Anyone who lives here will tell you that a visit to Milwaukee is incomplete without a walk down Brady Street. This historic strip draws Milwaukee’s eccentric hipster community like a magnet. And while hipsters may be dated, Brady Street is timeless.
Once a nexus of Milwaukee’s Polish and Italian immigrant communities, Brady Street has imbibed a strong European feel, with its tightly packed arrangement of buildings. Its colorful, early-twentieth century architecture is chockablock with fantastic restaurants, bars, cafes, bakeries, various boutiques and a cigar shop. I’ve shopped at Glorioso’s Italian Market for some time now for all kinds of hard-to-find delicacies like savory guanciale that bring me back to my years living in Rome. Peter Sciortino Bakery is a Brady Street staple. Everything you’ll find here is made from scratch.
If it’s lunch or dinner you’re in the mood for, check out colorful Cempazuchi’s for some out-of-this-world Mexican cuisine. Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen in Milwaukee and, I’ll be honest, I think they’re a bit overdone. Quantity has overtaken quality in this category, but Cempazuchi’s, with a diverse menu that goes beyond the standard fare of what you’ll find at most Mexican restaurants, is worth the visit. Casablanca is a Middle Eastern restaurant and hookah lounge. Jake tells me it offers one of the best vegetarian lunches in town. (A word of caution: this place has taken on too much of a Studio 54, ruckus club scene at night so, for professionals, daytimes are best.)
After dinner out on the town, what’s better than a smooth cigar to finish off those multiple courses? Stop in at Famous Smoke Shop and pick up a cigar for a relaxing stroll through the old neighborhood. In the mood for an afternoon coffee tour? Brady Street is an ideal spot for those of us addicted to the “nectar of the gods”. Where to get your caffeine fix? Brewed Cafe is a quaint, if somewhat tripish hangout, that serves some of the best coffee in town. Funky, sometimes ugly, art cakes every wall, and a hodgepodge of vintage, beat-up furniture gives patrons plenty of room to make themselves comfortable. Rochambo, a coffee and tea house, is somewhat more rustic and minimalist in its aesthetics than Brewed Cafe, but it can’t be overlooked. It boasts of serving the best Irish Coffee in town.
Saint Hedwig Parish, a historic Polish church blending Victorian Romanesque and Eastern European influences, is an 1886 Cream City Brick architectural gem situated smack dab in the middle of Brady Street. Megan E. Daniels, in Images of America: Milwaukee’s Early Architecture, writes that the placement of the church, at the highest point on Brady Street, was intentional so as to mirror quaint European villages where churches customarily dominate the villages. And so, Saint Hedwig’s steeple dominates Brady Street, reminding the ubiquitous East Side hipsters, anarchists, socialists and neo-beatniks that the Catholic Church planted its flag on Brady Street long before the era of free luv. The exterior was recently cleaned and, in the afternoon sunlight, it is brilliant. (A visionary initiative that I’ve dreamt about for some time involves inviting a traditional Catholic religious order to take stewardship of the old parish and adjacent building, breathing new life into the community. Imagine seeing traditional religious mingling with the locals. Talk about an opportunity for evangelization! But that’s for another article.)
There’s a lot to see on Brady Street. The best way to experience it? Go there!
If anyone has other Brady Street suggestions, feel free to share them!
Adam took these great photographs. Enjoy!