A glorious and legendary staycation in Brew City.
My MKE Staycation is an ongoing series on Milwaukeemag.com. We ask writers and contributors to describe their ideal day off in Milwaukee. Catch up on the entire series here.
For many reasons, most of them financial, I prefer staycations to vacations. As a self-identified staycation expert, I’ve put together my ideal day of staycationing in Milwaukee.
As usual, I wake to the soothing sounds of Kanye West’s “Good Morning.” I whisper Yeezy’s motivational bars as I prepare for my day. I start my Milwaukee staycation with a morning run along the Riverwalk. The route follows the river from the Summerfest grounds up to Kilbourn Park for a nice waterfront tour of downtown. This really gets the blood pumping for a long day of staycationing.
Freshly showered and shaved, it’s time for a cup of coffee. My spot of choice is Stone Creek Coffee’s Radio Milwaukee location on Barclay Street. In order to maintain my fragile male ego, I only order plain black coffee, but you can really enjoy yourself if you want, and order one of their fancy lattes with a little heart in the foam.
One of the great benefits of morning exercise is that you can overeat the entire day and feel marginally better about it — so I grab myself a big ol’ Wild Blueberry Muffin. For the next hour and a half, I camp out in a secluded table reading a tattered copy of something intellectual and impressive, like 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, while jotting longhand notes for a novel written entirely from the perspective of a urinal cake. When no one’s looking, I watch YouTube.
I decide to explore the Milwaukee Public Museum next, one of my favorite spots since childhood, but then I realize that a different Milwaukee Magazine writer already did that. My dedication to original content forces me to instead head for Discovery World, to get my museum fill. Discovery World, as always, is the absolute cat’s pajamas. I lie on a bed of nails, get in a dominance dispute with a jellyfish and end my exploration with some time in Les Paul’s House of Sound.
Post-Discovery World, it’s time to re-energize with a drive westward. I hop in the car and crank the tunes. It’s a short drive to American Science and Surplus on West Oklahoma Ave. Not to be confused with Russian Science and Surplus, this Milwaukee store is the best spot for a long, aimless stroll through aisles and aisles of miscellaneous goods. The place overflows with quirk, and you’ll find stuff you didn’t even know you wanted. Also, I love the acronym.
I spend forty-five minutes rifling through the old military supplies and science equipment before buying an old camouflage canteen, just in case I end up marooned on an island again.
Did someone say lunchtime? Yes. That someone was me, two sentences ago. I head back downtown and stop at the Milwaukee Public Market, an ideal lunch spot. It may not be under-the-radar, but neither was Franklin Roosevelt and he ended up becoming President of the United States. There are plenty of lunch options at the market, but I, being a boring, boring man, settle on a turkey sandwich.
Lunch weighs me down a little. I need a rest from the relentless excitement, so I decide to go somewhere contemplative and quiet. Marquette University has a somewhat-hidden gem on campus — the St. Joan of Arc Chapel.
Originally built in 1420 in the village of Chasse, France, it’s the oldest building in Milwaukee. After St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy, the chapel was re-dedicated to her memory. In the late 1960s, the owner donated it to Marquette, and builders disassembled the entire chapel, shipped it to Milwaukee and rebuilt it on the campus. Stepping into the small beautiful chapel is like stepping back into fifteenth-century France for a moment. I spend a half hour in the quiet medieval building before returning to the hustle and bustle of modern day.
My favorite bookstore is in the airport. This is not ideal. You have to pay for parking, walk around stressed travelers and weeping parents, and just generally deal with that sense of panicked despair that overwhelms every airport in the country. I can understand if you’d rather just go to Boswell Books or maybe one of the other bookstores on this list, but me — I head to Renaissance Books in the Mitchell Airport Lobby. It’s the place to go for that leathery yellow paperback feel. I pick up four or five new books, before rolling on out.
It’s time to redirect toward dinner. The choices are plentiful and somewhat overwhelming. Don’t let the fear get to you — a decision must be made. I decide to go with something a little pricier than normal, considering this is my staycation and a fella can only staycation so often.
I head to Mo’s…A Place for Steaks. This place is so fancy, they won’t let me wear my tank top inside, so I have to change. They even have a waiter brush the bread crumbs off the tablecloth with a little metal scoopy thing. I order myself a ribeye and chow down. After I finish my steak and am escorted out, I head for the final event of the day.
As the sun sets, it’s time for what Frank Sinatra, with his inimitable way with words, called “music.” I head over to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for one of their weekend performances. While de Waart conducts Mahler, tears spring to my eyes. There’s nothing quite like a night of live classical music by masterful performers. Of course, the tears quickly transition to hysterical sobs and once again I am escorted out.
The night ends at one of Milwaukee’s noted haunts — Shaker’s Cigar Bar. I use haunt literally. People think ghosts hang out here. There are tours and stuff. The bar was once owned by Al Capone himself.
It’s still got that old-world feel, and if you’re an alcohol and/or cigar type of person, it has those things too. Me — I’m in it for the atmosphere. And so there in the back of a smoky, dimly-lit room, the sound of a piano playing lightly in the background, I end my staycation.