Leslie and I pulled into downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin with no idea what kind of place it would be. Really the only time I even think of Wisconsin is when I am singing the That 70’s Show theme song or never. I have found that this is the best way to travel. Have absolutely no idea what is around the next corner and you will always be satisfied! Of course you will also miss a lot, so it is good to have someone like my wife who makes a simple plan of what there is to do but never minds when we stray from it.
So we arrived in downtown and were once again surprised by the heartland. When you live in a major city on the East Coast you just assume everyone in the middle is spending their Friday nights at Applebee’s and following that up with a 12 pack in their recliner. This isn’t the right way to think, but when you are packed in like sardines paying $7 a beer you have to justify your life somehow. Eau Claire is cool. You like lofts? They have them. You like boutiques? They have those too. And they are GOOD boutiques. As fancy as any I have visited in Boston, New York, or London.
Our first stop was at Volume 1, the hipster rag much like the Weekly Dig in Boston or the Austin Chronicle in Austin. The cool thing was the people behind this magazine just opened an all-local merchandise boutique in the front of their headquarters! So we learned that Bon Iver was from the area and still visits often. Also, the people at Volume 1 made our visit a lot easier offering up advice on where to shop as well as where to eat and later on in the night we had multiple people ask us how we found the best places in Eau Claire…we said luck but we meant Volume1. From Volume 1, we headed down the river through a beautiful city park towards another section of downtown.
This area was more collegiate, and had a few more shops and a ton of bars…if there is one thing Wisconsin has it is a ton of bars.
We ended up at The Joynt, recommended by our new friends at Volume1. The Joynt was off the hook. We were greeted by a big, sweet black lab and a lot of smiling faces of all ages and styles. We pulled up to the bar next to a regular who later told Leslie he went to Hawaii 30 times…alone.
The bartender was super friendly which you wouldn’t expect if this bar was anywhere else in the world because this bar was the shit and the bar knew it. The Joynt was a perfect stopover back in the 70’s and 80’s when bands toured cross-country and the old owner of the bar made sure all of them stopped in Eau Claire and played shows for the 120 person capacity.
The owner’s girlfriend was an amazing photographer and lined the walls with huge portraits of all the stars. The bar was lined with vintage beer cans, most of which don’t even exist anymore and the best part was when we got our bill. My Maker’s on ice and Leslie’s pony of wine cost us a whopping $5.75. Total. We didn’t even take part of the Happy Hour which was $0.50 drafts and $3.75 pitchers, and this is on a Friday night at the coolest bar in town! Alcoholics come running!
After catching a quick buzz and exchanging contacts with our new friends we took a walk to Court’N House Bar & Grill for a famous Friday night Fish Fry in Wisconsin. This place was like something else out of a movie. It was warm, covered with wood walls and neon beer signs and had large groups of friends and family sharing stories and brews. Leslie and I ordered up some fish and chatted with the bartender about our road trip. We then caught a few games of Big Buck Hunter, watched the Celtics for a bit and called it a night. I have to say these small towns are growing on me…