Polish Fest lights up the lakefront
Festival season is in full swing, and tomorrow marks the kick-off of Milwaukee’s beloved lakefront ethnic festivals. Make room for pierogi and work on your best “na zdrowie,” Polish Fest is here and better than ever.
To celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary, Polish Fest coordinators are pulling out all the stops. Part of the celebration includes a new exhibit that pays homage to the festival and explores the historical legacy of Milwaukee’s Polish communities. Part of the show will include rare photographs of the city’s old Polish neighborhoods and families.
“I think that people will really enjoy looking through the photos, possibly seeing old pictures of grandma,” says Festival Director Sarah Vitale. “You’ll definitely see a few faces you recognize.”
This year also marks the addition of the Sobieski Vodka Lounge, which offers a slightly different festival experience. It’s no secret that the Polish take their vodka seriously – various incarnations of the distilled liquor have been present in Poland since as early as the middle ages, and most blends date back centuries. This weekend, you can sample a bit of history with specialty cocktails made from a variety of standard and flavored Sobieski spirits. In the Vodka Lounge, adults of legal age will be able to imbibe cocktails and vodka varieties that are not available anywhere else on the festival grounds, like the “Creamski,” a dessert drink made from vanilla Sobieski and root beer.
Vitale says the Lounge will also feature the Polish beer Tyskie, a brew that can be found at various bars and liquor stores in the city — but only in glass bottles, which are contraband at Maier Festival Park. But for Polish Fest, Vitale says Miller-Coors is specially importing cases of plastic bottles.
Since variety is the spice of life, the festival will also host daily vodka and spirits tastings – from mead to Krupnik, a sweet liquor made from honey and herbs, there’s something to suit every taste. Last year, I tagged along with my steadfast Editor-in-Chief Jon Anne Willow to sample a nip (or ten) of Sobieski, and we have the video to prove it. Let’s just say we had a really good time.
Beyond the booze, the festival offers a wealth of activity for the whole family. Each night features a local headlining band, and two separate stages offer music and traditional Polish dancing. Feel like cutting a rug? Check out the Folk Stage, where you can get free Polka lessons — trust me, you’ll be a hit at weddings afterward.
One thing’s for sure: you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) leave Polish Fest without sampling the fare.
“You can certainly find non-ethnic food at our festival, which is great for people who aren’t really adventurous or if you have children in your group,” says Vitale. “But one of the highlights is the authentic Polish food … you can’t not try potato pancakes, pierogi, mushroom soup or golabki.”
To top off the weekend, 2011 sees the return of the annual fireworks display, which has been on hiatus for the last several years due to a lack of funding. Thanks to a generous donation from Jim and Janet Rydlewicz, members of the Polish Heritage Alliance, Polish Fest will light up the sky Saturday evening.
With a slew of admission specials, it’s easier than ever to enjoy the fest. On Friday from noon-5 p.m., attendees can gain admission for 50 cents and $5 from 5:01 p.m. to midnight. Donate a non-perishable food item to the Hunger Task Force on Saturday and get in free from 8 p.m. to midnight (last year the fest collected 1,800 pounds of food). On Sunday, admission is $4 if you attend Catholic Mass (10:15 a.m.) and dads of all ages get in for free from 4-6 p.m. in honor of Father’s Day. Active U.S. Military with i.d. gain free admission all weekend long.
The TCD crew will be there Saturday night to practice our Polka and toast a few glasses of Sobieski. Check out TCD next week for photos and video!
For more information, ticket prices and a full schedule of events, check out the festival’s website.