Valentine Cafe Oak Creek – Drexel Town Square – 7981 S. 6th St., Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Open 6 or 7am to 10 or 11pm, depending on if it's a weekday or weekend.

I first had a cup of Valentine coffee at their cafe out on Vliet Street, next to the Times Cinema, a couple of years ago, but I haven't been out there since. I've noticed their coffee at a few places since, and it seems to be excellent. Though, of course, anyone's capable of messing up good coffee beans by the time it gets to your cup. I've been drinking coffee for like 80 years now and I still am capable of making bad coffee. There are so many factors involved. A lot of coffee shops can get away with making bad coffee, too, since a lot of people don't know any better, or are so addicted to caffeine they just don't care, or else put so much milk, sugar, and flavor in their coffee it's not really coffee anymore. Anyway, my impression was that this place is serious, and you're going to get good coffee. I just haven't made it out there lately—but I did stop by their newer location, in Oak Creek, at the Drexel Town Square.

This is a very new development in Oak Creek, which is almost too far away to be called a suburb—it's halfway to Racine—but I guess it functions as a suburb. This Drexel Town Square is so new if you look at satellite photos (as of this writing) it still looks like a dirt field. It's kind of exciting—it's not just a shopping center—there are civic buildings, apartments, and best of all, a public library. That alone made me want to move there and be part of the experiment. But then I got a little creeped out, since all of the businesses that are opening are versions of other places—I realize that's the nature of chain stores—but some of these, like the Valentine Cafe are pretty singular. I started to wonder if there are underground tunnels and—well, see Westworld (1973) (the movie; I can't speak for the TV show). So, I don't know—is that a good or bad thing?

Anyway, the Valentine Cafe is good—there's a lot of places to sit, including kind of a cool upstairs (even though those chairs are a little weird). There are some giant windows in this place—and it was bitterly cold, but warm enough inside—but I'm wondering about the summer. Either they will open it up to make it semi-outdoors, or it'll be a greenhouse. I'm not sure how long it's going to be for the newly planted shade trees (I'm hoping) to provide enough shade. Anyway, a lot of food at this place, and the people working were cool, (I don't think they were robots), and I had a big old latte that was expertly made and quite delicious. Even though I have a list of about 200 local cafes to check out, I'm looking forward to revisiting this one—at which time I might write a new entry or add an addendum—or maybe just enjoy myself and be quiet.

Richard Skiller 3.13.18

Anodyne – Walker's Point – 224 W. Bruce St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open early to late, every day.

Of the few people I've met in Milwaukee, a couple have told me this is their favorite cafe, and it's a good thing I was pointed in its direction because I'd have never walked by it, as it's almost hidden, an old factory building at the end of an untraveled block just west of 2nd Street. I visited a couple times, early on snowy weekend mornings, and until I tried the door and found it open, I wasn't convinced it was even open. It's a huge place, and I guess it's their roasting facility and event space, and there are separate rooms that look like they could be classrooms, training rooms, meeting rooms. All this space makes you want to cry with all the possibility, not to mention what I'd imagine the heating bill to look like. At one end of the main room there is nice looking stage, and I made a mental note to come here for live music sometime because it looks like it could be a great place to watch a band. I'm sure it's an entirely different cafe late in the day, but I like mornings, and this place felt comfortable, if not particularly friendly.

I asked if there was anything gluten-free to eat, but no dice. There's the usual coffee shop baked things, which I'd pay a little more attention to if I could eat them. I got a straight cup of coffee, which tasted pretty much like ass, so I added the half and half to make it drinkable. I don't mean that as a particular criticism—most cafe coffee tastes like ass, mainly because it's made too strong—which is what the people want, I guess, and is still better than too weak coffee that tastes like ass. Anodyne is a funny name for coffee, since on one hand it means inoffensive, even bland, which isn't really what you're going for with coffee, right? But it also means something that alleviates pain, and I guess that's what they were thinking, because that's what coffee does (unless you get pranked with decaf). There are a variety of places to sit here; unfortunately the best seats, by the windows, are high chairs—but then there's nothing much to see outside anyway, and there are a few, long, low tables with normal chairs. It would have to be very, very crowded to not easily be able to get a seat, and it seems like a place where you might be able to have some kind of social interaction, just due to the layout—but as most people in cafes are either in insular, impenetrable groups, or with laptops, that's not likely to happen anytime. But anyway, if I lived around here I'd happily make this my regular coffee shop, and I'll have to make a note to come by sometime when there's live music.

Richard Skiller 1.17.18

Bella Caffe – 189 N Milwaukee St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open 6am on weekdays, a little later on weekends, closing just after dinner time.

This Third Ward corner coffee shop has been around a long time—since 2001, says their website. I really value places like this; it's a good, solid, dependable spot to get a coffee and sit at a table, whether to meet with someone or work on something. Not close enough to any schools to always be full of single students with sad laptops. There are windows along two sides, as well, so it's a decent people watching spot. They have a pretty extensive baked goods, soup, and sandwich menu, though no indication of anything gluten-free, which is a drag. A lot of people come here for lunch, so that's a time when there is going to be a lot of activity and energy—or lines and soup smells—however you want to look at it. A pretty extensive array of frivolous coffee/tea specialties, so if there is a line, don't expect it to go fast. I'm always looking for the perfect coffee house (an impossible ideal) and maybe the feeling and décor here is a little bit seaside senior citizen, but I don't mind that generally. Maybe I hold independent, non-chain coffee shops to a higher standard, and that's not fair, but I also really value them, as I do this place, and I hope it stays open for years to come.

Richard Skiller 12.10.17

Starbucks – Third Ward – 326 N. Water St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open early to late every day (5am on weekdays, a little later on weekend days).

This is a storefront Starbucks in an old building on Water Street in the Milwaukee's fancy-pants Third Ward district. I believe it's been here for awhile, and two popular, local coffee shops have opened since within half a block, yet it hangs on, and always seems to be fairly busy. It's a nice one to sit in, very warm feeling, even kind of homey (for a Starbucks). My only complaint is that they could easily fit in a few more tables, especially if they didn't take up so much room with their bullshit product displays. I came in on a Saturday amidst more gale force winds (is Milwaukee on top of a mountain or something?) and got a coffee in a ceramic cup and a good seat at a small table. I'm annoyed that if you get a small coffee it comes to $2.07—why not $2 even?—what am I supposed to do with all that change? I guess there are people who will gladly take 93 cents, but I would just rather deal with dollar bills, come on. Oh, right, maybe no one gets just a small coffee, and no one doesn't use cards, even for coffee. I love that there is a ceramic cup for there, and I hit the cream lottery (half & half thing wasn't empty), but for some reason my coffee smelled like cleaning product. Could it be the containers? (cup, or cream container?)—it tasted good, but made me wonder if they rinse the cups properly. You've got to rinse all traces of soap out, even if it takes some time. I know, I'm just a little bit nuts about that kind of stuff.

Richard Skiller 11.27.17

Stone Creek Coffee – Grand Ave Mall (Skywalk) – 275 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I first remember Stone Creek Coffee on an early visit to Milwaukee, thinking it was another national chain I hadn't heard of—after all, that name—doesn't sound real Milwaukee—there is a lake here, and a river, and if there really is a “Stone Creek” somewhere—well, I'll look up the company's history on some future review. Having exhausted all the soap nubs, and extraneous beans and grounds at my Airbnb, I set out to the Grand Ave Mall—Milwaukee's downtown version of a skywalk kind of shopping place—to TJ Maxx for some bizarre soap, and then the Stone Creek for a pound of coffee beans. They were offering a free latte with the purchase, so how could I resit? (even though it made me late for a date). I'm not usually a latte drinker, but sometimes it's just the thing on one of these encroaching winter days, especially if it's made well, and this was delicious. I'll have to remind myself not to get hooked. I'm a black coffee guy.

The “cafe”—such as it is—is essentially a little coffee booth in the skywalk connecting two of the buildings that make up the Grand Ave Mall. The nice thing is they have a variety of tables spread out on the edges of the walkway—so it's kind of a sidewalk cafe, but indoors and upstairs, with no car exhaust. I sat looking out a window, directly over 2nd Street, looking north for a few blocks to where the street doglegs. This is kind of at the heart of downtown Milwaukee, the theater district—there should be more people on foot, it seems, but maybe there are in the evenings when there are shows going on. Anyway, between looking down from the skywalk to the street, and the people traveling through the skywalk, this is really a good place for people-watching, because as you know, unless you like watching people work on laptops, we are not in the best era for people-watching in cafes.

Richard Skiller 11.15.17