lost valley cider co

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True confession: though I am a Milwaukee local and a tireless lover & promoter of Milwaukee…I am not a beer drinker. I know, I know! I just lost about a million points of legitimacy, but there’s now a place in Milwaukee just for me: the city’s very first cider bar!

Lost Valley Cider Co opened…yesterday, and I waited a whole day before going to scope it out. It’s located just next to the Iron Horse Hotel and has a very similar funky industrial vibe. This cider bar offers up 20 ciders on tap, nicely organized into categories like “Apple-Centric,” “Fruit Forward,” and “Herbal & Spices,” plus bottled and canned ciders, a few beers and wines, cider cocktails and an on-site cider shop. You can even take home a “howler” of any tap cider, a concept that I am deeply enamored with.

My favorite thing about Lost Valley is that they really encourage you to build your own cider flight by providing a 3 oz pour of all of their taps. Especially with so many new and interesting ciders to try, it’s a huge benefit to be able to sample like that before committing to a full pour. I never knew that cider came in so many different varieties, and there are still a bunch I want to try! I think my favorites of this visit were the Cranberry Rosehips cider (second from right) and the unfiltered cider with wildflower honey (far right), but they were all very tasty. I’d happily drink a full glass of either of them, but I have a feeling that I’ll be sampling my way through the rest of their draught list on my next visits…of which there will doubtlessly be many. Definitely two big thumbs up for me – the staff here was really friendly as well and all seemed excited for the place to be open. I hope that they do really well here!

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kinky boots at marcus center

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Kinky Boots national touring company. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

Words to describe Kinky Boots: colorful, bold, inspiring, exciting, and, of course, SEXY.

Those who know me know I absolutely adore drag queens (I’ve been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race since the very first season!), so combining queens with musical theater for a message of self love and self expression is sure to thrill. I’m a fan of the film the show is based on, but the musical is new to me.

J. Harrison Ghee is an absolute treasure in the role of Lola. He’s a real powerhouse, bringing the pipes and dance skills plus real humanity to both the flashy, kick-ass Lola and the somewhat quieter (but no less kick-ass) Simon. In fact, Ghee’s Lola is so strong that I have to say Charlie faded in comparison. He’s a character with a lot less room for embellishment, but I still would have liked to see more energy from him. As it is, his escalating stress in the second act feels a little bit unfocused.

I loved the flashy dance numbers featuring Lola’s “Angels.” The number pictured above that made great use of the shoe factory’s production line was a major standout, as was the way that the Angels created the boxing ring during the scene at Fisticuffs.

Mostly, the show made me crave a pair of absolutely ridiculous boots. After seeing all the fun those ladies were having rocking their kinky boots on stage, I want some of my own!

Don’t miss the opportunity to get kinky (and celebrate being yourself!) with Kinky Boots.

The Facts

Kinky Boots playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts now through Sunday, June 5.

milwaukee day: 18 milwaukee faves

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Happy Milwaukee Day! Every 4/14 we celebrate the other 414 – Milwaukee! There are lots of great deals from local businesses, a park clean-up, and even a concert to celebrate (learn more about all that here), but it’s also just a great day to spend some time thinking about all the things you love about Milwaukee.

 

Now, if you hadn’t heard, I wrote a book with 100 great things to do in Milwaukee, but in honor of Milwaukee Day, I wanted to share 18 of my personal favorite things about the city I call home (4+14, get it?). In no particular order, comprising of places, things, feelings and all of the above, things about Milwaukee that make me happy:

  1. German Fest
  2. Cheese curds
  3. Other kinds of cheese
  4. Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
  5. The “Smallwaukee” community feel
  6. Beer gardens
  7. Indie craft fairs
  8. The “Choose a positive thought” mural
  9. The Streets of Old Milwaukee
  10. Frozen custard
  11. The majestic wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum
  12. Local coffee roasters & cafes
  13. Duck poutine at Vanguard
  14. The RiverWalk
  15. Ultra local food
  16. Milwaukee Public Market
  17. Revitalized historic architecture
  18. The lights of downtown at night

I could go on and on…I think that there are great things on the horizon for Milwaukee. I hope that we embrace change and strive to be a better, more welcoming city every day, and I hope that we continue to support and encourage the things that make our city worth celebrating.

diorama-rama!

If you’re a huge nerd like myself, you might already know that Milwaukee has quite a history with dioramas. If you’re not, allow me to illuminate you.

Famed taxidermist Carl Akeley actually created the very first habitat diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum – and it’s still on display there today!

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It’s these cool muskrats. Source.

The museum went on to create many more dioramas, both taxidermy and non. The Streets of Old Milwaukee is considered one of the world’s first walk-through dioramas, and as a kid I was always especially into the tiny intricate recreations of Egyptian cities or faraway places. I could stare into those windows into another world forever. (I also really liked the T-Rex chomping down on a triceratops. I’ve always been a woman of simple pleasures.)

All of this is to tell you that both Milwaukee and I have some diorama bonafides, which is why I’m excited to invite you to Diorama-rama! This celebration in honor of National Diorama Month will take place on March 29 at Blackbird Bar in Bay View and feature a Milwaukee-themed diorama contest. Your donations supporting Milwaukee Pets Alive will get you votes, but there will also be an esteemed panel of celebrity judges…and one of them is me! I can’t wait to see what our creative local diorama enthusiasts come up with, and yes, there will be fabulous prizes. This event is sure to be fun, creative, wacky, crafty…everything that I love! I hope that if you’re free you’ll come on down to support a fun new event and a great cause (or just to say hi!).

dining out: c. 1880

It’s been a loooong time since I went to a fancy restaurant, folks. But there’s a birthday coming up, which means it was time to go out and celebrate! And we picked a nice one.

I’ve been intrigued by c. 1880 for a long time, but it’s definitely not the kind of place I would go as part of my everyday life, so it always lingered on my restaurant wish list. But with the aforementioned birthday (and, selfishly, some good news for me at work), it was finally time to take the plunge. Chef Thomas Hauck is nominated for the James Beard award for Best Chef Midwest this year, so what better time to try it out? If he wins, I’ll get to nod knowingly!

First off, the space is very cool. A lot of rustic, industrial touches executed in a super classy way. I especially loved the statement light fixtures, with black wires draped across the ceiling. We sat in the back, where there’s a set of four intimate banquette tables – it seemed like this was “celebration” space, since three of the four tables had birthday cards from the staff set up on them (such a nice touch, by the way!).

The service was excellent; the host was very friendly and checked out us several times throughout the night, and our server was great and so knowledgeable about the menu. She let us know that the appetizers are individually portioned, so we decided to just skip ahead to entrees. Plus a bottle of prosecco…it was a celebration, after all!

I considered a lot of options on the menu (our server let us know that it changes up quite regularly with seasonal ingredients from the local producers they work with), but in the end, I had to go with my one true love: scallops.

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Wowza. The pan-seared scallops were served with a trio of sunchoke (pickled, pureed, and sunchoke chips), paddlefish roe and a dill oil. The dish comes with pickled ginger, but I’m not a ginger fan…I always feel a little weird about asking for changes/substitutions in a fancy restaurant (I feel bad for not experiencing the dish as the chef intended), but our server checked in and the kitchen was happy to leave it off for me. And god…this dish was seriously mind-blowing. Scallops are a special favorite of mine, so I know: when they’re good, they’re so good, and when they’re bad they’re tremendously disappointing. And these were so so good. (I also snagged a bite of the shortrib [which is cooked for 48 hours! What!], and it was also amazing.)

For dessert, we split a cheese plate (who knew cheese was a dessert? I approve!) and the house dessert, the Whatchamacallit. The cheese was amazing (cheese is always amazing), but the Whatchamacallit? People. I can’t even remember everything that made up this dessert…chocolate mousse, ice cream, caramel rice krispies, peanut brittle, it is 100% not to be missed. The perfect ending to a lovely meal.

I don’t know when I’ll return to c. 1880, but the next time I have a special occasion that’s really worth celebrating, it will be at the top of my list.

cabaret at the marcus center

In here, life is beautiful.

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Randy Harrison as the Emcee and the 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I won’t bury the lede: this incredible production of Cabaret is a must-see for any musical theater fan. It’s an intense show, pulling the audience through joy and misery, sweetness and seediness, and tremendously well-performed by this company. Randy Harrison’s Emcee is sexy and a little frightening, and I was especially impressed by Andrea Goss as a very raw Sally Bowles, at once fragile and tremendously tough. Cabaret may seem at first glance like your standard musical (and there’s definitely no shortage of great songs), but there’s a darkness under the glitz. Even apart from the ever-looming specter of the Nazis, there’s an omnipresent grime and quiet desperation, a sense that this life of sex and parties isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be.

The show really starts before the lights go down with the girls and boys of the Kit Kat Klub warming up on stage. Throughout the show, the theater began to smell faintly of cigarette smoke. I loved how immersive it was, bringing you deep inside the seedy world of the nightclub. Like I said before, the performances were great from both the lead cast and the ensemble (how do you get to be an awesome saxophonist AND an awesome dancer??). And the dark political narratives are, unfortunately, still so relevant today. Can, like Sally, we insist that politics have nothing to do with us? The (futile, the audience knows) hope of so many characters is especially chilling to me.

This one’s only in town for a short time, so if you’re thinking of seeing it, don’t hesitate.

The Facts

Cabaret is playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts now through Sunday, February 28.

of mice and men at milwaukee rep

As much as I love the razzle dazzle of fun, spectacle-type shows, it’s performances like this that really remind of what theater can do.

Unlike pretty much everyone else in the world, I did not read Of Mice and Men in high school. I’m a notorious pop culture sponge, so I definitely knew the major ups and downs going in, but seeing the play was definitely a fresh experience for me. I was able to attend the Rep’s Tech Talk for the show which, in addition to letting me know that figuring out scene changes is just as silly and laborious a process in a professional theater (“Stumps exit downstage, rocks exit upstage!”), gave me a great sneak peek into Mark Clements’ vision for the play. He talked about how though the story is set during a very specific historical time period that the concept of outsiders trying to achieve their American Dream still holds true today, and I very much agree with that. Part of the tragedy of this story for me is how much it does still ring true, in the ways that people who are different are marginalized and kept at arm’s length, forced to try to find their own way to survive. That even the simplest dream can be just past your reach, depending on where you came from. Y’all probably talked about this in high school, so I won’t get my English major on and write an essay about the themes.

As with other Steinbeck pieces (he wrote the script as well, if you didn’t know!), I love the economy of this story. It doesn’t feel sparse by any means, but nothing is wasted. Every scene and every word has meaning, and that’s something that really attracts me as a writer.

George and Lennie are, of course, the heart of the production, and Jonathan Wainwright and Scott Greer (respectively) both delivered amazing, moving performances. There was a comfort between them that spoke to how well these men know each other, something rare for migrant workers of the time as is constantly remarked upon by the text. The other major standout, for me, was Jim Pickering’s Candy. From his first appearance to his final monologue, I ached for Candy, in large part due to Pickering’s performance; in a lot of ways, at least in this production, I felt his suffering more strongly than any other character’s. There’s a sweetness to him that I really responded to.

This was also the first time in a long time that I sat on the extreme side at the Rep, and it really did remind me that there isn’t a bad seat in that house. Though I missed out on what exactly was happening at center upstage, I got so much closer to the actors which was even better. I’ve only been in shows on a more traditional proscenium stage, and I’ve always been fascinated by everything that goes into creating a show on  a thrust stage that’s equally compelling from all angles. The Rep has definitely mastered that art!

Overall, this was a great production (the set is, as always, beautiful, and there are some really great scene changes [she said, like a true theater geek]), and I wished that I had a fresh tissue at the end of the show. Whether you’ve read the book a hundred times or are going into it fresh, I highly recommend seeing this one.

The Facts

Of Mice and Mice is playing in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Milwaukee Rep now through February 21.

the mousetrap at milwaukee rep

It was perfectly appropriate that I spent the night of the first snow of the year at the opening night of The Mousetrap (which features a snowstorm much more dire than ours turned out to be). I went through a big Agatha Christie novel phase in middle school, and I’ve always been a fan of the Poirot TV series, but I somehow managed to have avoided The Mousetrap up until now. So I went into the show completely blind and ready to get wrapped up in the mystery.

This is a classic drawing room mystery. It has it all: a group of strangers gathered together, a house that no one can leave, dark secrets from the past, lies, British accents. There’s not a lot of surprises here if you’re generally familiar with the genre, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a lot like picking up an old favorite book you haven’t read for a long time to curl up with under a blanket on a snowy evening, much like the one in the play. You know the basic plot, remember some of the zigs and a few of the zags, but it’s fun to take the ride.

As always, the set and costume designs were impeccable. I always fall a little bit in love with the styling during period pieces at the Rep, because I’m a soft touch for anything vintage, but it really is lovely. I definitely found myself wishing I could stay a few nights at the charmingly appointed Monkswell Manor (though perhaps not in the winter, if it’s as drafty as the guests claim…).

For an extra bit of fun, you can also fill out a “Whodunnit” form with your best guess for the murderer’s identity before intermission ends. I didn’t end up filling mine out, which was just as well…I turned out to be wrong!

This would definitely be a great alternative (or addition!) to the Christmas-themed shows that tend to take over this time of year, if you and your friends and family are the type who prefer murder over holiday cheer. Personally, I like a little bit of both!

The Facts

The Mousetrap runs through December 20 in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Milwaukee Rep

holiday shopping: milwaukee craft fairs

‘Tis the season! Halloween is dead and gone, which means Christmas bells are ringing in more than a few people’s heads right now. But even if you’re not quite ready to start considering trees and pulling out strings of lights (…what?), this is a good time to start thinking about your shopping list. I am a huge fan of shopping local, and especially of supporting local artisans, so I definitely spend a good portion of my November and December haunting local craft fairs and maker markets to track down the perfect handmade giftables. I’ve pulled together a round-up of some events I’m planning to check out this year to share with all of you!

Maker Market Holiday Show (11/14): I’ve loved stopping by the Maker Market when it sets up in the parking lot of my local Colectivo during the summer, and it’s sure to be a great show at Discovery World (great excuse to bring the kids and visit the museum too!)

Re:Craft and Relic (11/14-15): This is a new kid on the block, and I’m excited to go check it out next weekend! It looks like a fun mix of vintage and DIY vendors, plus music and food and free parking. I’m definitely all about that.

Urban Garage Sale (11/28): Try not to go too crazy on Black Friday – you want to save energy (and $$) for this event supporting local makers. Plus, I always love an excuse to hang out at Turner Hall in the daytime when you can really appreciate how cool it is.

Hover Craft (12/13): My personal favorite. Hover Craft was actually the very first cool Milwaukee event I went to after moving in from the suburbs, so I’m pretty attached to it. I’m really excited to see the show at the Pritzlaff Building, which is such a cool event space (and hopefully big enough…this one does tend to get pretty cramped).

Phew…I feel like my dance card is looking pretty full already, and holiday season has just barely started (or not started yet, depending on who you ask)! Also, not a craft event, but I have to give a bonus shoutout to Broadway Paper’s Holiday Open House, which will also be taking place next Saturday (11/14). I love going in early and getting all my Christmas cards sorted, because let’s face it…if I don’t start early, they aren’t ever going out. And saving 20% too! PLUS this year, you might just see someone you know there signing her book (HINT HINT).

Am I missing out on any great holiday craft events? Let me know!

milwaukee’s secret garden

Did you know there’s a magical garden right downtown?

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I’ve been completely taken with the new(ish)ly reopened patio at the Cafe at the Plaza Hotel since my first time lunching on it. It seriously is like a darling little secret garden, with the vine-covered walls and twinkling lights overhead. I’ll admit it called to mind the Madeline books that I loved growing up. In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines… The hotel has such lovely art deco flair (and one of the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever been in), it feels a little bit like stepping back in time. Add in some delicious food (I recommend the salmon BLT or the Jucy Lucy sliders…I know they’re most famous for breakfast, but what can I say? I’m a carnivore) and cocktails, and it’s a great place to wile away a few hours before the weather turns on us for the year. The cafe will still be open, of course, but you don’t want to miss the chance to sit on this sun-dappled patio. It’s quickly become a place I’m very fond of. There’s nothing quite like a little secret escape from the bustle of the city.

Do you have a favorite “secret” place in the city?