When I booked my journey to the little city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I principally considered cheese curds. And beer. The state, fondly often known as America’s Dairyland, is legendary for these incredible homegrown merchandise (in addition to copious quantities of grassy farmland). However, Eau Claire sets itself aside as an artist incubator with an revolutionary foodie scene, all set in opposition to the backdrop of a Hallmark film.
Eau Claire was a metropolis I wasn’t anticipating, particularly contemplating the uneventful drive from Minneapolis—tall concrete buildings gave solution to lush inexperienced pastures with small farms scattered all through. Loan billboards supplied advert area, out there for buy. The bridge throughout St. Croix River offered a break from the greenery and teased of the numerous bridges I’d quickly discover in Eau Claire.
As we neared town, I may sense a shift within the air. The quiet of the nation highway gently rose to the sounds of flowing water from the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers that converge downtown. The scattered farms turned to clusters of homes earlier than lastly making manner for the city’s city coronary heart.
All round city are reminders that that is an innovation hub from inventive sculptures to Vietnamese food vehicles to employee-owned grocery shops and artisan markets. Forage is an area for native food creators to develop their concepts, whereas Wonders of Nature ensures CBD will get to those that want it. The extra time you spend within the little metropolis, the extra it appears as if each enterprise is interconnected, every sourcing from the others. It didn’t take lengthy to grasp that Eau Claire is a thriving city, with greater than its justifiable share of mom-and-pop boutique retailers. Ramone’s, a classic ice cream parlor with native craft sodas, malts, ice cream, and pie, was a private favourite. With gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and vegan choices, the parlor ensures each customer can have a candy deal with.
Lucky for these of us who aren’t as geographically savvy, Eau Claire’s streets are moderately straightforward to navigate with grid-like layouts and simply recognizable constructions. With greater than a dozen bridges, Eau Claire’s nickname is the City of Bridges. From historic wood bridges relationship again to 1889 to trendy cable constructions, there appears to be a whimsical river crossing in each nook—a wonderful solution to expertise the water and the outside.
The Oxbow Hotel in the midst of city is a perfect place to begin to any Eau Claire getaway. Giant lettering on the entrance permits for simple sighting should you occur to get misplaced, although Google Maps could also be simply as handy.
Oxbow treats its friends to all the standard choices of a standard lodge—complimentary wifi, espresso and tea, and onsite parking—however that is the place the similarities finish. However, that’s the place Oxbow’s resemblance to a traditional lodge ends. Built in 1947 and renovated in 2016, the Oxbow has an intimate artist cabin vibe, with native artwork hanging on the partitions and cedarwood furnishings made out of close by timber. Details just like the file gamers within the rooms and the upscale toiletries stood out, subtly elevating a visitor’s expertise.
The property’s artist residency program and the packing containers of vinyl data prepared for checkout are proof of the lodge’s function in nurturing native expertise. It’s no marvel, as one of many co-owners of the Oxbow Hotel is none apart from Eau Claire native and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon.
The Grammy winner nonetheless lives in Eau Claire, and whereas I didn’t catch a glimpse of him throughout my journey, his affect in town is obvious in each little and massive methods. For instance, Vernon hosts a two-day artwork and music pageant known as Eaux Claires within the summers, drawing 20,000 festival-goers from across the nation. In 2022, he’s bringing the pageant downtown. He was additionally a outstanding supporter and donor for the $60 million Pablo Center, a contemporary arts venue that gives a stage to rising artists.
It was solely becoming that I borrowed one of many Bon Iver vinyl data from the entrance desk and performed it in my room to get the total expertise, a melancholy soundtrack of nostalgia to my in any other case upbeat journey.
The city itself is trendy and revolutionary, as seen by the inventive ideas that flourish as viable companies. The foodie scene is not any exception, with an emphasis on farm-to-table.
The Lakely, hooked up to the Oxbow, serves up a domestically sourced, seasonal menu—traditional Midwestern dishes with a creative twist. At every desk was a be aware: Tipping at The Lakely is not anticipated. Menu pricing had been adjusted for the reason that pandemic started, and restaurant employees would now be paid above minimal wage. It’s not simply on the Lakely both. Multiple eating places round city have this no-tipping normal.
The most memorable dish on the Lakely’s menu was the Koldtbord, a charcuterie-like, build-your-own board together with your selection of a dozen Scandinavian meats, cheeses, and different meals. Thankfully, this dish is a staple on the menu and doesn’t change with the seasons. I normally gravitate towards clear spirits for alcoholic drinks, however my waiter insisted I order a Wisconsin Old Fashioned, and thus I did.
This cocktail is not like every other you’ll discover within the United States. Usually, an Old Fashioned consists of bourbon, sugar, bitters, and an orange twist. However, once you order a Wisconsin Old Fashioned, you’re met with brandy and a splash of 7-Up, squirt soda, or a mixture of 7-Up and membership soda.
As the unofficial state cocktail, the Wisconsin Old Fashioned has a special taste at virtually each bar. It’s additionally the drink to strive should you’re within the state.
Not removed from my lodge was the brightly lit Haymarket Plaza pedestrian bridge. You may spot the romantic arches from far off within the distance, because of a whole bunch of LED lights throughout the bridge.
I went for a stroll over to the Haymarket bridge one night. Leaning over the sting to observe the watery reflections on the darkish Chippewa river, I may virtually think about myself as the primary character of a Hallmark film, prepared to maneuver to Eau Claire to revive the household bakery. All I wanted was some snow. And a bakery. Of course, the fantasy ended once I obtained to Haymarket Plaza on the opposite finish of the bridge. Instagrammable artwork installations jogged my memory that this metropolis may be very a lot consistent with the instances.
These installations are a part of the U.S.’s second-largest outdoor sculpture tour (the most important being in Sioux Falls). However, rumor has it that with an addition of 20 extra sculptures from native artists, Eau Claire will likely be stealing the title of largest outside sculpture tour this 12 months.
“When it involves bars, you title it, Eau Claire’s obtained it. ”
One of my favourite methods to expertise the native tradition is thru the cafes, the place eavesdropping is much less conspicuous and information passes by like water within the Chippewa River. Eau Claire has its justifiable share of those various gathering locations for each locals and vacationers alike. Eau Claire Downtown Coffee (ECDC—sure, a nod to the band AC/DC) serves quite a lot of caffeinated drinks together with huge breakfast burritos and pleasant macarons.
And that cleverly named espresso spot is just not the city’s solely manner of showcasing its love of music. Revival Records, an indie file retailer that has thrived amid the pandemic, is one other Eau Claire staple. I watched in awe as dozens of file aficionados lined up outdoors hours earlier than retailer opening on National Record Store Day to snag limited-edition vinyl. The retailer holds a formidable assortment of data, particularly for a small Midwest city. Perhaps my Hallmark film would come with a file store slightly than a bakery.
Don’t be fooled by the revolutionary streak that runs by Eau Claire although: simply past town’s outskirts are traditional Midwest farms that remind you you’re nonetheless in Wisconsin.
The native restaurant group is massive on figuring out the place their food is sourced. I witnessed this primary hand as I attended a catered lunch by Farm Table Foundation at Together Farms, simply 35 minutes outdoors of Eau Claire. Together Farms is the place the socially-conscious meat-eaters hang around.
In true Wisconsin model, I related with my inside farmgirl, feeding piglets that roamed on the land and having fun with a jostling tractor experience across the 160-acre farm. I used to be shocked to listen to proprietor Stephanie Schnieder share her journey with the symbiotic food chain, intensive rotational feeding, and the significance of meat raised proper. Her ardour for her farm wasn’t simply in regards to the animals however a few more healthy, extra sustainable planet.
This sort of intentionality is infused into each a part of Eau Claire tradition. So is alcohol. Every few steps, you’ll go a bar with a unusual persona. The Fire House, a craft beer bar, has made its dwelling in an previous firehouse. The Grand Illusion is an old school pub with completely, strictly no TVs. Dive offers locals and vacationers a retro ambiance alongside impeccable cocktails, and The Joynt lets patrons discover their (cash-only) manner amongst mismatched decor, ridiculously low-cost beer, and eccentric paintings. When it involves bars, you title it, Eau Claire’s obtained it. Looking for dwell music? That received’t be arduous both, as native bands play throughout city on any given evening.
Visitors can additional expertise the hoppy persona of Eau Claire in its thriving indie breweries discovered all around the metropolis. I ended by the Brewing Projekt, one in every of 8 craft breweries on the town. Of course, I used to be conversant in seeing canines on this setting, however the households shocked me. Beer tradition is so deeply ingrained in Wisconsin households that consuming round kids is normalized in a manner I hadn’t seen earlier than. In reality, underage kids can purchase or devour alcohol in Wisconsin so long as they’re with a mother or father, guardian, or partner of authorized consuming age.
If you’re an indecisive beer drinker like me, go for a flight of their funky flavors. I selected to check out a flight of inventive, colourful beers. I attempted a stout with milk sugar, raspberry, and cacao nibs (Ssslurppp: Chocolate Raspberry), an imperial stout with milk sugar, cinnamon, pecans, salted caramel, and butter pecans (Sticky Icky), and a Gose-style ale with pineapple, mango, and sea salt (Storm Tide). These have been only a few quirky taste pairings, with others incorporating inexperienced tea, lemongrass, marshmallow, and extra. I came upon later that generally there are even food vehicles on the brewery. From the highest deck of the Brewing Projekt, I may hint the Chippewa River Water Trail, the place folks have been tubing lazily down the river.
Stay on the water lengthy sufficient, and also you’ll be shocked by the sundown because it casts its reflection throughout the river. Stay within the metropolis lengthy sufficient, and also you’re certain to listen to that Eau Claire means clear water in French.
Less water-inclined? Try your hand at a sport of Kubb. Not fairly certain what Kubb is? Neither was I earlier than visiting Eau Claire, the Kubb Capital of North America. Kubb, pronounced coob and also referred to as Viking chess, is a Scandinavian yard sport that consists of knocking wood blocks down for factors. Legend says that Vikings used to play the sport with skulls and femurs of their enemy!
“Eau Claire is as beginner-friendly because it will get with trails, with 30 miles of biking paths throughout town.”
Visit on the proper time (particularly in July), and also you’ll end up amongst a whole bunch of Kubb lovers. Eau Claire has been internet hosting the annual U.S. National Kubb Championship since 2007, the second-largest Kubb event on the earth.
On my final day in Eau Claire, I borrowed one of many lodge’s bikes and took a experience down the road. I needed to see what was on the outskirts of city.
Eau Claire is as beginner-friendly because it will get with trails, with 30 miles of biking paths throughout town. Wide trails, constructed for walking or biking, take you proper by the river and below the identical bridges that gentle up at evening. As somebody who doesn’t normally bike, I used to be initially intimidated, however I quickly hit my stride as I explored the outskirts.
I handed all of the shops I’d grown conversant in over the previous few days and all of the artwork murals bedecking the buildings all through downtown. All the purple brick buildings slowly morphed into Victorian-style homes that earned their spot on the National Register of Historic Places, a mild reminder that town hadn’t at all times been so youthful.
As I made my manner again, I noticed one more thriving and eclectic storefront: SHIFT Cyclery and Coffee Bar, a specialty espresso and bike store combo. Next time, I’ll be stopping in that cafe, possibly within the winter, possibly with some snow.
STAY: The Oxbow Hotel
EAT: Girolamo’s Court’n House Bar & Grill
SEE: Leinenkugel Family Brewery