What to Do in Brookfield and Elm Grove, Wisconsin

Making sense of, and friends in, side-by-side Brookfield and Elm Grove.

You see, I thought there was a place called Elmbrook. So when the producer of Around the Corner with John McGivern said we were combining the communities of Brookfield and Elm Grove for the show, I thought it was a given and that everyone would think it was a great idea. We who make this show still believe we made a good decision. 

But just so you know, we’ve heard from residents of both communities who strongly disagree. The Brookfield residents think we should have just covered Brookfield. The villagers of Elm Grove believe that they deserve their own episode. I get it. I mean, in season four, we made an episode called “John McGivern’s East Side” because I wanted my own episode. But in truth, I’m the only one to get my own episode because, well, just because.

There was much to see and do in Brookfield/Elm Grove. One thing you need to know about me is that I love to drive – anything! If you’ve watched the show, you know in the past eight years people have given me keys to anything and everything that moves. I’ve driven 10-ton construction trucks, mini circus clown cars, pink flamingo paddle boats, steam locomotion trains, motorized bikes, Formula One race cars, vintage delivery trucks and restored Detroit classics. I boast of being an excellent driver, and in this episode that claim was put to the test. We spent time with Prince Boparai, owner of and instructor at United Driving School in Brookfield. Prince took me out in the drivers-ed car and gave me the test to see if I would be given a Wisconsin driver’s license. I passed by the skin of my way-too-fast teeth. He had to keep reminding me to keep both hands on the wheel and to check my blind spot by looking over my shoulder. I told him at one point to shut up and relax. He wasn’t at all charmed or amused. If there hadn’t been a camera crew in the car, I think I might have failed. Oh well, happy it wasn’t a real test.

The one thing I love to do more than drive? I love to eat. There was nothing disappointing when it came to eating in this episode. We had the best meal ever and great conversation with the owners of Jake’s Supper Club in Brookfield. Jake and Karen Replogle understand this 58-year legacy and their responsibility to maintain and continue it. I’ve known Jake’s since I was a kid. I remember I was there for Easter, or maybe it was Mother’s Day or a high school graduation dinner. I can’t remember the occasion, but what I clearly remember are the onion rings. These are the same onion rings served today. They are thin – almost shoestring thin – onion rings that hide the steak and fill the plate. They were great when I was a kid and are still great. Jake keeps the favorites, and at the same time introduces new items on a rotating basis. They take pride in an extensive house drink menu, and I’m told that the bartenders are great at their signature old fashioned. It’s one of my favorite places we’ve visited while doing this show.

We also spent time at O’Donoghue’s Pub in the middle of the village of Elm Grove. You can’t miss this iconic stop if you ever wanted to experience what a neighborhood “everybody knows your name” place feels like. I’ve been to Ireland on five separate visits, and in Ireland, the corner pub is everything to the community. You go to talk, laugh, drink, eat and sing. It’s all about the “craic” (meaning news, or gossip). And just over the railroad tracks, O’Donoghue’s has an authentic Irish feel because of owner Jamie O’Donoghue. The Guinness is flowing and the extended bar menu has the most memorable mini-Reubens you’ve ever had. A McGivern should know: O’Donoghue’s is worth the trip.

John McGivern and Detective Jennifer Toepfer of the Brookfield police force; photo courtesy of Milwaukee PBS

I want to thank Brookfield’s mayor, Steve Ponto. It is because of him that we were able to get an inside look into a job we’ve never covered, and one to which I personally have no connection. We arrived at the Brookfield Police Department with no expectations as to what we would learn and what we would feel about the job of a woman detective on the Brookfield force. Detective Jennifer Toepfer could not have been any more surprising. Not only is she smart and funny (which I kind of did expect), but she is completely understated as to what she does in the name of a safe community. She spoke with such heart about accepting this responsibility so her friends and family and neighbors could sleep sound at night. I admire her and everyone who does the kind of job she does. So thank you, Detective Jennifer. Now when I think about the “good guys,” I’ll expand that thought to include the “good gals,” too.

I found something out about myself during this episode. I found out that I am quite the artist. I’m now a woodworker, a stencil expert, a painter and a brilliant sign maker. Brilliant might be an exaggeration, but I did create something that is now hanging on the wall inside my home. (OK, it’s on a bedroom wall seen by very few, but a wall nonetheless.) My newfound talents were exposed because of Board and Brush Creative Studio in Elm Grove. This place is fantastic. It’s such a smart concept that originated locally and has grown into a national chain of studio stores. Whether you go with a friend or a group of friends, you spend time together working on individual projects that go from concept to completion within a few hours. I love that fact that you can walk in empty-handed and leave with something you created. It’s all a no-pressure, and, at least with me, a no-talent-needed experience. 

When I was a kid in Milwaukee, Brookfield and Elm Grove were places my family hardly ever visited. I had this idea that these places were just Milwaukee bedroom communities where people lived in perfect houses on cul-de-sacs and drove east to the city to work and play. I realize now that, once again, I was without a clue. I’m so glad that decades later I got to spend time experiencing what it’s like to walk the streets and listen to those that claim Brookfield and Elm Grove as their hometowns. They may share a school system (THAT’S why I thought there was a place called Elmbrook!), but these two vibrant communities each have identities all their own. (And I like both communities equally – really!).

“A Visit Out West” appears in the Special Advertising Section of the August 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning July 30, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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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.