Holiday Music Motel: Sturgeon Bay high note

It’s an hour or two past sunset, and a sign of neon guides me home for the night. The door cracks open, I hear one-man music and temporarily interrupt an intimate concert with maybe a dozen appreciative listeners. It’s Thursday night at the Holiday Music Motel, and this is business as usual. At the weekly(…)

Distillers unite, to market themselves as one

We have long been in good spirits in Wisconsin, and now a lesser-known part of our alcohol-loving heritage will make itself more visible. Producers of hard alcohol are banding together to form the Wisconsin Distillers Association. Wisconsin’s reputation for beer production is longstanding and steady. In 2010, there were 112 federal brewing permits on file,(…)

Arena, Mazo: unusual, good rural dining

Two rural and south-central Wisconsin businesses, eight miles apart, cater to customers in unconventional ways. — A mile or two west of Arena, population 685, sits the Church of the Cinnamon Roll. Friends and strangers turn up on Sunday mornings for Bob McQuade’s warm, sugary communion and reflect upon life as they know it. The(…)

Wisconsin Innovations: new Madison exhibit

Here are a few of the answers: American Girl dolls. Malted milk. The typewriter. Bioluminescence technology. 
 Each solves this question: What has Wisconsin ingenuity produced? A new Wisconsin Historical Museum exhibit, “Wisconsin Innovations: From the Iconic to the Unexpected,” generates dozens more answers and sorts them into five categories: Big Ideas (concepts), Business/Industry (products),(…)

Private doors open in Milwaukee, Chicago

Almost underneath Interstates 43/94, one mile west of Milwaukee’s trendy Third Ward retail/nightlife district, illuminating work happens daily. Inside an 1890s building of red brick, Brass Light Gallery manufactures light fixtures by the hundreds and ships them throughout the world. When I visit, fixtures for a Hong Kong Disneyland expansion are among the orders being(…)

Two Ryan Braun restaurants in Wisconsin

The setting: White linens. Delicate stemware. Cartoonish murals. The pizza choices: Pepperoni. Sweet potato pie. Sausage and rapini. Also on the menu: Meatballs. Watermelon-beet salad. Hot wing ravioli. Wooing customers, behind the scenes: chef Dominic Zumpano, who makes his own Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, tomato jam, breads and more. Expanding the fan base, but seldom(…)

EAA AirVenture, the genius of Burt Rutan

Two wings. One fuselage. Propeller in front. Tail at back. I was content with my presumptions about airplanes in the 1970s, until Burt Rutan began messing with my head in Oshkosh. The newly retired California designer of eye-widening and award-winning aircraft earns a day of tribute July 28, at the annual Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture.(…)

Mount Horeb: home to trollway, tool museum

Trolls rule in Mount Horeb, a peculiar, creative and vibrant Dane County village of 7,000. The scruffy, impish troll carvings – happy-crazed-creepy in expression, dwarfs to giants in size – have defined and guarded the community since the 1970s. The first trolls were Norwegian imports. Then local wood carver Mike Feeney took over, commissioned by(…)

Devil’s Lake, Vilas Zoo, Taliesin at 100 years

Three major southern Wisconsin attractions this year reach the same milestone – 100 years of existence. Their centennial celebrations stretch through the summer. — Living at the 30-acre Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, are around 700 creatures that represent 170 species. These numbers are average for an accredited zoo, Director Jim Hubing says, but two facts(…)

Chambers Island: open for quiet exploration

Mysterious Chambers Island is a 45-minute boat ride from Door County’s Fish Creek, but most of us only see it from a distance and hear incidental references from excursion leaders or hiking guides. Now the historically private island, seven miles northwest of the mainland shore, has become more accessible for quiet exploration. The partnership of(…)

Color them cool: Walldogs to paint Plymouth

Who doesn’t want to leave their mark on the world before leaving it? Hundreds of strangers will do just that in Plymouth this month, and the community of 8,000 seems to welcome it. About 160 artists – billboard painters, graphic designers, portrait artists and more – from throughout the U.S., Canada and Germany will migrate(…)

Beloit gains Great American Main St. Award

The Facebook conversation begins in a neutral manner: “Heading to Beloit; seeking your input,” I write. “Head SouthWest – LOL,” responds a high school classmate, two minutes later. “Beloit. The sound a nickel makes when dropped into a bucket of water,” adds a friend in Illinois. “Gentlemen, your reactions are what I suspected. Hope to(…)

Newly noticed in, en route to Door County

I’m waterlogged from writing about lakefront destinations at least a half-dozen times this spring, at the request of magazine editors who know that many of us long for “a shore thing” when vacation time arrives. Much of what makes these getaways special are the little discoveries that pop up along the way, the detours we(…)

Native American tourism: beyond the casinos

When dinner arrives, my side dish of wild rice is enough to feed two. The grains are large, almost meaty in texture and slightly nutty in taste. The robust dish is a simple, buttery and meaningful connection to age-old times. I am eating lake-grown rice and told these fat grains are longer than those found(…)

Old World Wisconsin: How the gardens grow

May is a month of hope and faith for gardeners who begin with seeds or fragile stalks and dream of a cornucopia of color and food. A shady yard, brown thumbs and limited dedication challenge my own success, but even visions of spindly tomatoes and out-of-control perennials get me revved up during this time of(…)

Spider Lake Lodge: one classy fishing camp

Go fish, but when the angling ends as sun sets, a remote log lodge could be your finest catch of the day in Northwoods Wisconsin. The fishing season for many species opens May 7 on thousands of the state’s inland waterways. These include Big Spider Lake, the largest in a five-lake chain that is home(…)

Dandelion Fest: enemy weed to edible green

What does it take to turn your enemy into a friend? A May 7 visit to Wisconsin’s Holyland – the German-Catholic towns that dominate parts of Calumet and Fond du Lac counties – will help sort things out, if the subject is dandelions. Activities at the state’s only known Dandelion Festival aim to elevate respect(…)

Pinehurst Inn, Bayfield: Color it deep green

Listen to how Nancy Sandstrom torments herself. The topic is organic cotton sheets, and these are a few of the questions she contemplates: Where does the cotton come from? Who’s picking it, and how are these workers treated? How far are the raw materials, and the sheets, transported? How long will they last? What is(…)

al corso: fine dining in rural Wisconsin

I am chasing the sun as it turns the sky a moody rose-gray near twilight, zipping past farmland and swampland that are steeping in the waters of melted snow. Dam construction on Mud Creek during the 1960s ensures marshy terrain year-round. Sandhill cranes, herons, pheasants, bobolinks, osprey and many other birds like it this way.(…)

Tommy Bartlett’s Exploratory, love of science

It’s mid afternoon on a weekday, and for a while I have dozens of games, lessons and challenges all to myself. My greeter is a robot named Celsius, who is showing his age but not a lack of enthusiasm. Soon I am trying to tell time with a binary clock, then a clock of marbles.(…)