For our inaugural episode of Milwaukee Walkabout, we called up a few of our friends in the know to show us their little slice of heaven in Washington Heights.
Washington Heights, or, as locals shorthand it, The Heights, represents one of the best of historic Milwaukee neighborhoods. Gemlike Milwaukee Bungalows line one-way streets canopied with century-old elm and maple. Churches like St. Sebastian, Mount Olive and St. James stand proud and strong, architecture just as vibrant as the congregations within them. Through it all runs Vliet Street, like a miniature downtown, and in the space of about a mile you’ll find everything from fine dining, antique furniture, arts and crafts, floral design, gelato, and even a bowling alley. Pam Mehnert and Lisa Malmarowski, from Outpost Natural Foods Co-op, and Young Kim, former executive director of Fondy Food Center, joined us on our walking tour.
Lisa: “We love The Heights because it’s a hidden community. It just sits in the shadow of Tosa, but really it’s this classic Milwaukee community, where neighbors are helping neighbors. You can walk to places that you love, to find gifts for people or to find a quick meal. It’s just really convenient and really fun.”
We started our day at Valentine Coffee Company with Young.
“I like Valentine Coffee on a human scale—I know most of the baristas there, and they know me by name. It’s cozy. Our neighborhood invites walking. It actually feels like a neighborhood, rather than something you drive through to get to another destination.”
Then, Pam and Lisa guided us to Barcelona, a gallery/gift store/upcycled and antique resale shop.
“We find ourselves going to so many businesses again and again on Vliet … we love Barcelona because the product selection always changes. Valentine is the sort of morning meeting place where we run into people we know, and it’s incredibly good coffee, to boot! Truth be told, we really love Fred’s Drive In, too—it’s just the classic place we ride our bikes to in the summer, and it makes us feel like kids again. We’d be totally remiss if we didn’t mention Meritage—it seems obvious, but Meritage is our version of Cheers—not only is it just a class-A foodie restaurant, it’s absolutely a neighborhood gathering place where people really do know your name. You know, The Heights reminds us of some neighborhoods you find in Chicago, in a bigger city. That’s one of the reasons we love it—it’s urban, it’s diverse, it’s unique and it’s quintessential Milwaukee.”
Walking further down, we ducked into Urban Sense, and then, in to see the lobby at Stella’s Hair Salon at the urging of Jen Ede, our publisher. “I’ve been seeing Angela at Stella’s for over six months now. I love this funky little place in our neighborhood! Not only is the building cool (it’s a former funeral parlor), what I really dig is that their hair dyes, hair, nail and other makeup products are all eco-friendly. Look good, feel good, make good choices. It’s really easy here.”
After a packed day of shopping, walking, tennis (admittedly, we just watched folks playing tennis at Wick Field, but even that was exhausting!), custard and coffee, we met chef/owner Jan Kelly at her restaurant Meritage for some much-needed sustenance. She didn’t disappoint—much to the delight of our table, round after round of gorgeous salads and veggies, exquisite marinated mussels, and delectable roasted lamb arrived family style to our table. A glass of Port, a lot of good laughs and a warm evening on the patio at Meritage rounded out our Washington Heights Walkabout—it’s easy to see why this neighborhood inspires such fierce loyalty—we might just have fallen in love with it, too.