Playboys at the Playhouse: A Winter Evening Downtown

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It was with the belief that a well-rounded man attends both sporting events and theater that initially prompted me to join my friend Matt in ordering season tickets to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, also known as The Rep.

I’ve certainly attended my fair share of sporting events, and in the last six seasons, I’ve come to really enjoy being a season ticket holder at The Rep. Now, five times a year, me and my group of friends–Matt dubbed us Playboys at the Playhouse–are drawn Downtown to be transported somewhere else entirely – sometimes 1960s America amid racial upheaval, sometimes its pre-Industrial Revolution England. Sometimes it’s to Green Bay to see the story of the Packers’ most legendary coach, other times it’s ancient Greece to hear a gladiator wax poetic about the Trojan War.

No matter where we’re going, I always look forward to it.

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Dinner at The Brass Alley

The night of each show, we meet at a restaurant within walking distance of The Rep. On this chilly January evening, we met at a newer place, the New Orleans-inspired Brass Alley.

As a big fan of creole cooking, I was excited to see if the former Bootleggers, on Old World Third Street, had been transformed into a passable facsimile of The Big Easy–The Brass Alley. The Brass Alley is operated by Wild Planet Hospitality Group, which also operates Red Rock Saloon, McGillycuddy’s, Red Lion Pub, Trocadero and Three Lions Pub. Upstairs is Evolution, the ping-pong bar which relocated from the Third Ward to Old World Third, also operated by Wild Planet.

They’ve worked to transform the space by giving it a bit of New Orleans character, turning the once large space into two separate rooms. The result is neither kitschy, nor authentic–a bit of a let down. We were seated in the large dining room beneath some eves meant to evoke Bourbon Street. It was moderately crowded on a Thursday night.

We chatted and ordered drinks. The beer list was okay, with a special on New Orleans’ Abita Brewing Company. The Bourbon Street Rye Pale Ale left a bit to be desired, but the Amber was pretty tasty.

The menu has moderately-priced sandwiches as well as more robust entree offerings like Crawfish Etouffee, Jambalaya and Crab Cakes.

I ordered the Fried Gulf Shrimp Po Boy with bacon fried frites. The three plump shrimp were paired with pickles and a tasty remoulade. The sandwich was pretty excellent. The bacon fried frites tasted exactly as advertised–fried in bacon fat–a neat trick, but a little much for a full plate of fries.

Overall, everyone seemed to enjoy their food. The Brass Alley is a convenient stop before a show at The Rep. Still, when I have a hankering for New Orleans-style food, I’m going to Maxie’s.

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“Of Mice and Men” at The Rep

Let me get this out of the way … The Rep is a Milwaukee treasure.

Each season, we see five shows in the Quadracci Powerhouse, one of three different stages at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Each season spans from fall through spring and begins with a musical–this year, it was “Dreamgirls.”

On this date, we’d be seeing “Of Mice and Men,” a play based on John Steinbeck’s legendary novel of the same name. I was eager to see how The Rep would bring life to this classic–a story of compassion, empathy, friendship and the power of having a dream.

We typically arrive about ten or fifteen minutes before showtime and find our seats in the second level, side-stage. For the five shows, these seats run us only about $80 for the full seasons, quite a deal and also a significant discount over purchasing single show tickets, which run north of $25 each. The theater, which seats 720 people, is typically about 80 percent full.

The first act was warm, with a pervasive sense of foreboding that may have been stronger due to my knowledge of the story. When I don’t know the story the play is telling, I do my best to avoid any info, preferring to see the play with fresh eyes.

After a 15 minute intermission where we chat about the play and the things going on in our lives, we returned to see what would become of Lenny and George’s dreams of a farm of their own. The cast was, as usual, excellent.

My advice … go to a play at The Rep and be transported wherever they take you. Marvel at the fact that we live in a place where we can see moving productions any night of the week for less than $30. Actors and actresses putting on soaring performances that have alternately made me laugh and moved me to tears, sometimes within a few lines.

A live production of a great story in an intimate theater is so much better than anything that is on television!

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Drinks at Newsroom Pub

Following the show, Mike and I headed across the street to Newsroom Pub, which we also visited during our ABCs of Milwaukee Dining quest.

Newsroom Pub is now owned and operated by Marcus, which purchased it and The Safe House very recently. When we arrived, post-show, at around 10-ish, there were a smattering of people in the bar and a singer set up in the corner playing some good tunes.

The historic bar features walls full of signatures of local and national celebrities. The beer list is decent, including both local and a few national craft beers, I opted for a Green Flash Hop Head Red Double IPA in a bottle.

I think Newsroom, while not a great culinary destination, is the perfect place to stop for a drink, post-play. It was a great nightcap to a fun evening, all within about five blocks in downtown Milwaukee.

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