Eat, Drink & Be Socially Distant
Four local food and dining businesses find creative ways to serve during a pandemic.
COVID-19 is still a very real threat in the world. We have all felt it, being forced to stay indoors, some even losing earning power by having to comply. Small business owners have felt it the most, particularly in the food and tavern industry. Milwaukee is a certifiable tapestry of different establishments, which range from basic watering holes to concert venues to places that rely on food delivery. In an effort to maintain their presence in the throes of a pandemic, most have had to get creative. It is a testament to the irrepressible spirit of Milwaukee, the very nature of ingenuity and can be found in many places, including these:
Zocalo – On 6th Street near Pierce, down the street from the viaduct that connects Downtown to the South Side, sits a food truck park that has delighted patrons with its attempt to provide a new experience to the people of Milwaukee. Before COVID-19, it was a hot spot for people looking to go out, have some drinks and dance. There were trucks everywhere to provide mid-price snacks, and the space was open and inviting. Jesus Gonzalez, creator of the park, along with his business partner Sean Phelan has exercised and encouraged social distancing amongst his clientele by painting brightly colored shapes all over the area, six feet apart. They were painted by Christopher Nelson, a Milwaukee artist. Cashless transactions are at the center of operations, and Gonzalez relies on Cashdrop, an app that will let you order and send you a notification once your order is ready. One of the most popular items at Zocalo is the Michelada mix, which is sold in 12 ounce jars. You only have to add your own beer, which is also sold in the bar area as carryout. There are collaborations with artists Tom Surge and Isabel Castro planned for the park in the near future, for which there have been Gofundme campaigns established, and which will help the Zocalo flourish once again. Address: 636 S. 6th St.
Cactus Club – There are many music venues in town, yet few have had a chance to cut their teeth the way the Cactus Club has. Under the new ownership of Kelsey Kaufmann, events have expanded from just musical acts to fashion shows and other artistic endeavors that highlight the diversity of Milwaukee. At times, Kelsey has felt the uncertainty, but is very optimistic about the future, planning new events. In the meantime, Kelsey has had staff assist in churning out merchandise for the club. Sweaters, T-shirts, beanies and bucket hats are amongst the list of what to buy to support this friendly neighborhood space. But that’s not all, lately a mustard has been added to the roster of products for sale, and one with a symphony of flavors. It was produced in collaboration with Beehive Alchemy, known for its creative and flavorful inventions. Elderberry, Turmeric and Three Floyds beer is what gives the mustard its twang, and it’s available through the Cactus Club website. Green candles that have the hue of the club’s logo are also available, which provide an entire mood, not just an accent, for any home or woodland gathering. Growlers with batch cocktails and beer to go will be for sale once again. Address: 2496 S. Wentworth Ave.
Maya Ophelia’s – The new kids on the block are still here, still powering through the quarantine. Maya Ophelia’s started as pop-up carry out place inside of Cactus Club with the new Boone and Crockett as their home base when they opened in 2018. They’ve adopted a guerrilla style of food delivery, as they move from one place to another seamlessly, providing sustenance. Currently, the food is made in a catering kitchen by Jack O’Grady and Chase Roldan, with plans to open a food truck. The cuisine is vegan, and it adopts many cultures to reflect Jack and Chase’s upbringing. You might get Mexican, Puerto Rican or Filipino influenced meals, as they tend to switch up their menu. “We just get restless and want to try new things,” they tell me. Before quarantine, they operated out of The Mothership, another up-and-coming Bay View bar. Soon, they hope to partner with another prominent Bay View bar to sell their concoctions, but until then they can be found at www.mayaophelias.com, and can be paid through the cashdrop app as well. Current Address: 301 S. Logan Ave.
The Bottle – There is a limbo area between Walker’s Point and Bay View, an area known for its constant foot traffic of Milwaukee bus drivers who have gotten off work or are going in. Nestled behind the traffic of S. 2nd St. and just south of E. Mitchell St. is The Bottle, a sprawling building that sits on an unassuming corner of Kinnickinnic Ave. It offers a very open space, sometimes crowded, sometimes near empty, depending on what time you went. It looked like the child of the Oriental Theatre, with stucco walls and columns and a loud, creaky hardwood floor, not unlike an old Viking vessel. This bar, too, has felt the pull of losing business, but alleviates that with a walk-up window. Corner bars and taverns have suffered more than most other establishments, but their tactic is to provide six packs and growlers of beer to go, which the Bottle has been doing. Growlers are very refreshing option, especially if you miss the taste of tap beer. It will transport you back inside The Bottle, sitting side by side with your cousin on leather stools, where you ponder everything ranging from the very important to the seemingly insignificant. Oh for a return to those easy-going pre-pandemic days. Address: 1753 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
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