Col. Mark Azzolina. He also chose me for a new military dance band, the award-winning Commanders.
Then you ended up in Las Vegas.
I worked Vegas showrooms at Caesar’s Palace, the former International Hotel, the Sands, the MGM, and was in the Riviera Hotel’s showroom band for 26 years, often working two different hotels in the same night.
I’ve heard you have Elvis Stories.
I worked with Elvis at the International Hotel during his comeback. He had the top floor of the hotel and ran the halls for exercise, as well as doing karate. One night, three hecklers jumped on stage to start a fight with him in the middle of a show. Elvis laid them out on the stage using karate moves before his bodyguards even made it from offstage. Not exactly what you’d expect at an Elvis concert.
When did you return to Milwaukee?
I came back in 1996 for a gig with Skip Wagner in Three Lakes, then came home to care for my mother, who has since passed. Now I have the privilege to also help with my brother. I’ve gotten calls to play with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and touring Broadway shows, besides playing venues as a solo, duo or trio.
If I can take people away from the ills of the world for a few hours, that’s been my mission in life. I’m about to release my fifth CD, with a release party at County Clare on Oct. 25. Even though I still maintain a house [in Las Vegas], Milwaukee will always be my home. (MJ)
32. Fox & Branch
It’s a rowdy audience for a Sunday morning, but really, Dave Fox and Will Branch have brought it upon themselves. The folk music duo messed up those “Old MacDonald” lyrics again, singing that he “had a train station” instead of a farm, so again, some 30 young kids yell their collective correction. Yes, Fox & Branch can work a (romper) room, and are masters of family-centric, audience-participation shows. But the kids won’t be the only ones smiling. (HM)
33. Public Libraries
Today’s Milwaukee Public Library is more than a dusty archive, it’s a gathering place and an equalizer, opening up Internet access to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. We picked the top five
neighborhood branches out of the MPL system’s 14 branches. (MH)
34. Colleen Ellingson
It’s been 30-plus years, but everyone still mentions the basement of her home. That’s where Colleen Ellingson started working on what turned into Wisconsin’s largest support network and resource center for adoptive and foster care families. Since its inception, Ellingson led what’s now known as the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families, with the simple and complex goal of having all Wisconsin kids “find permanent and stable homes.” Insiders will tell you she’s been a cornerstone of forging statewide legislative policy regarding adoption and foster care, and a cornerstone in forging thousands of new families. She retired from the post this year, but this is no overstatement: Her legacy will last for generations. (HM)
35. Fried Cheese Curds
Palomino keeps the squeak and adds the beer-batter crunch to its fried cheese curds – creamy nuggets, battered by hand and served hot as blazes from the fryer with a choice of sauces. (AC)
36. Coffee Shop Concert Venues
Anodyne hosts local and national acts in its Walker’s Point location. Colectivo has been partnering with the Florentine Opera and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra since 2002, and this summer, folk singer Olivia Chaney christened the Prospect Avenue Colectivo’s Back Room. Meanwhile, the Fifth Ward Stone Creek location is an aromatic entryway to RadioMilwaukee’s studios and performance area. What we’re saying: Step aside, Seattle. There’s no happier marriage than our coffee culture and our live music scene. (CH)
37. Department Brass
The Milwaukee Police Department Police Band, with musicians of the cop and civilian variety, is 117 this year. Today, it subsists on private funding and performs at various civic, law enforcement and memorial functions. But all wear the snappiest blue uniforms this side of Broadway. (MH)
38. Junior John Gurdas
It started as a seventh-grade service project at Hartland’s Swallow School. It turned into a grassroots effort to preserve the memories of a generation. It’s called the S.A.V.E. Team, the initials standing for survivor and veteran experiences. Members record the stories of World War II vets and Holocaust survivors, then make those recordings available to families, schools, libraries and museums. Their dozens of interviews are preserved in places like the National World War II Museum. Today, the oldest S.A.V.E. Team kids are 16-year-olds at Arrowhead High School, just a couple of years younger than the age at which their subjects were changing the world. (HM)
39. We Have Both of These in the Same Month
October warms to a pair of cool athletic firsts for Milwaukee: the Oct. 23-25 Skate America event at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, featuring Olympic-caliber U.S. figure skaters, and the inaugural Milwaukee Running Festival, featuring races from a 1-mile jaunt to a marathon, Oct. 30-Nov. 1. (HM)
40. Save Our Bucks
They went from an online message board to a highway billboard to lobbying for an actual bill. Save Our Bucks was the merger of sports fanaticism and public activism. Once just a group of Milwaukee Bucks fans chatting, and often complaining, about the team online, they took their discontent with the team’s direction public by buying I-43 billboard space. Then, after the team’s sale to its new owners, SOB rallied support for a new arena. Through a website, social media, and even its own weekly radio show, SOB urged citizens to call legislators and sway their votes. How effective were they? The arena legislation passed, and SOB spokesman Paul Henning says pols like state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and state Sen. Lena Taylor noted they had “never gotten so many calls.” (HM)
41. Bubbler vs. Bublr
Launched just a year ago, the city is aiming to add 15 new Bublr bike stations this fall to the 11 existing bubbly blue racks. And with another 20-some locations proposed, Milwaukeeans should prepare themselves for the out-of-staters who still don’t understand the meaning of the original “bubbler,” and why we defend its name so aggressively. (ST)
42. MKE Plays Initiative
Not a week goes by that parents don’t lament their children’s attachment to technology. The MKE Plays Initiative was started by Ald. Michael Murphy and aims to rehabilitate area playgrounds. Funding from the Zilber Foundation has allowed for the remodel of playgrounds in the Layton Boulevard West and Lindsay Heights neighborhoods, with 10 more on the horizon. In partnership with MPS, the program intends to employ high school students as play leaders, making outdoor activities a part of teenagers’ schedules as well. The city promises to match funds with those who make further donations to the project. (AG)
43. Arts Support
The Pfister Hotel, Cedarburg Cultural Center, the Menomonee Valley and RedLine Milwaukee. These seemingly disparate groups have artist-in-residence programs, which support the work of local artists. They’re contemporary patronage programs en miniature that often give the artist critical workshop space, funding or promotion. The city’s arts scene, not to mention the individual artists, are much richer because of this. (CH)
44. Cheeky Chalkboards
Menus aren’t the only way a restaurant uses Vulcan mind-melding to get you to do what it wants. Chalkboards are now part of the persuasion, placed outside on the sidewalk or on the wall, say, near the bar. Shorewood bakery Miss Cupcake sent our brakes screeching with, “We Don’t Use Box Cake Mixes But I Bet Your Mom Does.” Ouch. The BelAir Cantina locations mix it up. Seen: “In Queso Emergency, We Pray to Cheesus.” And at Comet Cafe, it’s all about ornate chalked type to advertise “The Morning After” brunch to specials like the Walter White burger (named after the “Breaking Bad” protagonist). (AC)
45. Katherine Wilson
“This is the first time I’ve felt heard in my life,” has become a familiar phrase to Katherine Wilson, who has served as executive director of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion for two years. Since 2005, the center has hosted discussions on race and segregation, interfaith dialogue and other weighty topics. Wilson’s study of genocides and international law fostered her passion for building communities. That passion has inspired her to train cultural leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and El Salvador to facilitate discussions using the Zeidler Center’s methods. “What drives me crazy is people’s need for dichotomy between talk and action. Dialogue is action.” (AG)
46. Islands of Brilliance
The minds behind Translator, a branding and design firm, set up Islands of Brilliance as a nonprofit that pairs children and teens on the autism spectrum with designers for hands-on design classes. While using professional-level software tools, the children build their socialization skills and harness their creative focus. A brilliant idea, indeed. (CH)
47. The Sausage Taste Test
It is a glorious (OK, gluttonous) tradition at this magazine to use our stomachs as guinea pigs, and this year was no different. On a hot Saturday in August, magazine staffers set out to determine the best Wisconsin-made brat, a task that was not as difficult as it sounds. Managing Editor Howie Magner fired up his grill and prepared the brats (no parboiling!), and then the real work began. Out of Johnsonville, Klement’s and Usinger’s, the 135-year-old Usinger’s classic recipe took the crown for its balanced spices and considerable juice. (CH)
48. Maria Hamilton
The story of Dontre Hamilton – the 31-year-old man shot and killed by a Milwaukee Police officer, who was later fired for violating department search procedures – never drew as much national attention as the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. But Hamilton’s mother, Maria Hamilton, has emerged as a national voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, leading the Million Moms March on Washington in May. “I don’t need to meet Michael Brown’s mother,” she told Milwaukee Magazine. “I am her.” (MH)
49. Happy Hour Yoga
On Friday evenings, you can climb the steep staircase at Riverwest Yogashala to unwind from the stress of the workweek. The restorative class uses bolsters, blankets, chairs and even a rope wall to help tight muscles ease into longer-held poses that release tension. Afterward, settle into a seat at a nearby restaurant for dinner and wine. Although the class isn’t called a happy hour class, it’s one of several Friday-night offerings from area studios. Other happy hour Zen zones include Saffron Yoga Center in Bay View, East Side’s Urban Om, Tosa’s Haleybird Yoga Studios and the Tosa Yoga Center. (SL)
50. Gender-neutral Bathrooms
In 2014, Shorewood School District became the Milwaukee area’s first district to adopt bathroom and locker-room policies to accommodate transgender students. Although several University of Wisconsin schools, including UW-Milwaukee, have had such bathrooms since at least 2004, Shorewood’s inclusivity should be a model, especially for environments whose charges are in the thick of emotionally turbulent teenage years. (CH)