regina's bay bakery

7 Reasons to Visit Whitefish Bay

East Silver Spring Drive is a mix of old and new businesses.

I was excited to spend time during June 2016 filming the Whitefish Bay episode of “Around the Corner with John McGivern,” because Whitefish Bay has always been a part of my world. As kids, my siblings and I would pile into the Rambler station wagon and make our way up Oakland Avenue to visit Winkie’s Variety Store on Silver Spring Drive. We depended on Winkie’s to furnish us with all we needed to decorate our bikes for July Fourth. Winkie’s was also the place where dreams that made up my Christmas wish list could be realized. My brother Tim went to Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay. My first solo Milwaukee bus trip was on the 15 Oakland-Delaware that took me north through Shorewood then into Whitefish Bay to the end of the line at Bayshore Mall. Silver Spring Drive between Lydell Avenue and Marlborough Drive is, and always has been, Whitefish Bay’s downtown/commercial district, and it still looks much like it did when I was a kid.

The doors at Winkie’s Variety Store are still open, and as I walked down those steps that summer, I felt the familiar excitement. The treasure hunt is as real today as it was over 50 years ago. I had the opportunity to talk with co-owner Tom Stuhlmacher and his daughter, Sarah, who spoke with such clarity about what this store means to this neighborhood. It is a 53-year-old establishment that is an anchor to “Main Street” Whitefish Bay and an iconic go-to place for generations of East Siders. The first floor is gifts, greeting cards, wrapping paper and the popular fresh candy department, complete with all kinds of chocolates and chews. My mom loves candy raisins. Do you know the candy I’m talking about? It is a small, brown, chewy sweet and I swear there is not a raisin to be found in or around this candy. How it got the name is a story I’ve never heard. Winkie’s lower level is filled with classic toys, art and school supplies, models, crafts and housewares. If you need an oilcloth tablecloth – and who doesn’t for the outside picnic table up at the cottage – they will cut it to size. I LOVE WINKIE’S.

Regina’s Bay Bakery is right down the street and is the longest operating business in Whitefish Bay. Bay Bakery opened in 1932. Thirteen years ago, Megan Rodriguez merged Regina’s Cheesecake with Bay Bakery, creating Regina’s Bay Bakery, known for French pastries, coffee cakes, cookies, doughnuts and the remarkable job they do with wedding cakes. We were treated to an “Around the Corner” decorated cheesecake that was as beautiful to look at as it was to eat. Thanks, Megan.

Fox Bay Cinema is another iconic, longtime Whitefish Bay business. I remember seeing Debbie Reynolds in The Singing Nun there on Easter 1966. Why I remember this is beyond me. In 2000, the Fox-Bay became a restaurant and digital technology movie theater that shows all first-run films. Owner Brian Henry told me about the concept of food and bar service during a feature presentation and the challenges that presents. Think about serving food in the dark. Yikes!

It’s great to have places that have been here forever surrounded by the new businesses. One of the more recent additions is Minoan, an intimate apparel store. I have to admit that I felt like a fish out of water in this place. It was filled with bras, (30AA to 46H) panties and “foundations.” Owner Meseret Gebre Egziabher is passionate about all women having well-fitted undergarments so they look and feel as good as they should. It was my first time in an “intimate apparel shop” and most likely my last. I flashed back to eighth grade when my friend Bobby Waszelewski boasted he could unhook a girl’s bra with one hand. I wondered why anyone would want to do that. Back then I thought Bobby and I were so different because he went to public school. I realize now I am still not interested in unhooking a girl’s bra, and we weren’t different because I went to Catholic School. No, really …

What I am interested in is food. So it will be no surprise when I say that, during the week we shot in Whitefish Bay, the crew and I had lunch a few times at City Market. Co-owner Jeff Swanson and his wife, Annette, have created a menu that’s wonderfully varied, and everything is fresh – daily homemade bread, sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts with vegetarian and vegan options. Jeff and his business partner, Julie Hollingsworth, own and operate three City Markets in the Milwaukee area, and since we shot this episode, I’ve been to all three.

I also ate at Jack Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn, and had the pleasure of chatting with three generations of Pandls. This restaurant is over 100 years old, is still in the same location, and is owned by the same family. I’ve been to this place many times, and if my mother had her way, she would come here every day and feast on their famous German pancake, which is the size of my head and one of the most delicious things I’ve ever consumed.

Have you ever heard of FLOATING? I’m not referring to your first swimming lesson as a kid. I’m discussing what you do at the business Float Life. It’s described as a “sensory deprivation experience.” It’s a large egg-shaped pod (think “Mork and Mindy”) of warm water mixed with almost 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt that allows you to float in a chamber, isolated from life’s distractions. They say it will renew, rejuvenate and heal stress. I have to admit that the thought of being removed from life’s distractions does not appeal to me. To sit alone with only the thoughts in my head is frightening and not something I would ever want to do. But my friend Bonnie swears by it and says it brings a real sense of calm to her daily life.

Have you ever talked to anyone who lives in Whitefish Bay? They love it … I mean really LOVE it and will try to convince you to move here. There is a sense of pride and commitment to home. We felt it when we visited the old and new businesses on Silver Spring and heard it from the people who call this place theirs.

I’m excited that the seventh season of “Around the Corner with John McGivern” is about to begin, because we’re bringing you 13 more communities that share their unique spirits. We showcase them at their summer best! As we live our winter lives, it is always a joy to remind ourselves that we will be warm before long. Winter will turn into spring, and spring into another summer we will never forget. I and the “Around the Corner” team are proud to bring you summer in Wisconsin, every Thursday at 7 p.m. on Milwaukee PBS. ◆

‘Whitefish Bay’s Sweet Center’ appears in the January 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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John McGivern is best known for his Emmy-award winning work on PBS, Around the Corner with John McGivern. His one-man-shows, THE EARLY STORIES OF JOHN MCGIVERN, MIDSUMMER NIGHT MCGIVERN AND JOHN MCGIVERN’S HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS tell the stories of being the third born of six kids in a working-class Irish Catholic Family in Milwaukee. John has been the keynote speaker for The Alliance for Children and Families, The State Department on Aging, The Children and Family Service Agency of Wisconsin, The Wisconsin Defense League, Christ Child Association, Foundation for Children with Cancer, Employee Assistant Professional Association and has been fortunate to entertain companies such as Time Warner, Northwestern Mutual, Kohl’s Department Stores, Baird, Acuity, and M&I Financial.