A Tale of Two Cities Or Out and About in WI


View of the Milwaukee downtown skyline from the 4th floor at The Iron Horse Hotel.

A Tale of Two Cities may be a bit of a misnomer, or at best artistic license. Beth and I frequently take advantage of our days together by enjoying what we call little adventures. A couple of weekends ago it was a trip to three of Wisconsin’s smallest towns and then this last weekend to Wisconsin’s largest city of Milwaukee.

The effect of COVID19 played a big part in both adventures. However, how different communities handle the effect is quite different.

Our small town adventure started in Markesan, WI for the purpose of purchasing kitchen and cooking items from a local restaurant that was closing down, in part, due to COVID19 occupancy restrictions. We found several items to purchase.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so we decided to extend or mini adventure and head to Rio, WI to visit Johnson’s Sausage Shop for, among other things some chopped smoked bacon. Rio is roughly 40 miles mostly south and a touch west of Markesan. But hey, we love a road tripping together and off to Rio we go!

While exiting the parking lot, the subject of lunch came up. There is a very popular bar and grill between Markesan and Rio that features HUGE grill burgers and Bloody Mary’s. Sounds great, we head south with great expectations. Upon arrival the back entrance parking lot is full of snowmobiles. We park the car street side and open the bar door to reveal a standing room only bar with a festive din that is reminiscent of a college frat party. COVID19 restrictions were not affecting them at all that day.

Two things I’m not a fan of: Long Lines and Long Waits. Neither the town or the business name will be revealed. We simply skipped it and headed to Rio.

Two things that I am a fan of is gregarious business owners and great products & service. That is exactly what to expect at Johnson’s Sausage Shop in Rio, WI. We were in the door no longer than 30 seconds when the owner Chris Johnson walks out of the back with a smile to welcome us. I greet her with a hearty, “Hello Chris!” Chris responds with; “Hi, meet me at the bar we’ve got some new items to sample.”

Chris Johnson and R Dub in the sample bar at Johnson’s Sausage Shop

This small town meat market also has a small liquor store on the south side. Chris is a great suggestive seller and utilizes sampling as a way of selling new items. It works. She’s given us nicknames; Sparky and Princess. To make a long story short, we did buy some of the new items and much more meat than was originally planned. Hint; two of the items were featured in our YouTube video for Bacon Lobster Pasta. Yum!

The lobster bites and crumbled fried bacon in this dish came from Johnson’s Sausage Shop. The milk, cheeses, pasta and Panko bread crumbs came from Rechek’s Food Pride. Shop local!

It was a great adventure and resulted in the acquisition of some new to us cooking devices, some great local food and some new to us potent potables. Mission accomplished.

Fast forward to last weekend. Beth purchased two tickets for standup comedy at The Laughing Tap in Milwaukee. To maximize this adventure a room was reserved at The Iron Horse Hotel and our dog Buddy Girl was reserved for two days at doggie daycare.

We arrived at The Iron Horse at 2:45 pm, 15 minutes prior to check in. A request to check in upon arrival is met with a pleasant young man explaining that the computers are not prepared to accept check ins yet. That’s a new one, but okay. Hunger has set in, so the adventure takes a turn toward a late lunch.

After failing to check in early at the hotel, next stop is across the street at Conejito’s Place on the corner of 6th and West Virginia streets. Conejito’s Place advertises itself as an “Old-School hangout featuring Mexican favorites served on paper plates.”

Conejito’s Place Milwaukee, WI

On a pre-COVID19 Friday afternoon, the place would be packed. Today? Barely 25% capacity, if that. We asked the young woman who waited on us how business had been and how healthy are they. She replied that they are hanging in there, but you could see worry on her face and in her voice. I said I do not like lines or to wait, and we certainly had neither at Conejito’s that Friday afternoon.

There was one couple in the back of the dining room with us and 1 person at the bar to our left. As you can see most of the seats have been removed from the stools to assure that seating restrictions are complied with.

What did we order? We shared a meal of one bean and cheese Tostada, one bean and cheese soft shell taco, four cheese and onion enchiladas plus a heaping plate of refried bean and tortilla chips. (First Friday of lent…no meat.) All served on paper plates as advertised. I washed mine down with a lime margarita and a Spotted Cow. Beth enjoyed a strawberry margarita with our meal.

Occupancy rules and restrictions are well documented at the door. Traffic is one way too. This is the entrance only.

Beth and her family have been enjoying Conejito’s Place for decades. Visiting this haunt brings her joy and I make sure that she get to experience that joy every time we can.

After overindulging in Mexican cuisine, we wander back across the street and check in to our room. The computers are now ‘ready’ for check in. We get a room on the 4th floor of this 6 floor hotel. They offered a complimentary cocktail as the room FOBs are handed over. We say yes, of course, thinking that we would get vouchers for one complimentary drink at the beautiful attached bar.

Unfortunately we were handed glasses with some unidentified orange concoction. We were underwhelmed, but as they say…Beggars can’t be choosers…and…Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

The Iron Horse Hotel has several themed rooms. The online description of the room we chose described a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the surrounding neighborhood. The room we were given faced west, the opposite side of Lake Michigan.

Back down to the lobby we go to request the room we eagerly anticipated enjoying. Thankfully, we checked in early enough to be reassigned a room that lived up to the view that their website described. The rooms are awesome, just be sure to check in early to assure the side of the hotel you desire.

The Hoan Bridge lit up after dark!

Our reason for the weekend was to see standup comedy at the Laughing Tap just 3 blocks south of our hotel. The night’s entertainment featured David Louis. Beth and I were the first patrons to arrive 30 minutes prior to the start of the show. Tables were strategically spaced to assure compliance with COVID19 restrictions.

Seating was limited to 23 seats at the Laughing Tap. If not drinking or laughing, masks were required.

We’re not sure how many people the venue would normally seat, but this night was Sold Out…a mere 23 seats at a cost of a little over $22 each. I was shocked that there was not a 2 drink minimum, but there was not. It was Friday night in Wisconsin, so $8 Old Fashioned drinks were made for each of us. They didn’t skimp on the bourbon. The price tag was too low, so a 50% tip was added.

Old Fashioned whiskey sours, just $8 each!

This was David Louis’ first performance in many months. We purposely didn’t look up any of his YouTube performances. It paid off, the material was current and funny. I think our home crowd at the Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre’s Fine Arts Center would enjoy him. After the show we stopped and talked to him and his companion about playing Beaver Dam next autumn. He’s up for it.

We were the first patrons to arrive at 7:30 pm and the last patrons to leave at 10:00 pm. Sad, they should be open until 2:00 am.

David Louis – headliner at the Laughing Tap April 26, 2021

During the walk back to our hotel we stopped at microbrewery MobCraft Beer. At 10:00 pm, this was the only place still open. ON A FRIDAY NIGHT IN MILWAUKEE WISCONSIN! WTF – old farts like me think that this means Well That’s Fun! We had one beer each and headed up to our hotel room. One hour of TV later and we are both sound asleep.

Saturday morning we were looking forward to some great coffee and a great artisan breakfast at any of the many wonderful small cafes or restaurants in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they were all completely reserved unless we wanted to be on the stand by lists for an hour or more. Logistical advice – make reservations 24 hours in advance in this neighborhood of Milwaukee.

We settled for some great comfort food and coffee at my favorite diner in Milwaukee. Miss Katie’s Diner on the corner of 19th and Clybourn just west and south of the Marquette University campus. Thankfully, this Milwaukee landmark appears to be doing great.

It was fascinating to see how different communities and different businesses in each area is dealing with the virus. I pray that most of them ride this storm out. We need them as much as they need us.

Published by R Dub's Rub

Conversational BLOG writer and contributing writer for LocaLeben magazine. My BLOG entries represent observations that intrigue, amuse, inspire or stimulate my appetite.

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