Giving the gift of Milwaukee
With that in mind, we sent members of the ThirdCoast Digest team on a quest to find great holiday gifts that epitomize life in and around Milwaukee. Here’s what we found:
Name: Rob Vosters
Gift: “Cream City Speaks” poster, $29.99
Reason to buy: Nothing says, “Here’s Milwaukee for ya” like a poster of downtown Milwaukee. And no poster of downtown says, “Check it out, that’s totally Milwaukee,” like one created from the names of Milwaukee’s many memorable people and places. Conveniently available for $29.99 at Downtown Books (327 E. Wisconsin Ave.), Jennifer Lockwood’s “Cream City Speaks” is the Milwaukee gift to give someone that won’t raise health insurance rates or lead to cirrhosis.
Name: Judith Ann Moriarty
Gift: Blue plastic ice cube trays, $1.29/each at CVS
Reason to buy: Eezy-Out Blue Ice Cube Trays …. And cheesy plastic at that! Each blue (the color of the Reuss Federal Plaza building on Wisconsin Avenue) tray has 14 cozy cubicles for morphing water into ice, and what is more M’waukee than the annual water- into-ice thing? Just turn the Eezy-Out Blue Ice Cube Trays upside down and out flip reminders of why we head south. Made in Elk Grove, IL, the trays sell for $1.29 each at CVS on Brady and Farwell. An online tip for pre-game fun: fill a tray with beer and give a straw to two persons sitting opposite each other. The first one to suck up the most brew wins. Aina hey?
Name: Lisa Townsel
Gift: Blueberry cheddar, West Allis Sausage & Cheese, $9.99 a pound, Milwaukee Public Market
Reason to buy: I’m not a huge cheese eater, but I like to experiment. The first summer I moved here and stopped by Milwaukee Public Market, I picked up some Rishi tea, which I loved (I tried a bag of peach white tea) and then I did a bit of “window” shopping as I peered into the display cases of the many food items …. One that never escaped me was the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe’s display that showcased juicy cherries, cranberries and blue berries plopped right in the center of a slab of white cheddar ($9.99 a pound for the blueberry). I thought this dessert cheese was elegant, oh-so Wisconsin … and lovely tasting. To me, it’s the perfect gift for visitors who have only heard, though not personally experienced the best of Cheese Country.
Name: Tom Strini
Gift: Skylight Opera Theatre subscription, $30 to $216
Reason to buy: The symphony, ballet and rep would be nice gifts, too, but I chose the Skylight because it is unique to Milwaukee. Very few English-only opera houses exist. The company’s whimsical house, with its trompe-l’oeil decoration and faux dome, is one of a kind. The company stages musicals and operas with a rare level of theatrical savvy. The Skylight bar is a warm, friendly place and ideal for the post-show cabarets. The Skylight Opera Theatre blends sophistication and down-home friendliness in a way that represents Milwaukee at its best.
Name: Brian Jacobson
Gift: The Milwaukee Swag Outfit, $20 to $40
Reason to buy: A good number of years ago, a friend of mine moved to Chicago. To remind him that Milwaukee was better, I ran around to our six favorite coffee shops (that was in the late 1990s when there were only six) and bought a branded mug from each. This was the best present idea I’ve ever had, but the rising price in swag makes it difficult now. Are you willing to do the legwork for someone special? Okay, then. Hit up Milwaukee Ale House, Lakefront Brewery, Miller, Sprecher, the Safe House and others places for glassware. Alternatively, consider the ready-made hometown hero kit. In this case, the Alterra Gift Set. I picked up the half-pound Holiday Blend coffee and ceramic mug ($13.95) for that special someone.
Name: Laura Heller
Gift: Harley-Davidson Museum Gift Card, $25 to $250
Reason to buy: What better way to give the gift of Milwaukee than to design a memorable Harley experience for the rider in your life? You will definitely rev up the spirit of any motorcycle owner with this gift. You can design a full day’s experience of fun, learning and food. This card can be redeemed through admission, program tickets, merchandise in The Shop or food and beverage at Café Racer or Motor. Visit extraordinary exhibitions, buy an authentic, leather Harley jacket or eat smoked BBQ ribs while enjoying a cold macro or microbrew. You can also purchase a yearlong museum membership with this card that’s sure to provide hours of unforgettable fun for any hog rider.
Name: Patti Wenzel
Gift: Zoo Pass, $45 to $400 and up
Reason to buy: Do you want to give unlimited access to a gem within Milwaukee County? Then stuff those stockings with an annual Zoo Pass from the Milwaukee County Zoo. Not only does this gift allow my friends and family to enjoy the animals and sites of our wonderful zoo gratis, it also provides free admission to 130 zoos and aquariums across the nation. Offered by the Milwaukee Zoological Society, there are passes available for individuals, couples and families at various price levels and perks. All include free admission to the zoo, with some including behind-the-scene tours and admission to special zoological events. I’ve given this gift to my daughter for the past two years, allowing her and a friend to go to the zoo year-round. This gift keeps on giving all year long and pays for itself after just two visits! This season, a basic Zoo Pass membership includes the basic admission plus three coupons good for a ride on the North Shore Bank Safari Train, the Penzeys Spices Carousel and the National City Zoomobile. The Zoo Pass can be purchased at the Milwaukee Zoological Society offices on the zoo grounds or at the Zoo’s website.
Name: Erin Petersen
Gift: Alterra‘s whole bean coffee, George’s Burly Blend, $12.95/pound; Brazil Traditional Dry, $9.45/pound
Reason to buy: Whenever I’m outside of Milwaukee, I have a hell of a time trying to find a good cup of coffee. Starbucks’ overpriced brews reign supreme in every major airport and tend to be the only recognizable brand when I’m far from home, and it’s always hard to determine whether the independently run cafes will be serving hot, brown water or the real deal. When it’s time for coffee and dessert at family dinners, I know I’ll be getting Folgers “flavor crystals” in my cup, and … well, it tastes god awful. I lived right down the street from the Humboldt Alterra for two years, so I got spoiled – especially once they moved the roasters to that location. Every morning, I awoke to the warm aroma of fresh-roasted coffee beans, and it’s a scent that will always remind me of home in Milwaukee.
Name: Hope Stolarski
Gift: Sprecher Brewery tour, $2 to $4
Reason to buy: My holiday gift of choice is something that only costs $4. You’ll leave with a satisfied pallet, and maybe even make a couple new friends. It’s a tour at Sprecher Brewery Co. While most people know about Sprecher’s beer and soda products, the actual brewery tour in Glendale has to be one of the best-kept secrets in Milwaukee. Unlike the more corporate brewery tours in town (I won’t name any names), on the Sprecher tour, you feel like you’re hanging out with old friends and exchanging drinking stories. Of course, the best part is the chance to sample the product at the end. Everyone on the tour sits in the brewery’s beer garden and sips on samples. I love the beer (Black Bavarian is my personal favorite), but the best part is the UNLIMITED samples of Sprecher soda. The soda option also makes the tour a lot of fun for kids, which is nice around the holidays.