I just read an article on JSOnline that successfully managed to blow out a couple of bricks from the sturdy wall I have carefully built against sentimentality and flood my mind with a rush of childhood memories. The last of the real department store restaurants in the Milwaukee area, The Cream City Café at the Southridge Boston Store, will shut its doors for the final time on Monday, March 4.
When I was but a wee lass, my Mother and Grandmother used to take me and my siblings to Gimbels--that's right, you heard me, Gimbels. On those nearly all-day excursions, we would go shopping and have lunch at the department store cafeteria. The waitresses would coo over me and call me sweetie. It was like being transported back in time and into an unfamiliar world where even the younger women still had their hair set weekly and every lunch ended with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, no matter what, because there's always room and time for pie.
While I am not a Milwaukee native, having been born and raised in the state capital of Madison, I have lived in this great city for more than seventeen years and I consider it to be my true home for many reasons. Chief among them is its dedication to remain honest to itself by carrying on with the traditions of the past that have long since died elsewhere. Bowling, polka, the Friday Fish Fry, the corner bar, ethnic festivals and celebrations, the Italian Community Center, the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center, the resurgence of Bronzeville--all of these things are what bind Milwaukee together, both for those whose can claim many generations of citizenship and for newcomers.
The tenacious, almost stubborn, and continued presence of department store restaurants and cafeterias well through the 1990's also made Milwaukee special. Long after they had all closed down in Madison, there still existed here the Goldmann's Department Store lunch counter, which sadly closed in 2007 after 111 years in business. Boston Store's Cream City Café served its largely retired and mature customers well as a comfortable, affordable restaurant and an important social spot, independent of the institutional senior centers that are now so prevalent, and it will be greatly missed.
As I stated earlier, I am not the type of the person who relishes sentiment, certainly not for its own sake, for there exist real truths in our shared past that are ugly and vile--truths that cannot be dismissed or whitewashed through maudlin reminiscing. But within that past live other truths as well--truths that are beautiful and kind--truths that we should not forget and, if we can, try to keep alive through recognizing and supporting those places of tradition that make Milwaukee its own unique self.
Goodbye, Cream City Café. The last cup of coffee and piece of pie are on me.
Post originally published by Milwaukee Specialty Food and Coffee