Romancing State Street

Recent Milwaukee transplant Robert Leschke finds his home in our cultural core.

Recent Milwaukee transplant Robert Leschke finds his home in our cultural core.

A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with my boyfriend at the Orpheum. He works downtown, so occasionally we get together for a bite somewhere close by. “What are you going to do with the rest of this beautiful day?”, he asked

Just over a year ago, I relocated to Madison. After 18 years in Milwaukee, I pulled up my roots and transplanted them to the near east side. The hardest thing about that move was saying goodbye to familiar places. But every goodbye offers the chance for new greetings. I was excited by the prospect of finding new favorites. My journey would find me initially in those first few weeks tentatively exploring close to home. The warm summer air made it easy to walk the half mile downtown to State Street.

One of the first places I went when I moved here was the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The towering Cesar Pelli glass encased stairway jutting out onto State St. soaked up the sun and begged me to walk inside. With free admission, summer movies on the roof, and the chic Fresco restaurant perched at the top, I knew MMOCA would become my new escape from the bustling traffic at State and Johnson.

Just a block away was A Room of One’s Own, a feminist and pro LGBT bookseller that’s locally owned and operated. I found the same bestsellers as well as a rich selection of styles that goes beyond a mainstream store.

From there, my boyfriend steered me to a small storefront restaurant called Himal Chuli. I had never eaten Nepalese food before, but after some roti and a cup of dal, I was hooked. While waiting for our take out lunch, we poped over to Pop Deluxe and browsed unique one-of-a-kind cards and accessories for any occasion.

No afternoon on State St. is complete without a relaxing stop at any of Madison’s Free Trade coffeeshops. I considered kibbutzing with hipsters at Steep and Brew or just perusing a copy of Our Lives at Michaelangelo’s while sipping a beverage made with conscience.

Flash forward again to lunch with my boyfriend. Sitting at the beautiful Orpheum, I contemplated his question. How would I spend the rest of this beautiful day? Since moving here I have come to call those few blocks of State St. closest to the capital one of my favorite places. I might stop in at MMoCA. Because of those first weeks, I took a job as a volunteer there. I get in depth education about art and the new exhibits, then provide tours to share that same excitement and love that I have for contemporary art with others. I might sit at a coffee shop because since those first weeks, I purchased a laptop computer to encourage me to write more and be more creative. I might pop into Room to see what’s on this month’s bestseller list because since those first weeks, I made a pact with myself to purchase all of my books through my local pro LGBT bookseller to do my part in helping them stay afloat. I might do a bit of shopping at Pop Deluxe or any of the diverse local vendors on these first few blocks. Full from lunch though, I’ll have to skip Himal Chuli today. It does, however, remind me of the importance of trying new things. There’s always room for new favorites.