Tag Archives: coffee shop

Coast-to-Coffice: Colectivo Fifth Ward

Coast-to-Coffice: Colectivo Fifth Ward

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Sharing space with other commercial enterprises, Colectivo‘s Fifth Ward location upcycles a discarded building into a cool coffeehouse that pays homage to the past.  The Foundry café, in Milwaukee’s emerging Fifth Ward neighborhood, is housed in the former Kramer International foundry.

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When Milwaukee was first settled, the Fifth Ward encompassed the area south of the Fourth Ward, between the Milwaukee River and First Avenue.  Over time, that area was absorbed into Walker’s Point.  Unfortunately, as the years went by, Walker’s Point became associated with crime and pollution.  Interest in historic preservation and a desire to make the Fifth Ward more appealing prompted the re-adoption of the name.  Interestingly, Colectivo (which was then Alterra) began roasting on the fifth floor of a warehouse in Walker’s Point.

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The Kramer International foundry produced non-ferrous and ferrous products for pump manufacturers.  The café honors that manufacturing tradition and history with its post-industrial design.

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As with all the Colectivo shops, everything is baked fresh every day at the Bay View location.  They source from local farms as much as possible, and they also partner with other Wisconsin food producers.  Wi-Fi is free, although it does ask you to re-accept the usage agreement after a couple of hours.

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The Fifth Ward location – with its friendly baristas, funky ambiance, reliable Wi-Fi, and range of great beverages and food – is an eccentric yet cozy place to be productive.

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Coast-to-Coffice: Colectivo Lakefront

Coast-to-Coffice: Colectivo Lakefront

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I’ve been sharing my coffices for a while now, but I’ve decided to formalize my reviews under a “Coast-to-Coffice” column.  My focus will be on locally owned, small business establishments, rather than the chains (although I enjoy working at Starbucks on occasion, too).  I’ve also added a page to the blog devoted to coffices.  That way, anyone who might be looking for a place to work and get to know a community while enjoying awesome beverages (and yummy eats) can check out where we’ve been.

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Colectivo Coffee began its life in Milwaukee as Alterra Coffee in 1993.   After years of building the business locally, Alterra attracted national attention, and the company sold its name and certain artistic assets to Mars Drinks.  They ultimately gave up their connection with Mars and renamed themselves Colectivo, a name which was “inspired by the artful and funky buses used for public transportation across Latin America, ‘colectivos’ (co-lec-TEE-vo), and the iconic part of everyday life they represent for everyday people”.  There are 12 cafes in the state, eight of which are in Milwaukee and its suburbs.

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The Lakefront location is across from McKinley Marina in the historic Milwaukee River Flushing Station which was built in 1888.  The Flushing Station’s purpose was to flush out pollution by pumping fresh water from Lake Michigan into the Milwaukee River. The cafe inhabits two-thirds of the building, and the flushing pump, which is still functioning, takes up the remaining third.

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My first reaction to learning that the coffee shop was in an old flushing station was, “Eww!”  A collaboration between a food and beverage company and the Milwaukee Metropolian Sewerage District seems kind of gross.  But, when you visit, all the nasty images are replaced by the quirky look and cool vibe Colectivo has created, not to mention the living museum quality of the flushing station elements.

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Colectivo’s Lakefront location goes beyond creating a sort of living history to include environmentally-friendly features.  There’s apparently a wetland garden that captures and filters parking lot runoff, although we couldn’t see it while we were there in late November.  And, supposedly plants on the grounds are irritgated by rainfall from the roof that’s routed into barrels.  The three levels of the cafe are made from recycled materials like wood decking from an old soap factory, brick and steel recovered from pre-existing buildings, and salvaged pump room wood.

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But what about the coffee?  The coffee is excellent, likely a result of the long-term farmer and co-op partnerships Colectivo has developed over the years. Colectivo also offers Letterbox Fine Teas, a hand-selected line of teas.  And the food’s pretty good, too.  Like the coffee, prices are reasonable.  Everything is baked fresh every day at the Bay View location.  They source from local farms as much as possible, and they also partner with other Wisconsin food producers.  Wi-Fi is free, although it does ask you to re-accept the usage agreement after a couple of hours.

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Every summer, the Lakefront location is also host to the Florentine Opera and Musica del Lago outdoor music series.  It’ll be fun to check that out when we’re here in the warm weather.

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Local flavor

Local flavor

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Being a freelancer can be isolating.  Being a mobile freelancer, who’s generally never in one place more than a week, can become a sort of solitary confinement.  Getting out in the world helps a lot, so I frequently do my work over a cup of coffee (or tea) at a place with free Wi-Fi.  Starbucks and McDonald’s are always reliable options.  The hustle and bustle is energizing, and catching snippets of conversation makes you feel a bit like you’re in on the office gossip.  But their homogeny strips a town of its uniqueness.

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Our stays are so short that I don’t have much of an opportunity to get the flavor of the communities we’re in.  So I seek out local coffee shops as much as possible.  At these small businesses, it will likely be the owner that’s taking your order and handing over your latte.  Patronizing these kinds of places means my dollars are helping that community thrive while I’m getting my work done.  The other customers and their conversation, sometimes their accents, gives me a sense of the character of the area.

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Even the coffee selections are representative, like the Maple Latte at Black Cap Coffee in Stowe, Vermont.  The steamy drink is made with real Vermont maple syrup along with espresso and milk, and it’s delicious.  So is the broccoli and cheese quiche – with the most broccoli and the least cheese I’ve had yet – and the spicy black bean soup.  Working at Black Cap was one of my favorite parts of our visit to Vermont, and I’m looking forward to finding other local treasures like it as we continue on our motorhoming escapade.

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