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The 'Hooligans' History Tour of the East Side

Off the Cuff with walking tour leader Jeff Winkowski

Apr. 18, 2017
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Jeff Winkowski

Jeff Winkowski is one of those faces that pops up across Milwaukee’s East Side and any other part of town where something grassroots and bohemian is happening. First surfacing in the ’90s punk scene, Winkowski brought the positive aspects of that movement into all facets of his life as a musician, writer, restaurant cook and, now, organizer of a guided walking tour of the East North Avenue neighborhood he calls “History, Hooligans and Hardcore.” Off the Cuff spoke with Winkowski in his kitchen, where he was cooking up a wonderful batch of vegetarian poutine.

The tour is kind of focused around your experience of the East Side in the ’90s?

It was a time when we had the Oriental Drugstore, the Globe [rock club], Sweet Doomed Angel [hip vintage clothing shop] and Earwaves [hip record store]. Many things are not there anymore. Visualizing memories is similar to having faith—having vision beyond what is visible.

Some of the facades that have gone up on East North Avenue and Farwell since then will look horrible in a few years. Some of the neighborhood’s architectural integrity has been lost.

Has everything gone downhill?

I’m not against Whole Foods and I’m happy for the artists who were commissioned to paint Black Cat Alley—but that alley once had a genuinely seedy element. Graffiti artists were doing their work in the alley back then.

There was something organic about that part of the East Side that’s missing now. Will it return?

Most likely it won’t happen again in that neighborhood but it will happen somewhere else.

Walk me through the “History, Hooligans and Hardcore” tour.

It begins at the Water Tower [the eastern terminus of North Avenue]—I’ll go over the history of the riots that happened there in the ’70s. We’ll walk past Villa Terrace and tour inside the historic and often overlooked Seventh-day Adventist Church, which used to give out free vegetarian meals. Next, a mansion nearby that has become a living and display space for artists. We’ll walk down Kenilworth to Black Cat Alley and through there to Ivanhoe. I’ll be telling stories all along and showing photographs—I’ll have a photo album with me, old school. We’ll pass the Oriental Theatre, pass the site of Sweet Doomed Angel and pilgrimage south on Farwell to the old Earwaves turned Bullseye Records. Last stop will be Blooming Lotus Bakery, where we’ll have coffee and hang out. Blooming Lotus is an example of a place that can still happen when someone has a dream.

So what’s the take-away from this tour?

I don’t just want to look at what we’ve lost but I want to help people think about how to make what we have sustainable. Do we want to have a culture that stands up for itself and what’s right? Do we want to be literate, in conversation in real time with each other?

Looking back at the punk rock East Side of the ’90s, do you see a model for dealing with the situation we’re in today?

Looking back reminds me that we need an alternative left where music, architecture and art are crucial parts of a movement for social change. You remember those great shows where kids from different races and creeds filled the floor, shaking their asses together? We can change the world through kids dancing together as much as through any protest march.

“History, Hooligans and Hardcore” starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 22 at Water Tower Park. Admission is $20 in advance or at the event. Admission includes a neighborhood map (suitable for framing) by local artist Erik Frankhouse and a copy of Winkowski’s book on his experiences while living in the long-gone bohemian block called Sydney High, Get HiH: A Pilgrim’s Progress from the Streets of Old Milwaukee to Paradise City. For more information, visit Tumblr @posijeff.


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