My MKE Staycation: Arcades & Bowling

A very active 24-hour itinerary

For a word that has “stay” in it, a staycation can make you feel like a human pinball. Each stop is more points, more feeling like a person who does real things. So come with me on an all-indoors staycation, a little fun romp despite the weather. It’s never too cold to drink coffee and watch movies.

9 a.m.

Valentine Coffee

Valentine’s Tasting Room on Vliet Street (read: coffee shop) is quietly the best in town, and I’m willing to fight you over it. I’d be there at a realistic hour for a cheap but excellent pour-over that tastes (naturally) a little like blueberries or lemon or orange. Owners Robb and Joe roast in a way that brings out remarkable sweetness. Post-caffeine, some walking around Vliet Street may be required since Vliet is the new… Brady Street? There’s also a cool glassblowing studio nearby that will give you a workshop in making your own glass thing.

10 a.m.

Riverwest Film and Video

And swiftly we go to the bosom of Riverwest, to visit that rarest of creatures, an independent movie rental shop. They even made a documentary about Riverwest Film and Video, screened at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival. I once had a teacher who was afraid to set foot inside because it seemed “too cool” for him, sadly. Don’t let the same happen to you, especially when rentals are $1/day. You can also buy film supplies and admire the hand-made signage. (You have basically stepped into a condensed form of someone’s love for film.)

11 a.m.

Voyageur Book Shop

Boswell on Downer? Maybe next time. The newer, smaller, weirder Voyageur Book Shop on KK still has that new bookstore smell (which is the same as the old one). Voyageur has collectible books, including some from Wisconsin, and a very nice basement. It’s the first new bookstore in the city (from the ground up) in a long time, and there’s at least one store cat. Not to mention customers. Voyageur can get crowded on the weekends.

12 p.m.


We continue to pinball, this time to Mitchell Street, for an Indian/Pakistani restaurant that is light on decor but heavy on flavor. At this tiny paradise of spicy meat, I’ll order a lot since I’m not really spending money, just talking about spending money: flatbread, nihari, and biryani. In all seriousness, Anmol also has a good selection of dishes under $10.

1 p.m.


Next we zip all the way out to Menomonee Falls. The Garcade’s collection of 100 mostly retro arcade machines follows the model of East Coast great Funspot in being a museum you can play. There are vintage pinball machines as well, but I inevitably end up on the golf and bowling machines for reasons I can’t fully explain. Everything here (with rare deactivated exceptions) just works, which isn’t the case with every local retro arcade.

4 p.m.

Landmark Lanes

More pinball! Or foosball or beer. The pinball apparatus is a little beat up. One machine can glitch out and give you a free ball. This is “Milwaukee’s Entertainment Destination,” after all. Half of the reason for this stop is to converge on the Oriental Theatre.

6 p.m.

Oriental TheatreMKE Film at the Oriental

We’re here. Since the big O reopened under the wings of Milwaukee Film, there’s no reason not to swing by. The projectors are way better, and there’s a proper women’s bathroom on the first floor.

After visiting the bathrooms, one must wrestle with the eternal Oriental conundrum: See the movie in the big theater, because it’s fancy, or another film (that you’re more excited about) in one of the smaller theaters. With better projectors, this is less of a pickle, so pick whatever.

8 p.m.

Pita Palace

A late dinner with sporadic talk about the movie. This Mediterranean and Middle Eastern place on Layton is open 10-10, seven days a week, and is very good. The best way to conclude a pretend vacation is with some real food, a little of the ol’ “mixed grill.” I’m in no way anti-gyro, but this is of higher quality and is almost as cheap/quick after a long day of staycationing.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.