Certainly Chicago is pretty close to Milwaukee and it oughta be no surprise to see some Marquette sweatshirts on Michigan Avenue window shoppers, but a recent visit to the Windy City reminded me just how pervasive the Milwaukee-Chicago connection is even in one of America's largest cities.
On a whirlwind weekend, I visited a number of restaurants and bars and nearly every one had a Wisconsin connection. (I'm not naming places here because I'm writing a story about them that will run in a couple weeks and I don't want to ruin the surprise).
On Friday night, we visited a hoppin' restaurant with a burlesque show and live music and, it turned out, the director of operations commutes to his downtown Chicago gig on a daily basis from his home in Brookfield. He moved to town to open a chain restaurant in the 'burbs before opening a place in Walker's Point.
The next morning, we had a great down-home breakfast at an Old Town family restaurant. The highlight – other than the food – was chatting with the owner, who knows Milwaukee well, thanks to his many visits to Brew City as part of a rugby team and, wait for it, a children's philharmonic chorus.
Right after, I got a tour of the hotel where I stayed. The director of sales, whose surname is Braun, showed up in a Brewers jersey with her name on the back. Her husband – wait for it – Ryan, is from Madison and studied at the Medical College of Wisconsin here.
The latest issue of Michigan Avenue magazine on the coffee table in our hotel room had a full-page photo of Chef Paul Bartolotta at a recent truffle dinner in Chicago.
Later that day we visited the Art Institute to see the "Picasso and Chicago" show and marveled at the crowds enjoying the various dining options in the museum – run by former Milwaukee chef and OnMilwaukee.com blogger Jason Gorman. And in the bookshop we saw a catalog for a small show the Art Institute did in 2007 on Milwaukee painters.
At a really awesome cocktail place that night our bartender said he visits Milwaukee pretty often. He's in a band that plays at the Cactus Club and has similarly musically inclined friends here, too.
We stopped in another place that night for a quick look around and a drink and we got a tour of the kitchen; a kitchen headed by a chef who got his start in the business as a server working his way through UW-Madison.
Sheesh, it's like we never even left town.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.