A couple of weeks ago I joined the gang from Feast of Fools for a trip to Milwaukee for PrideFest. It was my first time in Brewtown in over ten years, and I was really looking forward to it.
I had visions of us exploring the city a-la Laverne & Shirley, soaking in the charm and the love of one of the Midwest’s most unappreciated gems. I wanted the weekend to be memorable and fun, and to leave with a sense of pride in my Cheeseheaded heritage.
Sadly, the weather was absolutely atrocious.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. There were some really great moments, lots of good laughs, and we met some really nice people- but that weather was a real downer!
Surely by now you’ve heard about the draining of Lake Delton and flooding in Racine and other Wisconsin cities, and have seen the video of the houses falling into the raging waters.
Thankfully nothing like that happened in the Milwaukee city proper, but it was still a near-complete washout. Call it unfortunate timing. It certainly wasn’t the city’s fault.
Milwaukee and I have a lot of history. So it seemed sort of unfair that I’d forgotten about it while living in the much bigger, much busier city to the south. I was really looking forward to getting ‘back to my roots’ a bit and seeing how much Milwaukee has changed in the last 10 years.
I remember visiting Milwaukee many times in my youth, and nearly every visit was the subject of a really good time. As a kid there were numerous trips with my family and friends to Festa Italiana, German Fest and, of course, Summerfest at the Summerfest grounds (later renamed the Henry W. Maier Festival Grounds in homage to the late, long-term mayor of the city). There were tons of Milwaukee Brewers games at old County Stadium, concerts at the Bradley Center or the Marcus Amphitheater, scads of visits to the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Wisconsin State Fair, and a great number of trips to Marquette University when my good friend Mark was going there for his undergrad.
I’m happy to report that Milwaukee has changed a lot — in some ways for the worse, but in most ways for the better.
For the worse, it seems that Milwaukee has gone the way of many smaller municipal areas and lost a lot of its gay-identified spots. Places I used to visit in the early to mid 90s like Club 219, M&M Club and C’est La Vie are long gone. Although LaCage is still there, I probably wouldn’t recognize it since it’s constantly being remodeled; and I think the venerable Triangle bar is still there. I don’t know if this is the result of gays and straights co-mingling more, or the further loss of any sort of gay ‘neighborhood’ in Milwaukee; but it seems like the choices are a little more slim than I remember.
However, that doesn’t mean that Milwaukee is a bad place to be gay. No other city in the nation holds a PrideFest like Milwaukee. And whether it rains or shines, it’s always an amazing event.
For the better, Milwaukee is a large city on a smaller scale, and from what I’ve seen, it’s really become much more cosmopolitan and chic than I ever remember it being. There are so many great clubs and restaurants to visit, cute shops and walkways, and their riverwalk through downtown puts Chicago’s to shame. And of course, the people are as friendly as can be. There’s tons of entertainment and culture – from the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts to the Pabst Theater to the absolutely spectacular Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum on the lakeshore- MIlwaukee is prettier and even more memorable than I ever remember as a kid.
So once everything dries out up north and I get a free weekend, I think a return trip is in the works. I need to re-orient myself to my former neighbor to the north. I’ve done a lot of growing in the last ten years– and so has Milwaukee. It deserves to get a second look.