A diverse selection of neighborhood bars, the beautiful Joan of Arc Chapel and delicious vegetarian food kick off Rich Rovito's list of MKE favorites.
I’ve always been intrigued by the eclectic mix of neighborhood bars that dot the city’s landscape. A special nod goes to my long-time hangout, Club Garibaldi in Bay View. Club G was a watering hole for a tight-knit group of regulars long before Bay View became uber hip. Owner Joe Dean has treated me and my friends like family, sponsoring our softball team for nearly 20 years and hosting numerous parties and events. It’s also an underrated venue for live music and tasty bar food.
Another favorite is The Bubbler, a family-run joint located near scenic Humboldt Park in Bay View that also shares its space with Vinchi’s Pizza. Others include the Harp & Shamrock near Marquette, East Side establishments Regano’s Roman Coin and Thurman’s 15, and Leff’s Lucky Town in Wauwatosa (although it’s a bit of a stretch to think of this almost-always-packed bar and eatery as simply a neighborhood tavern).
Joan of Arc Chapel
As a student at Marquette University, I had the distinct privilege of seeing this architectural gem almost daily. Now it takes a special trip to campus. The Gothic chapel dates to 15th Century France and has served as the centerpiece of Marquette’s urban Milwaukee campus since being reconstructed there more than 50 years ago. In the warmer months, the chapel is bordered by an array of beautiful blooming flowers, creating a welcoming refuge.
I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly three decades, which used to pose a major challenge in meat-centric Milwaukee. Today, there is a plethora of great vegetarian food and restaurants, from long-entrenched spots like Beans & Barley, which has wonderful items like the tempeh, lettuce and tomato sandwich, and the Riverwest Co-op Cafe, which features the delicious Phamous Philly, a sandwich featuring its house-made seitan. Other favorites include the vegetarian taco plate at Café Corazon, Mi Xao Don at Vietnamese eatery Hue, volcano tofu at The King and I and the vegan Salisbury steak at Comet Cafe. Noted sausage restaurant Vanguard even features mouth-watering items for non-carnivores, including the flavorful vegan Italian sausage.
Lakeshore State Park
The Milwaukee skyline is undergoing dramatic and rapid change, and one of the most spectacular views of this transformation is from Lakeshore State Park, located near the shore of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee. There are trails for runners, walkers and bicyclists that offer panoramic views of the city, the lakeshore and the grounds of Henry Maier Festival Park. Lakeshore State Park also is a haven for environmental and freshwater education and conservation.
Awe-inspiring architecture abounds in Milwaukee. I continue to be drawn to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, the creation of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The structure, which features the wing-like brise soleil, seems to take on a constantly changing form depending on the time of day, the season or the color of the sky and the volume of clouds in it. The gleaming glass tower that is Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s new corporate headquarters is a spectacular addition to the downtown skyline. Often lost in the mix are some of the city’s long-standing structures, like the Mitchell Building and the adjacent Mackie Building, the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse with its beautiful atrium and Romanesque Revival architecture, the Central Library and the glorious Art Deco structure that most still refer to as the Wisconsin Gas Building. The city is also dotted with architecturally significant churches. My favorites include the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Gesu Church and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.
Public golf courses
Whether it’s a quick round at pitch-and-putt courses at Lake Park or Doyne, or more challenging layouts like the scenic lakeside Grant Park course (my personal favorite) or Brown Deer Park, which used to host a PGA tour event, Milwaukee County courses offer a variety of options at relatively inexpensive rates.
There is an extensive variety of spots to catch live music in the Milwaukee area. Shank Hall remains a favorite for me. I like the small setup, easy access to the bar and, most of all, the usually crystal-clear acoustics. In addition to the city’s major venues, some smaller locales offer unique concert experiences, among them Colectivo’s Back Room, the Cactus Club, Red Dot and Redbar. I especially enjoy seeing live music at outdoor venues. I took in shows at nearly every stage at Summerfest this past year. Street festivals offer another option, with the Locust Street Festival of Music and Art a long-time personal favorite due to the broad mix of bands and the overall eclectic atmosphere.
Downtown and the Third Ward
The heart of Milwaukee is changing, with many brand-new restaurants, bars, hotels and overall business and residential development. It’s invigorating to be in a city with an active downtown. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. corporate headquarters, on its own, is a transformational development. The new Milwaukee Bucks arena, with its unique design, continues to progress and is sure to attract large crowds to downtown. The Third Ward is thriving, too. I visit the bustling Milwaukee Public Market for lunch at least once per week. There’s also attractive newer development, including the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel and its spectacular rooftop bar.