Ah, la belle Milwaukee! The Paris of Wisconsin! A city of church spires and good food. The charm of Milwaukee goes well beyond accordions, beer or even Laverne & Shirley. Much more than in Madison, the experience of Milwaukee means forging a unique relationship with geography.
Take the "Polish flat," a term referring to a basement-level apartment with its own entrance, created by raising a worker's cottage. Most Madisonians have never heard of a Polish flat.
Oh, yes, and sometimes Milwaukee gets the cool bands that don't play Madison. Bands like Chicago's Ponys, who are sure to bring it this Saturday at Milwaukee's Mad Planet, located in the Riverwest neighborhood.
"We're doing this weekend [in Minneapolis and Milwaukee], then a couple shows in Chicago," guitarist Jered Gummere said from the road. "Then we're leaving for Europe. The album's still new. We gotta go out there and sell records."
That album would be Turn the Lights Out, released in March as their debut on indie potentate Matador.
"It's a really good rock 'n' roll record," was his reply to the always-stymieing request to describe one's work. "We're just really happy with it. We took a couple weeks [to make it]. We just took our time and got what we wanted."
Riverwest should be instantly familiar to anyone with a nodding acquaintance with Willy Street. Admittedly much grubbier, Riverwest is home to beloved local businesses. Many of them are mere blocks from Mad Planet.
Madisonians weaned on St. Vinnie's may experience sticker shock at Jackpot, 825 E. Center St., but there are women's and men's hats, coats and shoes. Also, men's pants and women's dresses look very promising. And they sell local music in the store.
Tool Shed, Riverwest's sex toy store, is right across the street. The usual suspects are here: butt plugs, condoms, harnesses, lube and books. Also videos, vibrators, mags like SMUT and $pread, and novelties like kneesocks and Blue Q chewing gum. The Shed is also conscious about selling items made with quality materials, eschewing suspect "jelly" toys.
Pop into Lotus Land Records, 338 N. Milwaukee Ave., for LPs, 45s and a hit of that musty Victorian house smell.
Hungry yet? Saunter southward to the corner of Clarke and Fratney and Riverwest Co-op, the little co-op that could, for yummy vegan fare. Say hello across the street at the Infoshop, 732 E. Clarke St., while you wait for your food and browse their intriguing book section -- or buy a screen printed tee for $5.
To get your bowling skills on point, stop in at the Polish Falcon's Nest, 801 E. Clarke St., a bar with a bowling alley in its basement.
Or perhaps you'd prefer to get your vittles on at Bremen Café (901 E. Clarke St.), a sprawling neighborhood hangout with pool table and jukebox in the back and tables outdoors for people-watching in warm weather.
Of course, there are many more things to do and see in Riverwest and its immediate environs. An entire weekend would be necessary to take in Linneman's Riverwest Inn, Woodland Pattern Book Center (full disclosure: I'm a volunteer there), Art*Bar, the Urban Ecology Center, and the Koenen Land Preserve.
One of the things that makes Riverwest the place it is is the desire for community and the willingness to create space for it. It's an extraordinary experience.