Counterpoint: my take on Milwaukee

Please check out Mary’s current entry for a great description of a fantastic evening with friends Rachel and Joe of Bayview and Mary and Kat of Chicago. We had amazing fish tacos, mole and fajitas at one of Milwaukee’s premier Mexican joints – Taqueria Azteca, where diners order off a specials board that is occasionally moved to other parts of the room so new guests can check out what’s on.

After some food and a pitcher of margaritas we tried to figure out what to do. The five-person group wasn’t going to work for our original euchre-playing plan, but suddenly Rachel had an epiphany, asking Joe in an excited voice if they should take us to someplace called “At Random.” Now, I am from Milwaukee and still live in Milwaukee, but I had never heard of At Random, a 41-year-old cocktail lounge featuring a wide array of interesting sweet drinks on an extensize laminated menu that was a treat just to page through. The specialty of this dim, vinyl-clad, orange-lit, 60’s lounge is the Tikki Love Potion, a mega-glass of fruity rum mixture lit on fire when delivered to the table of some lucky couple. The tables are set up in a winding pattern around the room, where some couples sit side-by-side and others across from each other. Because of this odd but cozy formation, we felt almost a part of one couple’s Tikki experience, eavesdropping as the waitress explained the trick to making the potion work (making a wish and blowing out the little flame at the same time). The bathroom sported the usual plumbing and amenities as well as a complimentary bottle of Rave hairspray that must have been 20 years old (I realize this doesn’t add to the atmosphere I am trying to create, but I have to add the detail anyway). I imagined some woman fixing her tall blonde bangs in 1987 with the same Rave that I might also (but did not) apply in 2006.

To be honest, this is the sort of place I would expect Mary to take us in Chicago. I don’t expect places this old and cool to exist in Milwaukee, which I think demonstrates the lack of respect I sometimes have for my hometown. Rachel and I have eaten at some great restaurants in Milwaukee in the past few months, and it would only take me a minute to come up with five very unique places I would like to try in the coming months, but sometimes I just see Milwaukee for all it’s negatives. I see that I have to drive everywhere even though I live in the city, I see the undeveloped Menomonee Valley that divides the city almost like a line of segregation, the failing inner city, the absence of a truly thriving downtown. But visiting At Random and realizing that such a unique cool place exists under my nose, practically in my own neighborhood, was a great discovery, breathing a bit of life into my care and affection for Milwaukee.

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One Response to Counterpoint: my take on Milwaukee

  1. Mary says:

    happy birthday to you!!!!

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