Milwaukee: Chicago’s cool baby sister, or slightly hip older cousin?
Taking a closer look at The Guardian’s love letter to Milwaukee
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Hey, have you seen that super-duper Guardian piece about Milwaukee? If my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, you most certainly have. The widely circulated British love letter to the Brew City sent the entire populace into a collective orgasm yesterday, and with good reason. Not only was Milwaukee deemed “Chicago’s cool baby sister,” it was called “one of the coolest cities in the Midwest.” In other words, The Guardian likes us. It really, really likes us. But beyond the glowing praise, what did it really have to say about our humble burg? Let’s take a closer look.
The piece gets off to a shaky start. “There’s really only one way to arrive in Milwaukee—on the back of a chopper.” Um, okay, if you say so. The whole “home of Harley-Davidson” thing is a little stale, though it is used as a nifty way of setting up the rest of the story:
But the city’s not just about the creak of leather and the growl of a two stroke. With boutique breweries, retro cocktail lounges, the world’s largest music festival, and a cutting edge art gallery, unpretentious Milwaukee is one of the coolest cities in the Midwest.
Gee, Guardian, we didn’t even buy you dinner!
Following a helpful reminder of how close we are to Chicago, writer Ellie Watts-Russell (can you get any more British than that?) drops by two joints that seem to be on every out-of-town journalist’s itinerary these days: Foundation and Bryant’s. Time Out Chicago paid a visit to both establishments earlier this year and was equally smitten. Who knew that a skate-punk-turned-tiki-bar and a nearly 80-year-old cocktail lounge would become such celebrated Milwaukee icons? (I’d like to add that I couldn’t be happier.)
Along with these two hot spots, Ms. Watts-Russell checks off a few places that rarely make the cut in these charming travelogues. Sky High? The Green Gallery? Nice. And when was the last time an overseas publication dropped by Riverwest Film And Video? For that matter, when was the last time you dropped by Riverwest Film And Video?
Perhaps more interesting than the things the Guardian piece mentions are the things it doesn’t mention. Beyond a few groaners—Leon’s Frozen Custard! Happy Days!—it’s remarkable how much the piece steers clear of dopey clichés. There are no mentions of brats, cheese, shitty beer, or drinking to forget our childhoods. (We leave that to our own kinda-sorta-local superstars, thank you very much.) It’s also worth noting that the Bronze Fonz is nowhere to be found.
The piece ends with a trip to the Cactus Club, where a “19-year-old drummer from Nashville trashed hypnotically behind a soundproof door.” (Pro tip: This was the July 16 Trusty Knife/Paperhead/Fairweather Friends show.) And then, a somewhat confusing parting shot:
As a female keyboardist in a vintage frock sways and hums into her mike it occurs to me that if Chicago and Milwaukee really are related, then she’s the hip younger sister you secretly want to hang out with.
Wait a minute—is Milwaukee the “hip younger sister” we all want to hang out with, or is the “female keyboardist in a vintage frock” the one we want to kick it with? (That would be Milwaukee’s own Amelinda Burich, by the way.) And why exactly would anyone want to hang out with someone’s kid sister? (A hip older cousin seems less creepy, but also less British.) Oh well, it’s a swell ending to a swell story.
I’m usually wary of stuff like this—nothing makes my skin crawl more than people who publicly exclaim, “Look ma, we done got ourselves some national press!” every time Milwaukee pops up on some idiotic Yahoo list. But even I have to admit this piece was pretty rad. So like the rest of you, I’m going to pat myself on the back. One of the coolest cities in the Midwest? Tell us something we don’t know, Guardian.