If it’s not already, add Pabst to the list of brewery tours you are planning to do in Milwaukee this spring. It starts in the Best Place gift shop, which shows off more drinking culture kitsch than you can shake a can full of beer tabs at.
The tour’s home base is the Best Place Rathskeller, the oldest in Wisconsin, held up with heavy wood beams cut from ancient forests. The place even has a fresco celebrating brewing heritage wrapped around the upper quarter of the wall.
For the past 10 years, the Pabst Brewery complex has been part of a major urban revitalization push in East Town that finally got its anchor to east solidified with announcement of the Milwaukee Bucks arena. It’s amazing that these old buildings were left shuttered for over a decade after Pabst closed its doors in 1996, and were still salvageable; so much so that it basically spawned a new neighborhood.
In the post-hipster era the world will look back and say ‘wow how many uncool things could become cool in 15 years’. Of all the accomplishments this era can boast, none may go down as emblematic as the meaning that 21st century youth brought fiery red neon sign that burns P-A-B-S-T that defines the western view from Juneau Avenue and Cass Street; forever stamping Milwaukee hipster Mecca.
Pabst, while maintaining it’s shitiness, comes out as the only year-round swill, imbibed with a deeper meaning. It defined an entire scene for over a decade, cooler than thou, indifferently; it mashed up Eastside tattoo parlors’ brand identities, f-it get it tattooed on a sweaty neck. In Milwaukee in particular, it allowed you to know who you’re dealing with.
There was a time when you heard, “Tall Boy”, it and it meant unambiguously, me and my friends hate everything including people who order brew by its given name (no offense New Glarus you have a lovely brewery, and a rocking woman brew meister).
A Salubrious Tale
The story of Pabst, makes Pabst’s “cool” make common sense. Jacob Best founded Best Brewery before nearly the same year Milwaukee was incorporated. When he died his son Phillip took over. Phillip Best was the original ‘people’s champ’ of Milwaukee a good german social democrat, believe in making money, sharing with his employees, and giving back to the community, but he didn’t have a male heir, but he did have a attractive and capable daughter.
Best was a business man and road steam ships. One day he boarded a ship with his daughter along. This steam ship happened to be navigated by a young man named Captain Pabst. When he laid eyes on Best’s daughter, Captian Pabst set his mind to marrying her.
A hard worker and a loyal man Joseph Pabst, eventually earned Best’s trust and his daughter’s hand, they had a son Frederick and the rest is history. Frederick Pabst was so beloved by Milwaukee that it was said his funeral was larger than President Lincoln’s.
Back to the Tap
The Pabst Brewery tour guide will hit you with a bunch of folksy jokes and more brew innuendo that you can resist, especially since Pabst unearthed some of its old experimental brews. Old Tankard Ale proves that the original big guy of brewing still has taste.
You’ll also get a ton of tidbits and factoids about the brewery’s history and pop culture significance, like a nice list of other good shitty beers like Hamm’s that were adopted by Pabst and one point in its history or another; or that Pabst, believe it or not, is the unassuming biological father of Miller Brewing.
You’ll see the ultimate basement drinking hole, modest, a little creepy, but functional. The kind of place where you could get tipsy undetected by the vice squad in the 1920’s or settle a debt with fisticuffs with out the worry of muffled screams or loud mouths extolling instigating superlatives alerting the neighbors.
You’ll hear about how the Feds got pissed when during the lean prohibition years Pabst went into bread yeast business. The box didn’t have some old settlers bread recipe though. Instead it carried a warning that if you boiled hot water together and malt syrup and added the Pabst yeast it would make an intoxicating elixir; what a pivot!
The refurbished beer hall has a spectacular wood inlay of the Best Place emblem set in the floor. The hall has a restaged office that takes you to gaze a upon the desk that Fredrick Pabst actually sat his hard working ass. The hall is a lovely rentable space event space.
To top it all off you’ll get to pose with a life size statue of King Gabrinus, the patron saint of beer. Why? Because he helped his entire kingdom stay loose, even the old abbey monks, by making sure there was enough beer around.
The King consolidated his thrown by beating a whole town of men in a test of strength, one that challenged the men to carry a giant barrel of beer the furthest. With a feat of good spirited humor, he beat all the strongest men town. A statue of King Gabrinus has been a part of Pabst’s tribute to beer since the 1850’s.
Why would anyone not snap at a chance to rivive the Brewery? Especially one with such an enduring marketing ploy: the blue ribbon. Pabst Brewery tours take place Monday, Wednesday and Thurs at 1:00 and 3:00p and Friday, Saturday and Sunday hourly between 11:00a and 1:00p.
You may have heard that it’s Record Store Day tomorrow, WMSE has been pumping it so I’m all for it. You may have also heard that vinyl is pretty cliche now, even though hip-hoppers have been going to the crates for decades. Since you are back in your place recognizing who-did-what-when-first, I can go on, it’s ok if hipster was the new hip-hop.
Getting back to vinyl LPs, 7″ and 45s, the main reason you should check out RSD is that theses gals and guys keep these dusty plastic relics around so classic, rare and new music live for decades. Although Record Store Day exists more to honor those diehard proprietors that value those that value the experience of bricks and mortar music shopping, the day will also provide great opportunity to kindle an appreciation for Milwaukee’s vinyl record stores. I can’t buy all the LPs in Milwaukee so I’ll my favorite crate digging spots.
Bullseye Records – Eastside, Irving and Farwell
Sitting just-off one of the hippest corners of the City, Bullseye Records has new and used picks suited for finicky Rock fans of all gradients. It also has a decent stack of soundtracks and an underrated jazz section of all eras. They get a little pricey, they also know a LP fiend when they see one. You can listen to used records first, a move that is always appreciated.
Rushmor Records – Bay View, Kinnickinnick and Potter Ave
Ask yourself if you are deep [add rock genre left of prog]. If you have an answer, head directly to Rushmor Records. They have a storied history of producing and supporting hand-picked local bands, so yeah, no posing allowed.
The Exclusive Company – Eastside, Farwell and Brady, Southridge, Steinmart Plaza, 5026 S. 74th
To Milwaukeeans ancient and younger Exclusive has always been the place to go for new music. Post Napster and iPod launches, none of the big boy record stores survived, not even Sam Goody. The Exclusive Company, a Wisconsin staple, is the kind of place you can go in need of a guitar pick, even in Oshkosh and someone will magically have one behind the counter. Vinyl has become a bigger part of the mix on recent years and they’ve done well sorting and categorizing their bins. The South store gets noteriety for a ripping metal and 7″ punk section. They keep the local kids stocked too. You can get that adoptahighway release a fault off the shelf there. Today on the Mother’s Day of record stores, Exclusive will have live music at the Eastside location and will be giving stuff away with Dave Grohl on it (he’s RSD’s official Ambassador).
Off the Beaten Path – Eastside, 1938 N Farwell
It was way dustier and more disorderly before the original owner died, the quality is still there. Off The Beaten Path has kept up the tradition, and is a real oasis for the LP enthusiast. Its got a lower half level that sends you 30 feet to the back of the store where its easy to lose track of time. Off The Beaten Path offers a balanced set of genres and wrapped rare releases and reissues.
Musical Memories – Juneau Town, Kilbourn and Marshall
It’s a premier shop. When James Brown died I stopped in there and bought 5 classic James Brown albums in pristine condition, and there about 16 more. The Big Payback still hits my table regularly. Musical Memories has one of the most carefully curated selections I’ve seen in the City and all the records are in excellent condition.
Record Head – West Allis, 70th and Green Field
Radio Shack wishes it could be Record Head. This shop has a nice selection of used instruments and audio gear. They carry vast selection of used and new mainstream media like movies, cds and games. The vinyl here stays secluded to mostly 70s and 80s funk, classic, psychedelic and 80’s rock and jazz, good digging overall. They have some good dollar bins as well.
Bay View Books and Music – Bay View, 2653 N Kinnickinnick
Those tried and true Eastsiders should remember this shop from that skeezy little retail outlet that used to be on Prospect Ave. Bay View Book and Music has a the best dollar bins around. The main selection has several dozen choice classic rock, metal and soul plays.
Love Unlimited – Bay View, 2649 N Kinnickinnick
When you see that hunk of plastic mannequin donning mega retro vintage clothing you think resale shop. Love Unlimited despite its rep a clothing store has well groomed cabinets of vinyl LP with local oddities like Eric Blowtorch somehow embedded in there. A listening station sits in the back giving some piece of mind if you see album with the rocking album cover you’d rather not take a chance on.
They’re a couple other super top secret spots I’m not going to mention because well, you got to keep some things sacred. My quick honorable mention spots are the South and especially the Northside Half Priced Books. The old Downtown Books was probably on of the best all around experiences Milwaukee before it splintered, they had vinyl… mostly folk and palor music, which store has the selection now? That’s your scavenger hunt of the day… Go!!! Lastly, although I haven’t been yet, Glass and Groves on 3rd and Wells Street downtown can probably get you going too.
When you’re incoherently ambling around ready for that crucial first sip of the day, though taste and quality does matter, hard pressed coffee enthusiasts know that how you prep the brew rarely has consequence. Contrary to conventional habits, the crude, yet noble, preparation technique of hand drip has gained popularity in cupping communities in recent years, bringing a whole new meaning to delayed gratification to coffee drinkers. In a fortunate twist of enterprise, the hand drip mavins of Valentine Coffee give us a new cause to care.
Washington Heights’, Valentine Coffee has shared its own distinctive, globally sourced crop and small batch roasts geared toward discerning tastes for about a year now. You won’t find any large plastic buttons pumping coffee through a thermos, Valentine Coffee employs the hand drip method to every regular cup, without exception.
Dressed in stylishly rough finished interior design, located in a modest storefront on Vliet Street just east of 60th Street, Valentine Coffee offers a contemplative atmosphere for casual conversation or task mastering. Although hand dripped, optimally scalding temperature water awaits its chance to run over carefully measured coffee grounds, awakening the full character of the coffee within three minutes.
Valentine’s current selection stretches vast for a roastery its size and arrives from Brazil, Indonesia, New Guinea, Peru, and Uganda, each with their own unique flavor profiles. Sweet and savory light baked goods present themselves for the taking courtesy of Blue’s Egg and other local establishments.
Valentine Coffee now opens daily from 6am to 2pm.
Drawing a lot of cool from the fact that it was literally a neighborhood of burned out buildings 15 years ago, Fifth Ward can boast another foodie destination right off of Bruce and Second Street. That’s right. Across the street from Clock Shadow Creamery and Purple Door Ice Cream, and behind Milwaukee Brewing Company, sits Anodyne Coffee’s new roasting factory and cafe.
F- the Bar
It has hit the soft spot between Stone Creek’s Fifth Street facility downtown and the mega-Colectivo on KK. Having multiple full bore, fair trade, exclusive batch coffee roasters in town is an absolute luxury and distinguishing factor Milwaukee has over even its largest peers. It was astounding just how bad, or hard to find, good coffee was in cities I traveled recently. I actually can’t imagine the same isn’t true in nearly every American town. Especially, Louisville, Hiene Brother’s should just say its a murky hot water shop. I guess we’re spoiled.
Humble, Humble Better
Anodyne‘s red brick one-and-half story warehouse, takes up a low-key corner and has a low key footprint to match. It barely looks touched, other than a little pressure washing and red trimmed large framed hybrid-sash box windows. A heavy wood stained door looks respectably salvaged, above it a three dimensional iron decal blazes Anodyne complete with its signature capital “A” and red banner.
Pacing a couple stair walk up, or ascending by accessibility lift, you’re greeted by exceedingly spacious and thoughtfully designed common space. From floor, to the vaulted ceiling must span twenty feet.
Looking as though sliced from recently felled trees, wooden conventional camp cabin and bar height tables glazed with a hard glossy lacquer, cover the deck of the matching wood floor. Tucked beneath the table surfaces, custom manufactured aluminum chairs sit light and sturdy, with an “A” for Anodyne branded on the seat.
Lights hung in domed clear glass utility fixtures, appear like they could run on argon gas. The shaded lamp stands lean back casually, both powered with intensely red cords.
Anodyne’s uniqueness even shows through its service counter, which more resembles the ultimate Irish pub bar. It reaches at least 70 feet from the register to the wall, used both for service and patrons.
Brewed Awakenings, Unwindings
Anodyne’s current roasts traveled from Costa Rica, Kenya, El Salvador and Tanzania, some roasted in completely original small batches like the signature Snake Oil Espresso Batch No. 2 blend. When its past coffee time, Anodyne also offers a few taps of Milwaukee Brewing Company brews.
Anodyne is a remarkable coffee destination and open daily.
It hangs out on a block best known for the grizzly working-class pub Steny’s, smushed-up next to Fat Daddy’s. Making use of the sign design made famous by Southern used car lots, coin-sized dots spell “Lo Cash”, shimmering flecks of silvery sunlight off the side of the building.
The interior decor although not brand-spanking new has yet accumulated the drinking hours to adequately absorb the savory juices that amply flow from the kitchen, a dive in the making. A neon sign couldn’t even bring it attention. Lo Cash Live keeps the low-key atmosphere of the 5th Ward strip, still adding flavor to recipe. Lo Cash Live is a Barbecue Joint, South by Mid-West.
I sit down at a table near the wall with my dinner mate. Swinging into the tall seat I nod at Al Jarreau, who poses behind the glass of the frame that holds an old promo portrait. Other crooning singers from various eras and genres nudge corners with him. I’m hard on BBQ so I’m ready for disappointment. Nothing beats the backyard and down-home secrets that make it atop the briquette heated grill.
Lo Cash’s menu makes the right first impression, short, easy to read and to-the-point. Each main dish of either BBQ pork, chicken or brisket and comes with a side, picking from sweet corn, slaw, baked beans or macaroni and cheese (with is technically a vegetable south of the Mason-Dixon). Sandwiches of the same fill also for your fancy. The house adds variety with a fried shrimp po’ boy and a Wisconsin inspired option called Three Little Piggies: a brat patty with pulled pork and bacon, ‘tween a bun. Not one of the meals or sandwiches cost more than ten bucks.
Packing it In
I hone in the brisket meal, it’s even tough to cook-up outdoors. In fifteen minutes a sawed-off tin water pale comes out lined with red and white checked wax paper, table cloth inspired. On top of it, steaming slices of tender beef brisket lay naked, with a perfect amount of edge fat, and covered in vinegary BBQ sauce. The fork goes in, the brisket disappears, mighty delicious on a cool spring evening.
One added note, this 5th Ward diner will soon have the distinction of filling the void left by the closing of Sil’s Mini-Donuts on North Avenue. An appetizer called Corn Fritters comes out looking like a basket of traditional hushpuppies, however, sugared and thoroughly fried, the cornmeal balls come with a tub of molten butter sauce for dip. Goodness!
For Your Listening Pleasure
The food should draw you in and Lo Cash keeps the good times going with cover free live music. I got a fortunate treat hearing a solo set from Annie B who rocks lead for group Annie B and Vagabond Company. They actually just jammed the pre-game show with Icarus Down for the Bucks game Monday night.
Of hard Americana cast and heart made, sometimes mellow vocals belt from Annie B’s lips in front of her acoustic guitar on her two recorded albums Fancies of a Random Heart and a solo project The Kiwi Cafe, sounds well suited for live performance.
Lo Cash Live is located on 2nd and National and open serving great food and music daily.