Tucked away on Milwaukee’s East Side, Brady Street beckons those with a predilection for drinking Wisconsin microbrews and thrifting for quirky treasures. With its offbeat counter-culture, Brady Street is as close as Milwaukee gets to bohemia.
From Marquette, it takes just a 20 minute bus ride on the 30 line to enter this trendy stretch. A short walk from the bus stop, the entrance to the famed Brady Street shopping area appears. It is marked by the neon red lights of The Exclusive Company, where you can find CDs, vinyl and music-wares both new and old.
But beyond the record store, past the gaggle of soccer fans who spill out of the Nomad World Pub, it is impossible to miss Annie’s 2nd Hand Chic, just off of Brady Street.
Like many of the vintage wares it sells, the shop’s storefront makes a statement. With a bright striped and polka-dot exterior sandwiched between beige residential facades, Annie’s is a pop of unconventionality.
The vintage boutique was opened by owner Ann Tilque nine years ago. Tilque works behind the counter of the shop, looking appropriately fashionable in vintage attire and glasses. With a lifelong interest in sewing and fashion, Tilque works to give the shop its own vibe.
“Customers tell me (the shop) feels like a cross between a Haight-Ashbury street shop in San Francisco and a store in Soho in New York,” Tilque said.
On a sunny afternoon, the sidewalk in front of the store is festooned with clothes and accessories cascading from the storefront. The bright red door stands open to show the smorgasbord interior, where racks of classic blazers and boots along stand next to vintage dresses and kitschy sweaters. Annie’s has stock that varies in both price and outlandishness, including religious iconography, vintage jewelry, Halloween costume attire and racks of both men and women’s clothes.
Tilque gets the old wares from estate sales, rummages and patrons who come to the shop. She says she pays special attention to the quality of fabrics and an item’s potential to be transformed for a modern wardrobe.
“I love when people make their own style out of the clothes,” Tilque said. “(Annie’s 2nd Hand Chic) is full of a lot of one-of-a-kind clothes. It’s perfect if you like to dig to find something great.”
While there are several other vintage shops on Brady Street – including Dragonfly Vintage Goods and Greenfields Trading Company – Brady Street is also home to some renowned coffee and tea shops.
Rochambo Coffee and Tea House is a Brady Street landmark. Entering their 17th year of operation, shop owners Melissa and Mike Honkamp are self-proclaimed “purveyors of ancient pleasures, serving the underbelly for the greater good.”
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate student Jorian Giorno has been a barista at Rochambo for three years.
“Some people think of (the shop) as a little taste of Europe,” Giorno said. “It’s a little like Amsterdam.”
Rochambo provides customers with organic coffee, more than 50 types of tea and a selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks. It serves several unique concoctions in an equally unique atmosphere that is hipster-friendly and still manages to feel bright and inviting.
Matt Peters, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences and a Rochambo barista, said the part he enjoys most about working at the shop is the character of Brady Street.
“I really like the customers, especially the regulars. They come from all different backgrounds,” Peters said. “You meet a lot of people who come through. That’s the kind of place (Rochambo) is. It’s informal and relaxed; you get to know people.”
Across the street from Rochambo is another Brady street favorite, the Hi Hat. The restaurant and bar is separated into two distinct atmospheres by a courtyard: the Hi Hat Lounge, which is decorated with mood lighting and nostalgic dark wood panels, while the Hi Hat Garage has a hip, casual feel and makes a statement with trees emerging from the walls.
“If you’re on a first date, I say go to the Hi Hat Lounge,” said Jack Teich, a bartender and server at the Hi Hat Garage. “If you’re on a second date, I say bring her into the Garage.”
Teich describes the Hi Hat as “the kind of bar that has a little bit of everything – great food, great drinks, great atmosphere.” The Garage is known for its beer, with popular specials like a five dollar liter mug and “Dollar Mystery Beers.”
“You get a brown paper bag with a beer in it for a dollar, and you don’t know what it is,” Teich explained. “We don’t even know what it is until you pull it out.”
On the other side of the courtyard, the Hi Hat Lounge serves up some old-school classiness along with its original mixed beverages.
“I think people come here for the experience and they stay for our specialty drinks,” said bartender Vincent DiMatteo. DiMatteo recommends the Hi Hat’s Moscow Mule, made of ginger beer, lime juice and vodka, and the Bourbon Sour, which is creamy due to its unusual ingredient, egg whites.
The two bars give two very different feels and caters to two very different experiences. However, they embody what Brady Street is about: creating an environment where everybody can find something they want, and all types can thrive.
As day becomes night on the weekend, Brady Street fills with people from all walks of life. Some head to dinner or out for frozen yogurt; others go straight to the bars. Some are in formal dresses and button-downs, while others wear flip-flops and T-shirts. There is even the occasional eccentric costume. But from the mustachioed older man heading to the smoke shop for his cigars to the lanky youth with the same facial hair but a very different outlook, the people of Brady Street are undoubtedly what give the businesses true character.
The shop owners don’t fail to credit their customers. Most agree that the diversity of people is what gives this street its role as the land of the cool and the home of the weird. Giorno described Brady Street as “a microcosm of the universe.”
“Well, maybe I wouldn’t go so far as the universe,” he said, reconsidering. “But there are some aliens out there.”