Images by Ramsey Renno.
To really experience a place, to live like a local, and to savor every bit of authenticity, you must explore on two feet – or wheels. Having the luxury of gliding through the open air at your own pace is a feeling like no other that heightens your senses.
My brand new Handsome She Devil bike and I – custom built by the very talented mechanics at Crank Daddy’s – will be spending the rest of the summer exploring every nook and cranny of this city to really get to know Milwaukee’s neighborhoods and share these secrets with you.
After the dust settled from the 37th annual Locust Street Festival on June 9, I went back to Riverwest to revisit some of my favorite place and search for new ones I had learned about at the festival.
What makes it unique? This racial and ethnically diverse neighborhood, west of the Milwaukee River, runs from Capitol Drive, Locust Street and North Avenue (east-west) and Holton Street and Humboldt Boulevard (run north-south). It defines the idea of community, with several co-op organizations including a grocery, a bar, an investment cooperative and its own community newspaper. Woodland Pattern, a nonprofit bookstore and art gallery has been around since 1979 and is one of the largest small-press sellers in the country.
Here is a quick run down of my favorites:
Best Dish: Mamacitas Tamales – Vegan and vegetarian tamales – say what? I promise once you get a taste, you’ll appreciate how Mamacitas has taken an old classic and given it a new spin, still using fresh, classic ingredients like plantains, black beans, chiles and cheese, as well as breaking the mold with my favorite variety – the curry cashew. Find Mamacitas at festivals throughout the summer and in the freezer at Beans and Barley and the Riverwest Co-op.
Best Date Spot: Centro Cafe – In my mind, the measure of a good restaurant is consistency and specialty. Pick one thing you do really well and stick to it. After a dozen visits, Centro Café has never disappointed with their fresh, rustic and relatively simple Italian dishes. The cozy, intimate ambiance makes it feel like a New York City bistro. The grilled calamari and the gnocchi are amazing – and they offer gluten-free pasta too. Share a tiramisu and good conversation for dessert under the dim lighting.
Best Beer Selection: The Filling Station – Let your mouth water for tons of craft beers from Wisconsin and beyond – and they’re cheap! Take home enough for the week in a growler. Need I say more?
Best New Place: Cocoon Room – A multipurpose creative arts space with the purpose of community enrichment through the arts, music and fashion? Only in Riverwest. A creative use of a space to allow artists to thrive and connect, while also serving the community – a brilliant concept.
Best Shopping: ReThreads – Buy, sell or trade is their motto. I’ve found high-end designer dresses, jeans and accessories as well as tees and sweaters from Urban Outfitters, J. Crew and the Gap. No matter your need or your price range, there is something there for everyone, especially the vintage-lovers. You don’t get a ton of cash for selling, but at least the prices are cheap enough you can always turn it into something new for yourself.
Fischberger’s Variety is also a fun, curious spot for gifts, crafts and miscellany.
Best Festival: Riverwest 24 is a 24-hour bike built around community. Registration fills up almost immediately for riders, but there is always room for volunteers and supporters. See a great locally made film here as part of the Dear MKE film series.
Best Park: Gordon Park at Humboldt and Locust connects with the Oak Leaf Trail that runs the length of the city and offers a playground and public art sculpture. What more could you ask for?
Best place for Live Music: Mad Planet is hot, sweaty and small, but somehow it continues to attract the best local and national bands. The 90s dance party and the Get Down have become dance-party institutions.
Best Brunch: Café Corazon – Two words: breakfast tacos. They’ll break you out of the omelet and pancake rut! Café Corazon also serves an amazing lunch and dinner.
Don’t forget about the Lakefront Festival of the Arts happening this weekend at the Milwaukee Art Museum, now in its 50th year. Stop by the Milwaukee Magazine Wine Garden and take in the fabulous views underneath the iconic Burke Brise Soleil, while you mingle with other art-loving Milwaukeeans.
Follow me on Twitter as @jkashou and search #GirlAboutTownNeighborhoods to stay on top of what’s happening around town.