- Words and Photos by John Domine
On the Road: Milwaukee, WI
Milwaukee, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, is probably known best for its famous breweries and Major League baseball team. But what you might not know about Cream City is that it also has some pretty great street art and some surprises on the local food front.
So, whether you are there on a short visit or for more than a few days, I've outlined a few of the neighborhoods worth exploring to satisfy your art and food cravings.
Work by Nova Czarnecki outside of Sprocket Café in the Fernwood neighborhood
In planning my trip to Milwaukee, with a focus on its street art scene, I was immediately struck by the work of Nova Czarnecki. The mural above, her first ever, is simply sublime. It was this very piece that got me excited for the possibilities of other treasures to be uncovered. Entitled "Witness to the Wild", it is a portrait of the artist's daughter entwined in a fiery coral reef.
But before heading to this gem, make your way to the sinister-sounding Black Cat Alley to kick things into high gear.
Black Cat Alley
Black Cat Alley, located on the edge of the Lower East Side neighborhood, is a great spot to start your Milwaukee street art exploration. It definitely packs a punch, as there are several works in a very small amount of real estate. It has a similar vibe to NYC's Freeman Alley (also located in the Lower East Side, oddly enough), except with paint rather than paste-ups as the medium of choice. And the walls are a bit bigger, which is a blessing as well as a curse (for photographing them). You can see all of the work on hand in about 5-10 minutes of just cruising through the labyrinth.
On my visit, I saw the huge frog of MTO which looms over the entrance to the alley on East Kenilworth Place, as well as a fairly-intricate and extensive piece (read super-frustrating to photograph given its large size) by Bunnie Reiss as a centerpiece to the alley. In addition, there were several other pieces scattered around the narrow passageway, which rotate on a fairly-regular basis, I am told.
Gargantuan Graffiti Frog by MTO just outside of Black Cat Alley
From left to right: The work of Adam Hernandez, Stacey Williams-Ng, David Najib Kasir, John Kowalcyk, Jeff Redmon, Jenny Jo Kristan, bigshot robot, Byada-B, Bunnie Reiss, Tim Decker, Tia Richardson, Emma Daisy, Ken Brown,
Jeremy Novy and Goosenek
After soaking in the walls of Black Cat Alley, make your way to Walker’s Point. (You can get there by taking one of several bus lines heading that way. As fares can quickly add up, it is a good idea to purchase a day pass or to buy 90-minute trips via the Milwaukee transit app). Another option is to rent one of their many Bublr bikes. But at a cost of $4 per 30 minute ride or $24 per 24 hour period, it can be a costly endeavor which, personally, I avoided.
Walker's Point is an interesting neighborhood known for its food and nightlife scene. Craft breweries and distilleries can be found in industrial spaces, while the restaurant scene includes anything from trendy American bistros to locavore brunch spots. See my recommendation below for some pretty great Asian-inspired tapas, after checking out the local art on the streets.
Work by Mauricio Ramirez entitled "Anything for Salinas" located on South 5th and West Bruce
Here are some of the other works you may come across in Walker's Point:
While in Walker's Point, you can explore more than just the art. It is a diverse community with a wide range of restaurant options.
We opted for a place called Braise (located at 1101 S. 2nd Street), which has an Asian aesthetic with a locally-sourced, seasonal menu. According to the restaurant's website, "Braise embraces a return to slow grown, natural food. From seasonally inspired menus and creative cocktails to our hands-on classes and events, we work to educate our community on food."
We were there on a Wednesday night, which also happens to be their "Lucky Bun Dim Sum" night. In addition to the regular menu of offerings, they also had a wide assortment of super-flavorful and inexpensive small plates (of which we sampled several). The Golden Beet Bao, Sockeye Salmon Rangoon and Steamed Pork Bun were just what the doctor ordered. From the regular menu, their 6-minute egg with pickled beets and Harissa was over-the-top good and the Appam with citrus roasted beets and chèvre with carrot marmalade and mint chutney was a close, mouth-watering second. Washed down with a couple of their signature cocktails, it was the perfect way to end a day exploring the streets of Milwaukee. You certainly won't be disappointed (or leave hungry).
We may have over-indulged, but it all looked so good! (There were two of us.)
As I mentioned at the top of the story, I was completely taken by the work of Nova Czarnecki, who painted the coral-hued mural "Witness to the Wild". In addition to that wall, she also painted a fairly intricate and immersive piece at the entrance to the Harbor District. It showcases local wildlife and speaks to the closely-knit connection between humans and nature.
It was after seeing this second mural that I knew I had to meet the artist behind the beauty.
Details of the Harbor District mural:
I reached out to Czarnecki and was excited to learn she would be open to a studio visit in her home. She could not have been kinder or more humble, and I was thrilled to get such an intimate glimpse at her incredible body of work.
Here are but a few of the works I was fortunate enough to see in person. Each one holds a special story and many of the pieces feature her grown children as the subject of such narratives. The attention to detail and her use of color is wonderful.
If you would like to see more of her work, check it out at novaczarnecki.com.
COME FOR THE BEER STAY FOR THE ART
You may have thought it was just beer and baseball in Milwaukee. I'm happy to have shown you another side to this Midwestern city. Although I was only there a couple days, I have fond memories that are sure to last for some time.
So what are you waiting for? Milwaukee is calling.