Thanksgiving is a time for taking stock of the year gone by, for stuffing your face with family and friends, and for praying you’ll get out of this thing alive without said family and friends saying anything horrible. For Milwaukee, it’s also a perfect time to give thanks for the many, many things that make the city a wonderful (if sometimes frustrating) place to live. Here are 16 of them.
1. Bay View
Milwaukee is forever changing, but the city’s Bay View neighborhood remains a perfect mix of old and new. Old-school residential blocks hide treasures like the Cactus Club, Club Garibaldi, Burnhearts, and Goodkind, while the main drag of Kinnickinnic Avenue is home to some of the city’s best new (and new-ish) restaurants and shops, including Vanguard, Rush-Mor Records, Bumstead Provisions, Blackbird Bar, Frank’s Power Plant, and more.
2. Brewcity Bruisers
Believe it or not, Milwaukee’s Brewcity Bruisers celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2016. That’s a full decade of fast-paced, high-octane, and, well, bruising women’s flat track roller derby action. The Bruisers have popped up in everything from TV commercials to video games, and were recently featured in a full-length documentary called Roller Life.
3. Girls Rock Milwaukee
Since 2013, Girls Rock Milwaukee has given girls age 8-16 a chance to learn the ins and outs of starting their very own rock bands. More importantly, the summer-camp-style crash course has aimed to empower girls through music education and performance, and bolster their self-esteem, creativity, and individuality in the process. Fittingly, Girls Rock alums have become integral parts of the city’s music scene: look no further than the pre-teen punk of the tireless Negative/Positive.
4. Independent radio
What’s better than one listener-supported local radio station? How about three listener-supported local radio stations? Radio Milwaukee and WMSE have long provided Milwaukee with a musical pulse that can’t be beat, and the recent introduction of Riverwest Radio to the FM dial has made the airwaves even more eclectic and unpredictable. It’s a testament to the strength of Milwaukee’s cultural scene that the city so heartily supports these three off-the-beaten-path resources.
5. Lake Michigan
It’s sometimes easy to forget, but damn, we have an honest-to-god Great Lake in our backyard. Lake Michigan is one of the defining features of the Milwaukee landscape—along with the Milwaukee Art Museum and those singing bears in the Shops of Grand Avenue—and an endless source of summer (and winter) fun. Sure, you probably don’t want to swim in the thing, but it’s nice to look at.
6. Milwaukee County Parks
You could likely count on one hand the number of people who still refer to Milwaukee County Parks as an “emerald necklace,” but the old-timey description is surprisingly apt. More than 140 parks and parkways, totaling roughly 15,000 acres, make up the city’s nationally recognized park system. Cathedral Square, Red Arrow, Estabrook, and the Pokemon-infested Lake Park are just a few examples. Though the future of the city’s park system may be up in the air, the fact that it continues to draw so much attention and passion speaks to its importance to the city.
7. Milwaukee Film
What’s not to love about Milwaukee Film? The organization’s annual 15-day Milwaukee Film Festival is certainly its biggest production of the year (and one of the best things in Milwaukee, period), but its year-round members screenings, as well as its year-round workshops and panel discussions, make Milwaukee Film a 365-day concern. Plus, they let us put on a bowling tournament during this year’s fest, and a few lucky winners made off with some totally sweet Mighty Morphin Power Rangers trading cards and whatever else we had lying around. Fall 2017 can’t come soon enough.
8. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
It’s easy to trash the Journal Sentinel for its awful op-eds and its Adblock-justifying website, but in an information age when real news is shockingly hard to come by, Milwaukee’s still-standing newspaper should be celebrated at every opportunity. The JS has won the Pulitzer Prize eight times since 1919, most recently in 2011 for its “lucid examination of an epic effort to use genetic technology to save a 4-year-old boy imperiled by a mysterious disease, told with words, graphics, videos and other images.” That’s the kind of journalism you won’t find anywhere else, and the kind of journalism that needs to be supported.
9. Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Speaking of good journalism, it doesn’t get much better than the on-the-ground, hyper-local Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS). The non-profit online publication has spent the last few years tirelessly covering issues “that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.” For many oft-overlooked Milwaukeeans, NNS is a clear and invaluable voice.
10. Milwaukee River
Similar to Lake Michigan, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we have a pretty nifty river snaking through the heart of our city. Yes, the Milwaukee River may not be suitable for casual summertime dips, but boat tours, kayak tours, pontoon tours, and the picturesque Riverwalk all combine to make it a unique and oft-traveled downtown feature.
11. Ted Perry
You know him, you love him, and if you’re a regular local news viewer, you invite him into your home on a daily basis. FOX6 anchor Ted Perry has been a reliable and welcome presence in Milwaukee media for more than 20 years, presenting the news, being funny on Twitter, checking out shows, and not shying away from sharing his personal views. With more and more veteran Milwaukee newscasters stepping down (WE MISS YOU, VINCE CONDELLA), Perry remains one of the few remaining “old-school” broadcasters. Not that he’s old (sorry, Ted), but, well, you get the point.
12. PrideFest Milwaukee
The always-awesome PrideFest is typically the first big festival to set up shop on Milwaukee’s lakefront every summer, easing the city into a fest season that’s second to none. For three days, PrideFest stocks Henry Maier Festival Park full of musicians, comedians, DJs, drag performers, poets, and more. Hell, they even gave us our own stage this year. Speaking of this year, PrideFest showed its true colors in 2016 with its heartfelt and healing response to the Orlando nightclub shooting, which took place in the early morning of the last day of the fest.
13. Red Letter Media
Red Letter Media is another one of Milwaukee’s best things. The locally based film/video production company found internet fame back in 2009 with its meticulous takedowns of the Star Wars prequels, and has since gone on to produce hilarious and incisive web series like the long-running “Half In The Bag” and the wonderfully wonky “Best Of The Worst.” These days, any message board or comment section devoted to a galaxy far, far away is sure to be littered with quotes from RLM videos, RLM-related memes, or GIFs of Rich Evans in a Darth Vader mask, jerking off a droid.
It’s probably not an overstatement to say that much of Milwaukee’s art and music scene has direct ties to Riverwest. The creative-minded neighborhood has long been home to countless musicians, artists, poets, and dreamers, not to mention iconic bars and venues like Fuel, Foundation, Linneman’s, Riverwest Public House, Mad Planet, Club Timbuktu, Company Brewing, High Dive, the Jazz Gallery, and every basement show you’ve ever been too. Oh, and don’t forget about the Locust Street festival, the Center Street festival, and the Riverwest 24. Viva la Riverwest, indeed.
15. Voces de la Frontera
Though Voces de la Frontera began as a bilingual newspaper in Austin, Texas, the group has been a Milwaukee-area staple since the late ’90s. Describing itself as a “community organization led by low-wage workers, immigrants and youth whose mission is to protect and expand civil rights and workers’ rights through leadership development, community organizing and empowerment,” Voces de la Frontera is a much-needed voice of advocacy and social justice in a world that seems to be constantly teetering on the edge.
16. Bob Uecker
Out of alphabetical order, but whatever. Uecker forever.