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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.