Lake Effect On-Site: Walker's Point
After a long hiatus, Lake Effect On-Site returns with a show at Anodyne Coffee in Walker's Point. In front of a live audience, Lake Effect's Joy Powers and Audrey Nowakowski explore the neighborhoods LGTBQ+ history, learn how Walker’s Point became the center of Latinx life in the city, look at the neighborhood’s foodie scene, and learn about Clock Shadow Creamery.
For decades, Walker's Point has been the center of gay life in Milwaukee. It's produced internationally-recognized drag performers and is home to most of the city's gay bars, including Walker's Pint, Wisconsin's last lesbian bar (and one of just 27 women-owned lesbian bars in the country).
The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project is dedicated to preserving this history. BJ Daniels and Diane "Legs" Gregory are both board members for the project. Gregory is a local performer and tour guide, who teaches people about Milwaukee's LGBTQ history. Daniels is a legendary, local drag queen and co-author of A History of Milwaukee Drag.
Daniels says that he was recruited to perform as Milwaukee’s drag scene was developing in the 1980s. Soon there were competing clubs featuring drag shows throughout Walker’s Point.
“Times were changing and people loved it…it had gone from being underground to being in this big club environment, and celebrated," Daniels remembers.
Gregory also remembers watching how LGBTQ culture in Walker’s Point developed from secret bars with boarded up windows to going mainstream.
"I think what ended up happening is what everybody wished for, we became assimilated ... I kind of miss our little secret club, to tell you the truth," says Gregory.
As Milwaukee LGBTQ+ culture was developing in Walker’s Point, the neighborhood was also becoming the center of Latinx culture in Milwaukee.
According to Gonzalez, since it was established in 1834, Walker’s Point has functioned as “Milwaukee’s Ellis Island,” meaning that it was the first landing spot for immigrant groups settling in Milwaukee.
“In the 1920s Mexican immigrant workers are recruited here for the exact same reason European immigrants had come here before them - they came here to work,” he explains.
Beginning in the 1960s, Walker’s Point has also been the heart of pan-Latino activism, from migrant farmworker unions and support for the grape boycott in the 1960s to Voces de la Frontera today.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, WUWM reporter Maayan Silver shares how the station is exploring the diversity of Milwaukee's Latinx and Hispanic community.
"There's such a rich tapestry of life in the Hispanic community in Milwaukee... you've got individuals from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, so many different places," says Silver.
WUWM's coverage will look at how different Hispanic communities make Milwaukee home through arts, activism, education, and of course, food.
That food is part of what's made Walker's Point one of Milwaukee's top foodie destinations. There are amazing restaurants and bars around every corner, as food writer Lori Fredrich can attest.
Fredrich is a dining writer for OnMilwaukee, and she's watched how Walker's Point has evolved into the foodie center of Milwaukee. She says that much of what we see in Walker's Point today started in the early 2000s with a few notable forerunners, like The Social.
"What [Chef Kevin Sloan] saw in Milwaukee is lots and lots of fine dining in 2001, but what was there for the middle ground? And so he looked at empty properties down South 2nd Street and said, 'Let's go there,'" says Fredrich.
Many more restaurants followed suit, including the many restaurants housed at Zocalo Food Truck Park. Co-founder Sean Phelan says that much like Chef Sloan, he and his partner Jesus Gonzalez were attracted to the area by a vacant property (in this case, a former used car lot) and the overall accessibility of the area.
Zocalo gives chefs a space to help launch their business by providing parking, bathrooms, seating, and access to energy.
"We brainstormed, [Jesus], myself, my wife: what are the things that are impediments? What makes life tough for a food truck? And so we just checked off those items on that list," says Phelan.
Since its founding, Zocalo has helped launch several restaurants, and continues to add more unique options to Walker's Point's foodie scene.
What better way to celebrate Wisconsin food than with cheese? When we think about cheesemaking, we tend to envision farms in rural areas literally churning out curds. But Walker’s Point is also home to the only cheese factory in the City of Milwaukee: Clock Shadow Creamery.
Cheesemaster Bob Wills founded the cheesemaking incubator in Walker’s Point in 2012. Wills had a unique journey to becoming a cheesemaker. After earning a law degree and a PhD in economics, Wills bought a family cheesemaking business (Cedar Grove Cheese) without knowing how to make cheese.
"I was fortunate to buy a cheese factory that's been around since 1878, and so I had really good teachers in the business," says Wills.
He wanted to share his love of cheese with the people of his hometown, Milwaukee. So he opened Clock Shadow Creamery, a cheesemaking incubator that gives space to people who are just starting out in the business.
"Every place should have a cheese factory... Frankly, I think it's a wonderful occupation and it was one that wasn't available in this community and so our ability to work with young people here and allow them to come in and learn the craft... to me that's my legacy," says Wills.