August 11, 2010

Adventure on a Tuesday night

Who says you can't have an adventure on a random Tuesday evening in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA?  Not I, Blog.  On this random Tuesday we travelled back in time and steeped ourselves in some gemutlichkeit, simultaneously!

Gemutlichkeit is the German word for friendliness and congeniality, and a quality traditionally expressed in our city's spirit of welcome and celebration.  English translation:  Milwaukee = party town. 

We found gemutlichkeit in abundance at a cozy spot called Best Place, located in the historic Pabst Brewery district.  This establishment was opened last year in the completely renovated former Blue Ribbon Hall, which was once the corporate offices of the Brewery and before that, Jefferson School (the oldest standing school building in Milwaukee).  It was built in 1858.

So yes, we were transported to the intensely German atmosphere of the Pabst Brewery, started by Jacob Best in 1844 and America's largest brewery until 1946.  Alas, the brewery closed in 1996, but it can't be denied that the spirit of German brewing lives on in Milwaukee, the city that beer made famous.  Best Place (named after brewer founder Jacob) features German and beer themed decor, stained glass, chairs marked with the Pabst script "P," and a painted fresco that explains the entire process of producing beer.  The courtyard houses a bronze statue of Captain Frederick Pabst, who married into the family and gave the brewery its name.  In short, it's a lovely old place full of Old World charm, and the perfect spot for enjoying some cold brews on a summer night.

But wait, Blog--lest you think that's all I have to say about time travel, there's more.  Our visit was prompted by the opportunity to see a local big band called the Mood Swing Orchestra perform a free two-hour rehearsal.  Was it 1858 or 1946?  Listening to fantastic old hits like "Brazil," "Satin Doll," and "How High the Moon," we were transported to the ballroom days when folks like my parents put on their dancing duds and foxtrotted to the music of the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Harry James and their ilk.

The band members looked to range in age from 25 to 80, which was awesome and magical in itself.  And dancing to their music were tots of five and couples of 85.  We especially enjoyed an elderly couple cutting a rug with unmatched enthusiasm and more energy than I had on this muggy night!  I imagined the woman 60 years ago, pretty and young and perhaps dancing to celebrate the end of World War II, and reminded myself that inside her head she is still just that young.

Wow, Blog--what a night!

It's sad to see change, to watch treasured institutions come and go, friends grow old and pass on.  But what comforts me is things like Best Place and the Mood Swing Orchestra, ways in which we humans seek to preserve our history and keep the spirit of our past culture alive for new generations to enjoy.  I'll drink to that.

So here's some video I took of the band's first number, my personal fave, Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."  Pour yourself a good German beer, close your eyes, and listen.  Is it 1946...or a random Tuesday in 2010?


  1. Well, that was a fun trip back in time. Makes me wonder if the Million Dollar Ballroom is still standing. That's where my parents went to swing dance when they were dating in the early forties.

  2. I was always envious of those ballroom dance days, Eileen. It was fun watching the old folks and I wished I could have talked to all of them about their dancing experiences when Big Band was the rage.

  3. It's the "Best Place" in Milwaukee for a great experience.