When we heard that Rick Wakeman was staging a "Grand Piano Tour" in the U.S. we decided that we wanted to see him. The tour was to also include Ashley Holt on vocals. He was an integral vocalist on many of Rick's earlier works and we have never seen him with Rick so we really wanted to see one of the shows. The closest that he was coming to our home was Connecticut, but that show was on a weeknight. We didn't want to take time off from work if we could help it as our vacation time is very limited this year. The Milwaukee show, at the famous Pabst Theatre, would be on a Saturday night. We were able to get really good tickets to the show, and planned a weekend around it. This wouldn't be the first time we had traveled to see Rick. We traveled to see him in London in 2000 and in Quebec, Canada in 2001.

Unfortunately, for the first time in his 37 year career, Rick had to postpone the tour due to illness. He was suffering from the flu and needed to rest. The tour was rescheduled but we wouldn't be able to make it on the new date as we'd be out of the country at the time. To add insult to injury, he would be playing quite close to our home on the very evening we would be flying out of the country. Since we wouldn't be able to re-use the concert tickets or the plane tickets at another time, we decided to just go to Milwaukee for the weekend anyway. We used the internet to research things to do, and it seemed like it could turn out to be a lot of fun after all.

Friday 3/10/06 - Arrival in Milwaukee

We left the house at 5:00 p.m. and headed to the airport. As we would only be gone for a couple of days, we parked the car in Central Parking. This was our first flight with Midwest Airlines, and there was a very short check-in line. Midwest only has a couple of gates at Logan. We ate at Burger King and then went through the security line. It was a little backed up, but not too bad. We bought some yogurt-covered pretzels and raisinettes to snack on. Our flight boarded at 6:45. The plane, a 717, was like an entire plane of nothing but business class. On either side of the center aisle were two large leather seats, with headrest, armrest, and footrest. There was food available for purchase on the plane, which was catered by Mader's of Milwaukee.They came through with drinks and pretzels. Craig had cranberry juice and I had apple juice, each served in a little 5.5 oz can. Then suddenly we thought we smelled chocolate chip cookies. It turns out that Midwest is famous for their in-flight-baked chocolate chip cookies. The flight attendant handed two piping hot cookies to each passenger. The chocolate was so melty and they were just delicious. At that point I wished I had saved some of my drink to wash down the cookies, but before I could even express this thought to Craig they were coming through the cabin with more drinks. Then they came through with coupons for saving $9 at Mader's Restuarant. It was like there just wasn't enough these people could do for us. The pilot got on the P.A. and wished a passenger a happy birthday. It was a very friendly airline, and we are sure this is not the last trip we will take with them.

We arrived at around 9:00 and took a $25 cab to the Wyndham Milwaukee Center. We initially chose this hotel because it was quite close to venue for the Wakeman concert. The lobby was quite nice and it was immediately clear we chose a very nice hotel. We checked into room 912. Our hotel was right downtown and had a very nice view of the Milwaukee River, some beautiful buildings, and a small ice skating pond. We headed out for a walk. It was in the 40's. We realized that the Pabst Theatre was on the same block as our hotel. How convenient if Rick had actually been playing there! It was a classic-looking old theatre with wrought-iron scrollwork. In the lobby windows there were posters of various performers with their quotes about the theatre. Our favorite was Todd Rundgren saying "The FREEKIN' Pabst, Man!!" The theatre was built in 1895 by brewing tycoon Frederick Pabst. Next we walked down the Riverwalk, which was beautifully lit. The Riverwalk has played a huge role in the revitalization of Downtown Milwaukee. Businesses have taken advantage of their locations on the Milwaukee River, and in the good weather many restaurants have tables outside overlooking the river. Embedded into the sidewalk were some copper renderings of children's drawings of the Riverwalk. We saw a building which had illuminated fish on the side. It looked like a work of art reflected in the river. We walked through Old World Third Street, and its various ethnic restuaurants. We saw Mader's Restaurant, which they had given us coupons to on the plane. It was a very German-looking building. It looked intriguing. It supposedly has a wonderful display of German collectible steins and medieval weaponry. As we walked down the cobblestone street, a low-rider came barreling by, bouncing on its pneumatic shocks. We saw Lucille's Piano Bar, which was packed, and people seemed to be having a great time. It looked a little too frat-boy and "interactive" for our taste tonight, though. We just wanted to have a drink and relax, not become part of an audience-participation type of show. We saw Usinger's Famous Sausage, which has been in business since 1880. The ground floor of the building was a large room with deli counters along the perimeter. A large "Take a number" machine stands among the empty waiting space. It was, of course, closed due to the late hour, but we could envision it being very busy during business hours. Next door was a small cheese shop which brought up the obligatory Monty Python reference.

We walked past the ice skating pond and I realized it has been about 10 years since I last skated. Had I known about this nice little uncrowded rink I probably would have schlepped my skates with me. The skating pond was a next to a building beautifully lit in blue, which had some gorgeous chandeliers in the lobby. All in all it made for a very nice atmosphere. Right acrooss the street from the skating pond was the Marcus Center. We had checked their schedule online to see if there was anything that we wanted to attend while we were there, but "Marvin Hamlisch plays the music of Barbra Streisand" just wasn't our style. But we really liked the poster for an upcoming concert that said "Brahms in da Haus." This actually became one of our catch-phrases for the rest of the trip. We walked down Water Street and there were a variety of bars there as well. We passed the Water Street Brewery, which definitely had potential, being a microbrewery and all. But the crowd in there seemed particularly old and subdued. We wondered if the Marvin Hamlisch show had already ended and this was the after-show party. We needed something a little bit in between rollicking audience-participation and subdued seniors. Eventually we came across a variety of different places including adult clubs and an adult martini bar but nothing was really calling for us to enter.

We decided it was time to just sit down and get a drink and we chose the rather unassuming Mel's on Water. It was a loud, smoky bar, but it was full of people-watching opportunities. We took seats at the bar. Craig ordered a Beamish Irish Stout and I had a Mike's Hard Cranberry. The special of the night was $1 Pabst cans, and people were swilling them down. Once the bar ran out of Pabst cans, people started drinking expensive shots with Red Bull. This is something we just don't understand. One more example where we know we're getting old. This is definitely a hard-drinking town, and the alcohol laws are much more lax than in Massachusetts. Patrons who would have been shut off hours ago in Massachusetts were still being served here. Bartenders were doing shots along with patrons. It reminded me more of the Caribbean. I guess it is to be expected in a city to which the brewery industry has contributed so much. We took a particular interest in this one woman sitting at the bar with a few friends whose level of intoxication increased steadily throughout the night. Just when we thought she would be falling of her bar stool her friend ordered a remedy. Another round of shots mixing hefty amounts of caffeine with more alcohol. This did the trick, it was time for them to call it a night. Laughing, we said to each other that this was the right place to come to people watch. We hung out listening to the bad music and having a couple drinks until around 1:30. Then we took the short walk back to the hotel and went to bed at around 2.
View from our room at the Wyndham Milwaukee Center. Skating pond in foreground.

Old World Third Street




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