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Darling Hall

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Beer, brats and cheese. Blue-collar bars. Milwaukee is often described by natives and outsiders by such terms. This is our history and it is unique. Beer gave us taps on just about every corner in parts of our old city and many of these long-since abandoned bars are an architectural resource where reuse is providing a place for both cultural and commercial revitalization. The corner bars are often brick buildings with a large open space on the first floor and an apartment above. They make ideal workspaces, restaurant spaces, performance spaces, gallery spaces, corner food stores, and in some cases, they are still good bars. One example in Bay View is the incredible old Schlitz bar with the globe on the tower now occupied by Three Brothers restaurant. There is one old bar building on the southwest corner of 6th and Bruce, a block south of Conejito’s. The windows are curtained, but you may find a crack to peek in or a flyer pasted on the window promoting their next event. Otherwise, it just looks like so many other old abandoned bars and storefronts whose owners have not seen the light of creative reuse. But don’t judge this building by its ‘cover.’ If you peek in you will see a primitive stage set up and chairs for an audience. It is Darling Hall. On Saturday night December 4th, a young friend Micah said, “Hey, Vince, you like Dreamland Faces.” (It is a group, I confess, I am fanatical about.) “You should get one of these.” He’s holding a vinyl 45 put out by the group. “Ya, I got one, but I don’t have a record player,” I said. “Well, you should. It’s from your time.” (Me, a boomer.) “They’re playing at Darling Hall tonight. It’s a party. It’s a fashion show.” And I went and it was. The door charge was $4. Darling was comfortably full that evening. There was a table filled with cupcakes. It was a party after all. I sat in the second row. There was a short runway perpendicular to the stage. A twenty-something modish guy with large round, tinted glasses sat next to me. His eyewear made him look like a bug. He stared at me and my gray hair like I was a bug. Bugs got to sit in the second row. Dreamland Faces was in the orchestra pit. Well, they were on the floor near the stage. Tonight they had a Arianna on cello and Didier on ancient looking Chinese violin accompanying them. They, the Faces, are Karen on accordion and that night, also on trumpet. Andy played the saw and provided vocals, modified by his mini-megaphone. Some call them esoteric. I call them fantastic. But they were just the accompaniment that night, and they were perfect, and other musicians made them even more so. The curtain opened to a tableau of young women. It was a pajama party. The skits began. They posed. They pranced. They showed off their costumes. Oh my, matching polka dot undergarments. They feigned sexual poses and mocked media driven ideas of femaleness. They threw party gifts to the crowd. They were thin. They were round. They were real. Mostly, as Andy so excellently sang, “Girls just want to have fun.” There was the curtain opening on a party with a male dancer. You can imagine. People laughed. People applauded the skits. The curtain again, this time high fashion tableau. Ramp walking and posing. All great fun. It lasted an hour or so. Not too long to get boring. Move the chairs. The DJ starts to spin. Dance party begins. It’s Darling Hall, darling. A place to see and be seen. ~
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