In the lobby of the 1920s art deco Ambassador hotel, the Envoy bar is partitioned off by ceiling-high, decorative metal gates. The bar is packed with business travelers, some still in wrinkled travel suits and dresses. It’s a Wednesday night, so they are taking advantage of ½ off bottles of wine, chilling in buckets on most tables. I’d missed the opportunity to purchase 1 cocktail and get the 2nd for the 1920s price, during Happy Hour. There was too much of the city to explore for me to head straight to the hotel after work.
Back in 1991, when his arrest brought attention to the Milwaukee hotel, Jeffery Dahmer might not have known the number of dining options available to him. The in-room dining the hotel offers was certainly not to his particular taste. In 1987 he took his first Milwaukee victim, one of seventeen young men he was eventually convicted for the murder, dismemberment and cannibalism of, back to his room at the Ambassador. That victim left the hotel with him, in pieces, in a newly acquired suitcase (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer). Years later the hotel underwent renovations, but still hasn’t shaken its reputation as a crime scene.
As a journalism major at Marquette University in the early 1990s, I took a shuttle bus down Wisconsin Ave., from my somewhat remote dorm, past the Ambassador hotel, to the main campus. It was the year after Dahmer’s arrest. Everyone was aware of the area’s history, but it was (college) life as usual around town. The college itself is just west of downtown Milwaukee, and Lake Michigan. Not having access to a car when I lived there, I spent most of my time on campus, exploring nearby downtown and the Historic Third Ward district, or along the lakefront. This trip I searched out a variety of good eats, both familiar and new to me.
Entering Red Elephant Chocolate, the young redhead behind the counter, who turned out to be a fine art photography student, complimented my hair as I walked in the door. I thanked her, and then looked up, only to realize my hair was the same bright red shade as hers. We traded stories of how long we’d been wearing this novel, unnatural color. She mentioned that she liked the way it made her stand out, and I warned her she’d blend right in if she visited Dublin, Ireland. There are as many unnatural as natural redheads in the city. For one so young and inexperienced, she asked many “world wise” questions about the photography/sales opportunities at my company. She then sold me $25 worth of chocolate truffles (what?!), and filled me in on the intent behind the chocolate shop’s name, meant to bring Milwaukee’s circus scene to mind.
“Historical Note: Wisconsin has a long and rich circus tradition. Since 1847, Wisconsin has been critical in the formation of many legendary circuses: P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Exhibition and World’s Fair On Wheels, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses. This tradition continued with the 1959 opening of the Circus World Museum …” (Milwaukee Co. Historical Society)
Just a few blocks away, downtown, the Milwaukee Public Market is a collection of farmer’s markets, sushi, wine and cheese shops, a fishery, and culinary classroom space. Just before the end of the work day is a great time to visit, to avoid the crowds, if you can. The market’s mission is “To foster a market for privately owned food growers, artisans and purveyors (many of whom have Wisconsin roots) and to promote a different way in which consumers shop, cook, eat and experience food.” (see market website)
Just across the street is Colectivo Coffee, a roaster that develops long-term farmer and co-op partnerships, so they are very involved in every step of the farming and roasting process. Their product is roasted, blended, packaged, and shipped from Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. They happen to also serve 4 craft beers on tap, so at 5 o’clock it’s a Win! Capitalizing on the fact that the market closes before they do, they reap the benefits of the market patrons looking for a place to continue to gather. Deciding to do a little research on the place, I settled down with their Scottish Ale, which I recommend to those with a taste for Amber Ale. When there isn’t an Amber in the place, a Scottish Ale is a good alternative.
Traveling as much as I do for work, I’ve always been a fan of showing up in the morning with food for the staff. In search of local treats, I hit the jackpot just across the street from my work site. National Bakery and Deli reminded me of the Mom & Pop bakeries of my childhood, growing up in Chicagoland. Pastries, donuts, cookies, breads and muffins are the everyday fare, but the real artistry is in the wedding and specialty cakes. You can smell the frosting as soon as you walk into the place, and the food looks almost too pretty to eat. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the cake built around an actual Barbie doll. I’m not known for having a sweet tooth, but Wow! I was salivating. Most of what I bought from the bakery made it to work with me that morning.
It’s an adventure to see a familiar city through new eyes! Nostalgia has its place, but there’s a whole big world of possibility out there, and new territory to explore. In the end, it’s not impossible to shake what was, and imagine what could be. I’m ready for the next adventure! Come along!
The Ambassador Hotel – http://www.ambassadormilwaukee.com/
Marquette University – http://www.marquette.edu/
Red Elephant Chocolate – http://www.redelephantchocolate.com/
Milwaukee Co. Historical Society – http://www.milwaukeehistory.net/manuscript/circus-collection/
Milwaukee Public Market – http://www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org/main.html
Colectivo Coffee – http://colectivocoffee.com/
National Bakery – http://www.nationalbakery.com/