CITY.NET Jazz Café – 306 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open 6am to 3:30pm weekdays, and Saturday morning, closed Sunday.

I think the official name of this small, downtown Milwaukee café is “CITY.NET Café”—but sometimes the “Jazz” part is added, and that's what I call it. I don't really like the using the dot anything in a business name—I guess I'm just that old-fashioned—but at least I can remember the name, and I kind of like when a place has two names, unofficial names, and nick-names. You can just as easily call it the “Jazz Café.” It's locally owned by jazz musicians, I guess. They have a website if you want to read more. My favorite thing about going here? You guessed it, I like the music. There are some drums set up in there, too, and I think occasionally live music, though never when I've been walking by. The location is really the heart of downtown Milwaukee, on Wisconsin Ave, just toward the lake from Water Street. It's kind of a crossroads location where you might find yourself a lot—at least I do—perfect location for a coffee shop. I've stopped in a few times and sat and felt comfortable sitting there, writing in my notebook, not rushed, and to some degree inspired. I think one time there was an out-of-town visitor who happened to stop in and just seemed delighted. That always makes you feel good. I'd go as far as to say, right now, this is may favorite café, or at least it's right up there. It's a place I'll go back to. The only drawback is that it's not open in the evenings, and not open on Sunday. I guess they have a few other locations—noted on their website—one in a heath complex, which I hope to avoid, one in a YMCA—and I'm not a member (though I've have been seriously considering joining again). And then one in the courthouse—which I believe is the courthouse by the police station, jail, etc.—where one usually goes when called for jury duty—which I have not been, yet, but it's just a matter of time. It's nice to know there's a Jazz Café over there—I'm sure that's quite welcome come jury duty!

Randy Russell 11.13.18

Colectivo Coffee – Shorewood – 4500 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, Wisconsin

Monday thru Friday – 6am to 9pm / Saturday and Sunday – 6:30am to 8pm

This is the Colectivo Coffee Shop of Shorewood, Milwaukee's most immediate suburb to the north. It's on the northern part of this strip of Oakland that has gone nuts lately with development, much of it fairly interesting. The cross street is Kensington, and it's right between a liquor store and a wine shop, across the street from a Chinese take-out—you could live in the apartments upstairs and potentially never have to walk more than a block for anything. What a lot of people don't know, however, is if you walk six blocks north, then run through a couple of yards, brush, and sand, you'll be right in Lake Michigan. And if you walk six blocks east, then run through a couple of yards, brush, and sand, you'll also be right in Lake Michigan. But you might want to stay dry and sit in this cafe—one of many Colectivos—one of the more relaxing ones, I've found, because it's big and airy and not overly crowded like some. It's got long hours, and a good variety of places to sit, windows on two corners. I'll talk about Colectivo's coffee, more, later—it's not my favorite, but it's fine, and right up there with anyone on the jitters-meter. They usually have one gluten-free thing, a cookie or macaroon—I wish they had more. One big plus for cheapies like me is a coffee to-drink-there comes to $1.91, so you're not left with a pocketful of change (and can give your barista a whopping 9 cent tip). Though most of you, I'm sure, make more elaborate purchases, and tip the always pleasant and attitude-free Colectivo employees accordingly.

Richard Skiller 8.14.18

Barnes & Noble Cafe – Brookfield Square – 95 N. Moorland Rd., Brookfield, Wisconsin

Monday thru Friday 9am to 10pm & Sunday 10am to 7pm

I'm not sure if the cafe is open as late as the store, and I don't think Brookfield Square is, but if you're walking around a mall or going to the Barnes & Noble Cafe at 10pm—wow, hard core. It's impressive that the store is open that late, actually—and I like to think it's in order to service heavy-reading insomniacs. I also like to think the B&N Cafe is the epicenter of the suburban sex scene, and I may be projecting, but sitting in here with a coffee and writing in my notebook, looking around at the busy order counter, and the tables, spread out on the far side of the Barnes & Noble store, one person per table, it did inspire my imagination. I felt one ingredient removed from the action, and probably writing in a paper notebook, with an ink pen, rather than using a smartphone or e-reader was the key. I guess if you're using a “NOOK” (B&N e-reader, and short for nookie) or the NOOK app, you can read for free here, and I'm guessing there might be a way to DM like-minded book-lovers in the direct vicinity. The coffee (and insane dessert drinks more commonly ordered) is Starbucks, and for sheer overkill there are desserts from Cheesecake Factory (when removed from C.F. like this, make it seem more like an actual factory, right?), and I treated myself to a pre-packaged Rice Krispies bar/thing (GF) that some factory food genius managed to fuck up. I got some writing done, as it's not a bad atmosphere, and a place I could imagine hanging out if I did live in the suburbs, even without the necessary savvy to navigate the lonely housewife hook-up scene.

Richard Skiller 7.28.18

Fiddleheads Bayshore – 5600 N. Bayshore Dr., Glendale, Wisconsin

Monday – Saturday 6am – 8pm, Sunday 7am – 7pm

I've been up here a couple of times, the border of Whitefish Bay and Glendale, where Bayshore Town Center is, which is one of those post-mall malls that are mostly outdoors so people can drive from store to store instead of walking. There's no lack of coffee shops in the area, and Fiddleheads is actually on Silver Spring, not a bad location, a good place to stop if you're on your way somewhere, I guess. The first time I came here I was on my bike and I noticed that even though the place has several bicycle themed things going on, there were no bike racks outside. I suppose this has to do with no one ever actually coming here any other way than in a car, which is really the way the vast majority of people get around, in spite of a lot of talk (except for poorer people, who actually are the majority, who get around in whatever way they can, rides from people, or the bus). It makes me think about all that sickeningly sweet, bullshit cheerleading writing for urban living, with all the new high-priced apartments and condos going up near downtown Milwaukee—how they always say, “a short walk to shopping, theaters, and the art museum!”—as if any of these people walk, ever! Expect new, big city traffic congestion, new urban dwellers!

Anyway, besides that there is no bike rack, I only have good things to say about this cafe. I was able to get a cup of coffee for drinking there, in a pleasant, bowl-like cup, and sit at a little counter (dumb highchairs, but that's what you always have on the counter-seating, looking out windows) looking out the front windows at the endless, soul-numbing car traffic on Silver Spring. There are also places to sit at little tables. Either way, this place has some fans, regulars, no doubt, and you can sit and eavesdrop, or work on something—it's comfortable for that. The coffee was good, and the people working were warm and pleasant. This is everything a coffee shop should be. Nice bathrooms, too. Fiddleheads Coffee Roasters is a small cafe chain, over 20 years old now, with five cafes in small towns and suburbs north of Milwaukee, so it would be interesting to try to hit them all. They also have food (they have their own bakery), but I didn't pay much attention to the food on my couple of visits, or even eavesdrop. I just sat, looking out the window, occasionally writing in my notebook, but mostly mesmerized by the endless hypnotic traffic-light patterns, as faceless car people turned left, at their allotted times, off of Silver Spring and onto the rest of their long days and short, regimented lives.

Richard Skiller 5.6.18

Stone Creek Radio Cafe – 158 S. Barclay St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open every day from 6:30am (7 on weekends) to 7pm.

First of all, I love this coffee shop—the coffee is always excellent, the people working here are the best, and it's a comfortable and interesting place to sit. It's one of my favorites, so far. Good hours, too—if you stop by any reasonable time during the day, they're open. Now that I got that out of the way, the most fascinating thing about this place—and this is another positive, as far as I'm concerned—is it's a vortex of confusion—which I'm only going to make worse by talking about it—so, you might need coffee to get through this review. First of all, its name. Is it: Stone Creek Radio Cafe (which is what I choose to call it), or simply Stone Creek Coffee (which Yelp calls it), or Stone Creek Coffee Radio Milwaukee (on Google maps), or Radio Milwaukee (on the Stone Creek website—though it also says: Coffee Geek's Clubhouse), or Stone Creek Radio 88NINE (TripAdvisor)—I could probably go on. Part of this confusion is because the cafe is directly next door to (in the same building; some would say connected to) a local, listener and advertiser supported radio station that you can call either Radio Milwaukee, or 88NINE (based on 88.9FM) (though never Eighty-Eight 9—except maybe verbally). This popular local station plays an eclectic mix of “alternative” music, including a lot of local stuff. I'm listening to it right now, actually, as I write this (via the internet) as well as (full disclosure) drinking a cup of Stone Creek coffee, at home.

I have visited both the cafe and the radio station (which has a live performance space) several times, but I'm still not sure where one starts and the other ends. Bad reporter that I am, I merely observed and never asked anyone. As far as I can recall, there is a big door (or series of doors) between the radio station and the cafe, so that it's at once a radio station with a cafe built onto the side, and a cafe with a radio station. Or at least, when the big door is opened, the radio station can serve as extra seating to the cafe. I'm not sure (and I guess it's none of my business) who pays how much rent, or who supports whom, to a greater extent. Or if the radio station workers get free coffee, or if they are required to buy Stone Creek coffee while working. And scones. I'm reasonably certain that the music playing at the cafe is always the radio station, and I suppose if you were a journey-person barista who likes to play their own music, this might not be your place—though the facilities look top-rate. The coffee preparation is an island in the middle of the cafe, looking more like an open laboratory than anything, and the first time I came here I wondered if I was even allowed. Yes you are. I'm not sure who Coffee Geek is, but I'm pretty sure his/her Club membership is not necessary to enjoy a visit.

If you can find it. That's the next confusing thing. Even for those few people who are not carrying a mobile GPS (and still capable of reading a map or following directions) if you are new to the town, you might need to get coffee several times while finding this place. First of all, it's located in an area called the “Confluence,” which is my favorite part of town—its geographical heart—based on the intersection of three rivers (Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic) and Lake Michigan. Confluence also means a confused state, influenced by a confusing influence, often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Some say this cafe is located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Walker's Point, though it's technically in Harbor View—which sounds more like a retirement community. Its address is on Barclay Street, which no one knows, as it's only three blocks long before turning into Jake Marchese Way (who needs no introduction). Fortunately, it's also on the well-traveled Pittsburgh Ave, though that street is only four blocks long before becoming Freshwater Way, to the west, and Young Street to the east (which immediately doglegs north and becomes Milwaukee Street). Milwaukee doesn't think twice about changing the names of streets every few blocks, and street signs are only placed intermittently. An easier way to find the cafe is look for the intersection of Pittsburgh and S. 1st Street (which one block north is called N. Water Street) (and if you are on S. 1st and it turns into Kinnickinnic, you've gone too far)—where you'll see the popular Colectivo “Foundry” (and Stack'd, a burger bar whose most prominent signage feature is the apostrophe)—from there you are within spitting distance (please don't spit, even if you're frustrated) of Geek's Club/88Nine/Stone Creek Radio Cafe. Good luck and and don't forget to tip!

Richard Skiller 4.13.18

East End Cafe – Milwaukee Art Museum – 700 N. Art Museum Dr., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open 11am on days the museum is open, until a half hour before closing.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has three cafes, with various combinations of coffee and food. This one is kind of the “hidden” cafe, at the museum's lakeside entrance. You can visit any of the cafes without museum admission, but you can't reach this one without passing through the museum, unless you use the lakefront entrance. There is a parking lot, though I don't know what it costs to park, but you can get here by walking or biking along the lake, which is the best way. All year around, but especially in warmer weather you will encounter geese, rollerbladers, smokers, and other wildlife. If you visit the museum more than three times a year, it's cheaper to get a membership. (The first Thursday of each month is the free day.) The museum is open until 8pm on Thursdays—only day they're open late. What I like to do is walk here, have a cup of coffee, write in my notebook, use my membership to enter the museum and look at one painting for an extended period, use the bathroom. Pretty much in that exact order.

The East End Cafe doesn't really have a name, but that's what they call it on their website. If you come here at the right time (not free day or during some kind of “event”) it can seem like Milwaukee's best kept coffee shop secret. As you may know, even though Milwaukee has hundreds of coffee shops, the hippest ones are often bursting to capacity. For a population that drinks so much beer, how they have the capacity for so much coffee, as well, is a mystery, but there you go. If you come here at the right time, you can get a table along the long length of this cafe, next to huge windows facing the lake. It has maybe the best view of any coffee shop in Milwaukee. It's great for people-watching and spying as well; this is a secret spot for affairs, trysts, and other undercover matters of the heart—I suppose because of its romantic, out of the way setting. It's also a great place to photograph the geese, which is what I do.

Richard Skiller 3.22.18

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