Friday, August 21, 2009

Goodbye to Harlequin, my Beloved Cafe in the Third Ward

Today is the last day of Harlequin Cafe, Sanford D'Amato's bakery/coffee/tea shop in the Third Ward. I only learned of its demise because I went in a few days before to do some writing in their wi-fi equipped seating area. The store closes at 3, not the usual time of 4.

I don't really understand why it didn't catch on (oh, except perhaps it was hidden away in an office lobby). The bakery was among my favorite in the city. The croissants were heaven. The seven layer bars were seven times as good as I've had elsewhere. Their Rishi tea selection was superb, and I particularly liked their house specialty blend, which was infused with vanilla.

The food was great too. I'll miss their empanadas, their chicken pot pie, their barbecue pork and roast chicken sandwich. I brought home their breadsticks and their breadcrumbs. The stores got treats of maccaroons and cookies. I had rep meetings there, and used the space to work on Boswell's business plan.

The space was incredibly inviting, a sunny lobby with wifi and lots of outlets. The chairs were comfortable, and it wasn't too cramped. The lobby was a nice mix of classic and modern, with grand pillars mixed with paper globe pendant chandeliers.

I particularly enjoyed talking to Sarah, the manager. We shared a love of Top Chef (how shocking) and food gossip in general. I gave them a copy of Danny Meyer's Setting the Table, a wonderful foodie business manual whose hospitality message I hope I've taken to heart.

There's no question the Third Ward has a lot of cafe for the amount of traffic in the neighborhood. Despite walking traffic that is far less than my neighborhod on Downer Avenue, it continues to get new shops and restaurants while my neighborhood stagnates. These stores go in and out of business, and the ones that are open are often seemingly empty when I walk by. (Not all of course, the chain Anthopologie generally seems to have customers, as does Moda3, the skateboard/snowboardstreetwear shop. Oh, and Broadway Paper does a great job too.). And there are a good number of successful restaurants. But I know bustling restaurant/empty everything else dynamic, because I helped run a bookstore on the KK Triangle area of Bay View. But a bustling street? That would be four times a year on Gallery Night.

I feel the lure of the Third Ward myself, especially as we sell the textbooks for the nearby MIAD. But really, a lot of the momentum is because there is still so much developable space, both to the east (where new construction just started) and over the river to the south, in the Fifth traffic Ward/Walkers Point area, rife with warehouses on their way to become something else. And developers mean marketing money, which means hype, which breeds desire. I get it.

There's no question my block has bled retail and traffic to the Third Ward (and also Brady Street, and Farwell/North) for a number of years. Milwaukee's not exactly a growing market and that business has to come from somewhere. It was one of the things that made me nervous about the location. I'm going to be up front and say I haven't always been the biggest fan. But when I weighed all the options, this seemed like the best location for the store.

And so I still dream of a little bakery like Harlequin on Downer Avenue. We've got a great savory bakery in Breadsmith, but cupcakes and such? Not so much. Ah well, I wish all the folks well, and still look forward to eating at Coquette and for very special occasions, Sanford.

Thanks for all the wonderful food and memories, Harlequin. You will be missed!

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