Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part VI From La Crosse: Atop Grandad Bluff March 30, 2017

Driving toward the landmark Grandad Bluff from downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. The 600-foot high bluff towers in the distance.

 

THE BRISK MARCH AFTERNOON WIND did not lend itself to standing atop a bluff. So I thought. I pulled on my hand-knit stocking cap, buttoned my wool coat, wrapped a plaid scarf around my neck and tucked my hands inside gloves. I was ready to face the fierce winter wind of Wisconsin.

 

The view of La Crosse from this bluff is stunning.

 

But I needn’t have concerned myself about the cold. Exiting the van in Grandad Bluff Park, I found the air still, no brutal wind slapping my skin as it had along the Mississippi River in downtown La Crosse. We—my husband, second daughter and her husband—were all surprised. We expected uncomfortable temps that would send us scurrying back to the van shortly. Rather, we found this spot 600 feet above the city to be calm. How could that be? I still have not figured it out.

 

 

 

 

The city’s landmark Grandad Bluff—the highest bluff in the La Crosse area with views of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa—teemed with visitors.

 

 

My son-in-law John photographs my husband, Randy, and daughter Miranda.

 

 

A haze hung over the distant landscape as I surveyed the scene of gridded streets, buildings exposed by naked trees, slips of water tracing through the land, distant river valley bluffs rising.

 

Peering through binoculars at the scene below.

 

It took me awhile to assimilate, to edge near the solid fencing overlooking the city. I am a flatlander, an embracer of prairie and horizontal lines, not at all a fan of heights.

 

I walked part way to the second scenic outlook point before turning back.

 

But with my camera for comfort, I could view the scene far below. For awhile.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

Several signs provide background history on the bluff and surrounding area.

 

A flag flies atop the bluff.

 

Nearing the top of the bluff, you’ll pass by the Apline Inn Bar & Grill, a long-time La Crosse establishment. I need to check this out.

 

FYI: This concludes my six-part “From La Crosse” series.

Click here to view a story and photos from an October 2015 visit to Grandad Bluff. Autumn is an absolutely beautiful time to view the river valley from this scenic overlook.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Part V from La Crosse: A final look at downtown March 29, 2017

 

IN ONE FINAL PHOTO sweep through downtown La Crosse, I present a collage of images.

 

 

I am drawn to signs and architecture, to distinct characteristics which define a town’s personality.

 

 

 

 

La Crosse is a river town, storied in history. You can see that in the aged buildings which flank streets that bend, like the Mississippi River. History holds a place of honor within this downtown.

 

 

 

 

Yet, this Wisconsin city is not stodgy, existing only in the past. Rather, La Crosse is like a sometimes flamboyant relative claiming attention with loud colors and signs and messages. I doubt I’ve ever seen more vivid and unique signage in a small Midwestern city.

 

 

 

But that does not surprise given La Crosse’s considerable number of downtown drinking establishments. Wisconsinites love their booze. And this is a college town. Visit in the daytime or early evening and you can avoid that whole bar scene, although remnants of night life may linger the morning after with beer in a glass outside a bar door. (True sighting.)

 

 

 

 

La Crosse seems, too, part big city urban yet rooted in rural. Somehow the blend works in a downtown that draws all ages.

 

 

FYI: Please check back for one more post in this “From La Crosse” series as I take you to one of the city’s most notable natural landmarks.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part IV from La Crosse: Applauding this city’s entertaining visuals March 27, 2017

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DOWNTOWN LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN presents a visual delight that requires spotlight focus to view every detail.

 

 

 

 

Colorful signs compete for attention along storefronts that are themselves architectural attractions.

 

Stained glass art displayed in the front window at Vision of Light Stained Glass, 129 S. Fourth Street.

 

A vintage department store box showcased in a window display.

 

Shoppers enter Antique Center, which presents an inviting window display.

 

Creative window displays draw more interest.

 

 

From almost any place, you hold a ring-side seat to pedestrians and vehicles performing should I cross/should I stop theatrics.

 

Buzzard Billys serves fantastic Cajun-Creole food. Be forewarned that it’s a busy place.

 

This riverside town rates as a must-see destination for anyone who delights in entertainment. Actual entertainment and the kind of entertainment that comes from being a watcher, an observer, an appreciator of a city with a visual character all its own.

 

The Starlite Lounge, a 1950s style cocktail lounge, is located on the second floor of Buzzard Billys. It was closed during the time frame I visited La Crosse. But I saw the lounge on a previous visit and hope to photograph it next time I’m in town.

 

La Crosse performs well under the scrutiny of my camera lens, earning my applause for a place that draws my photographic and personal interest.

TELL ME: Have you visited La Crosse? If, yes, what do you like about the city? If not, would you visit and why?

FYI: Please check back as I continue my “From La Crosse” series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style March 24, 2017

 

DRIVING PAST THE HOLLYWOOD Theater on the fringes of downtown La Crosse, I wondered whether the theater was open. It appeared closed. An online search later confirmed that.

Not that efforts haven’t been made to restore the 1936 theater. It has opened and closed multiple times, last closing as a live music venue in the late 1990s, according to an article published on the La Crosse Public Library website. The current building owner planned to renovate and reopen the theater. But then a fire damaged the building in 2013 stalling that project.

Black-and-white images in the library’s “La Crosse Movie Palaces” story show a splendid 42-foot high illuminated HOLLYWOOD tower gracing the theater along with a wrap-around marquee. Both were removed after World War II. What happened to those? The article doesn’t reveal that and perhaps it’s unknown.

I hope finances fall into place for the current owner to complete renovation plans and reopen the Hollywood Theater. In my community of Faribault, a former theater is now the Paradise Center for the Arts, a gem of a place that includes galleries, clay works and textile labs, classrooms, a library and a theater performance space.

I appreciate when aged theaters are valued and saved.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with a similar vintage theater that has been restored to its original glory? Please share.

Or, if you’ve been inside the Hollywood Theater when it was open, I’d like to hear your stories.

FYI: Please check back for more stories in my “From La Crosse” series. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from La Crosse: The impressive Pearl Street Books March 23, 2017

The tiled entry to Pearl Street Books reveals its history as the home of Arenz Shoe Company, founded in La Crosse and once housed at 323 – 327 Pearl Street. The La Crosse shoe store once boasted eight stores in Wisconsin and Iowa. Today only one, a fifth generation family-owned Arenz Shoes, remains open in nearby Sparta, Wisconsin. 

 

FIRST I NOTICED the sprawling oak and the organic shoe store message of Quality to the Roots embedded in the entry way tile.

 

 

Then I glanced to the window display and the heart shaped note of appreciation purposely placed among earthy books.

 

 

Both drew me inside Pearl Street Books as if I really need anything to get me inside a bookstore. I don’t.

 

An overview of the bookstore taken from the second floor and looking toward the front.

 

Ladders slide along the built-in towering shelves allowing access to the books.

 

Chairs scattered between shelves invite shoppers to sit and peruse books.

 

But I’ve never been in a book shop like Pearl Street Books in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. I walked inside and then just stood there for a minute taking in the scene before me.

 

The wood floor lends a signature vintage look to Pearl Street Books.

 

A Minnesota mom snapped a photo of her daughter and I asked to do likewise. Shortly thereafter the daughter climbed much higher and was kindly asked to come down for safety reasons.

 

This inviting section houses kids’ books, new and used.

 

From the worn wood floor that speaks of age and history to the ladders that slide along side shelves packed with books to the massive quantity of books, this place impresses. The shopkeeper working the day I visited said 55,000 volumes fill this store. Now I don’t know how that compares to your average mass market book retailer. But for an indie bookstore, I’d guess that’s a significant number beyond the norm.

 

Just another overview from upstairs.

 

This beautiful stairway leads to the upper floors, including a lounge space on the second floor for book groups or just a spot to hang out.

 

You could spend hours here…

 

Pearl Street Books, on its Facebook page, bills itself as a specialty used, new, collectible and antique bookstore that “can procure almost anything.”

 

My husband purchased this updated adult version of the Dick and Jane books.

 

 

Pearl Street Books offers some additional merchandise such as these bumper stickers.

 

Based on the extensive inventory, I believe that statement. And, yes, I bought a book and so did my husband.

TELL ME: Have you ever visited Pearl Street Books or a similar bookstore?

FYI: Please check back for more stories as I continue my series from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Click here to read my first story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I from La Crosse: The historic downtown through my camera lens March 22, 2017

Crossing the Mississippi River from La Crescent, Minnesota, into La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

WITH MY APPRECIATION of historic buildings, La Crosse, Wisconsin, has become a favorite occasional destination. This Mississippi River town bordering Minnesota is about a half-way meeting point between my Faribault home and my second daughter’s home in eastern Wisconsin. We recently met there for a Saturday afternoon of dining and exploring.

 

Nearing downtown La Crosse.

 

I love shopping in La Crosse. Mostly photoshopping. While the rest of the family focuses on getting from one shop to the next, I am constantly distracted by the endless photo opportunities. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up,” I repeat.

 

Entering the historic downtown.

 

Signage painted on buildings draws my eye.

 

Some communities restrict signage on historic buildings. But in downtown La Crosse, anything seems to go, creating a visually diverse landscape of signs that pop color and interest into the streetscape. It works, adding character to this downtown.

 

Then I stand and swing my camera lens upward to photograph architectural details, vintage lettering on buildings and the many colorful and creative signs that landmark downtown businesses.

 

Downtown La Crosse is one busy place. On-street parking is a challenge to secure. However, four parking ramps are situated in the downtown and offer free parking on weekends. Same goes for street parking. The downtown features lots of one-way streets.

 

Everywhere you look, there’s something to catch a photographer’s eye.

 

Bridesmaids head for an ice cream treat at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor, a must-stop ice cream shop and more along historic Pearl Street. Love The Pearl’s homemade ice cream.

 

Or I keep my camera at street level, capturing streetscapes. This downtown pulses with people and traffic.

 

Outside Kroner True Value Hardware store.

 

The day after St. Patrick’s Day, I spotted this cup of green beer on a window ledge in a bar. I also saw a glass of beer outside a bar entrance. Downtown La Crosse is packed with bars, I believe the highest per capita of any U.S. city, according to numerous online sources. (Google it.)

 

The ultimate (in my opinion) “I’m from Wisconsin” t-shirt showcased in the window of The Cheddarhead Store on Pearl Street.

 

Occasionally I direct my lens down to at-my-feet details or toward window scenes.

 

This colorful signage welcomes downtown visitors to Historic Pearl Street West.

 

I photographed this barge on the Mississippi River which edges downtown La Crosse.

 

The dining options in La Crosse are many, including Big Boar Barbecue. No, I haven’t eaten there. Yet.

 

Downtown La Crosse truly rates as a photographer’s/visitor’s dream—if you love historic river towns with aged, detailed architecture; colorful signage; character; diverse dining and drinking options; and a variety of unique shops.

FYI: Please check back for more posts from La Crosse.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part V: A great place to visit October 26, 2015

Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin.

ON THE FRIDAY and Saturday I visited La Crosse, Wisconsin, the city pulsed with people. Driving. Walking through the downtown. Dining. Everything I saw pointed to a vibrant community of some 51,000.

A billboard in La Crosse depicts the natural appeal of this Mississippi River city.

A billboard in La Crosse depicts the natural appeal of this Mississippi River city.

The La Crosse Queen offers cruises on the Mississippi River.

The La Crosse Queen offers seasonal cruises on the Mississippi River. The paddlewheeler docks in Riverside Park near downtown.

A bridge spanning the Mississippi in La Crosse.

A bridge spanning the Mississippi in La Crosse, photographed from Riverside Park.

This is a college town, a regional hub in western Wisconsin, a place of rugged natural beauty, especially in autumn with trees blazing color in the valley and along bluffs.

You can listen to everyday stories of the city by dialing the number posted on street level signs. In the audio, you'll hear first person accounts of events that happened at that exact location. Go ahead, dial the number seen in this image.

You can listen to everyday stories of the city by dialing the number posted on street level signs. In the audio, you’ll hear first person accounts of events that happened at that exact location. Go ahead, dial the number seen in this image.

A snippet of the historic buildings in downtown La Crosse.

A snippet of the historic buildings in downtown La Crosse.

Several businesses are housed in Pearl Street West.

Several businesses are housed in Pearl Street West.

This city presents an architecturally pleasing downtown with the five-block La Crosse Commercial Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 100 buildings in the Historic District about a block from the Mississippi River.

Downtwon La Crosse features stunning architectural details in its downtown Commercial Historic District.

Downtwon La Crosse features stunning architectural details in its downtown Commercial Historic District.

You'll find down-home shops in historic buildings. Cheddarheads offers Wisconsin-themed gifts and t-shirts focusing on cheese and the state's dairy industry.

You’ll find down-home shops in historic buildings. Cheddarheads offers Wisconsin-themed gifts and t-shirts focusing on cheese and the state’s dairy industry.

I could spend an entire afternoon simply strolling through the downtown, eyes focused upward to study curves of windows, artsy architectural details and other aspects of these mostly aged brick buildings. This community obviously cares about these stately structures of the past. And that pleases me.

Corralling wedding balloons in downtown La Crosse.

Corralling wedding balloons in downtown La Crosse.

La Crosse evokes a small town Main Street feel. Yet, for someone like me who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota, La Crosse is anything but small. This city throbs with energy. Heavy downtown traffic. Foot and motor. Busy shops and eateries.

If I could afford the price of a downtown hotel, I would have stayed there rather than along Interstate 90 in an overpriced room (for the condition and age) in a hotel badly in need of updating.

Strolling through downtown La Crosse.

Strolling through downtown La Crosse.

I’ll return to La Crosse. I need more time in this community. More time to explore the downtown. More time to check out the parks. More time to visit museums and art centers and other places of interest. It’s one of those cities that appeals to me. It is large enough to offer lots to do, yet small enough that I feel comfortably at home.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign reminds me that I'm in Dairyland.

A sign reminds me that I’m in America’s dairyland.

I notice details, even graffiti on a business side door.

I notice details, even graffiti on a business side door.

This concludes my five-part series from downtown La Crosse. Check back for related posts from the area.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part IV: Bars aplenty October 23, 2015

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A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery.

A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery.

LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN, HOLDS a reputation as a beer-drinking town.

Want booze with your breakfast? During Oktoberfest you could attend Kegs & Eggs, starting at 6 a.m.

Want booze with your breakfast? During Oktoberfest you could attend Kegs & Eggs, starting at 6 a.m.

 

Weeks after La Crosse's celebration of its German heritage, Oktoberfest signs are still posted.

Weeks after La Crosse’s celebration of its German heritage, Oktoberfest signs are still posted. Overhead permanent signage also directs you to bars.

The city’s annual Oktoberfest and volume of downtown bars back that up. Or just ask any college kid in La Crosse and you’ll likely get the same assessment.

I ate at Buzzard Billy's, which includes a bar, and then walked through The Starlite Lounge (a 1950s style cocktail lounge) afterward.

I ate at Buzzard Billy’s, which includes a bar, and then walked through The Starlite Lounge (a 1950s style cocktail lounge) afterward.

On a recent visit to this Mississippi River town, I spent some time downtown drinking beer (at a brewery), dining and shopping. If I was bar-hopping college age, I could have hung around into the evening and drank until bar closing time. Not that I encourage excessive drinking, but I was once young…

I believe all bars in Wisconsin are now smoke-free.

I believe all bars in Wisconsin are now smoke-free.

Digger's Sting is a retro steakhouse and cocktail bar.

Digger’s Sting is a retro steakhouse and cocktail bar.

Advertised drink specials alongside a sign that

Advertised drink specials alongside a sign that reads: Tavern League of Wisconsin…A Responsible Server.

By far the most creative bar signage.

By far the most creative bar signage.

I noticed, in particular, how La Crosse bars really try to draw patrons inside with creative signage. Take The Library, which clearly aims to attract college students via this message bannered across its awning: If Mom calls, tell her I’m at The Library! My second daughter, who attended the University of Wiscosnin, La Crosse, confirms that The Library truly looks like a library inside. She worked at the library. Not The Library. But at UW-L’s Murphy Library.

Anyone know how many places sell alcohol in downtown La Crosse?

Anyone know how many places sell alcohol in downtown La Crosse?

Should you happen to visit La Crosse, take note of all the bars. Try to count them. I wonder how many line the streets of this historic downtown.

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Check back Monday for the final post in my La Crosse series. And click here, then here and here to read my first three posts.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part III: Eats & treats October 22, 2015

HOW DO YOU DECIDE where to eat in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin? You don’t. You allow your daughter to choose the restaurant.

A coaster at The Old Crow. I love the simplistic design and minimalist decor.

A coaster at The Old Crow. I love the simplistic design and minimalist decor.

Last Saturday, searching for a place to eat lunch, Miranda’s eyes landed on The Old Crow, an American Gastropub. I was expecting the usual limited fare of burgers and other sandwiches. Instead, we found those and plenty of creative menu choices. Like a burger served between glazed doughnuts. I ordered the smoked bacon, chicken and cheddar flatbread. The daughter and husband both ordered sandwiches. We all liked our food, although getting our meals took awhile. Granted, it was the busy lunch hour and we’d waited 15 minutes to be seated.

My smoked bacon and chicken flatbread cheddar. I wouldn't expect anything less in Wisconsin.

My smoked bacon and chicken flatbread with lots of cheddar. I wouldn’t expect anything less in Wisconsin.

I’m not a fan of sports bars. Typically, I’ve found the food isn’t that great. Nor is the atmosphere. But lots of natural light pours in through large street-side windows at The Old Crow. It features minimalist décor. And, as you might expect, an excessive number of televisions. A Badgers’ football game distracted my husband from conversation. That’s the primary reason I dislike sports bars. I’m out to eat and engage in conversation, not watch football, basketball or hockey. But that’s me. Sports bars fit a need. At the table next to us, a contingent of Badgers fans wore red team attire.

For a sports-focused bar and grill, The Old Crow wins with me in both food and decor.

Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., 110 South Third Street

Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., 110 South Third Street, with 18,000 square feet of merchandising space.

Details, like this tiled exterior entry, added to the charm of Antique Center.

Details, like this tiled exterior entry, add to the charm of Antique Center. This building once housed Ganterts Furniture Company.

I spotted lots of Oktoberfest buttons. La Crosse recently celebrated its annual Oktoberfest.

I spotted lots of Oktoberfest buttons. La Crosse recently celebrated its annual Oktoberfest.

A small section of the first floor merchandise in this sprawling building.

A small section of the first floor merchandise in this sprawling building.

The store offers an extraordinary amount of merchandise.

The store offers an extraordinary amount of merchandise.

I spotted two vintage dollhouses, wishing I still had mine from my youth.

I spotted two vintage dollhouses, wishing I still had mine from my youth.

I was tempted by this poster because I love vintage graphics.

I was tempted by this poster because I love vintage graphics.

It's fun to look at the clothing and wish I was about 30 years younger than I am.

It’s fun to look at the clothing and wish I was about 30 years younger.

After lunch, we checked out the neighboring Antique Center of La Crosse, Ltd., doing our share to support this business housed in an old furniture store and spanning three floors. We didn’t even hit the basement. You could spend hours in this shop teeming with customers.

With this signage, you can't miss The Pearl.

With this signage, you can’t miss The Pearl.

The Pearl offers m

The Pearl offers many ice cream flavors and types of ice cream treats. The ice cream is homemade by The Pearl.

Even though a tad chilly, we ate our ice cream outdoors. We ordered white chocolate raspberry, maple nut and Cappuccino Oreo.

Even though a tad chilly, we ate our ice cream outdoors. We ordered white chocolate raspberry, maple nut and Cappuccino Oreo.

The old-fashioned look of The Pearl is its charm.

The old-fashioned soda fountain look of The Pearl is its charm.

This clutch of birds dipped their beaks into spilled ice cream outside The Pearl.

We watched this clutch of birds dip their beaks into spilled ice cream outside The Pearl.

The ice cream and candy shop is housed in the complex known as Pearl Street West.

The Pearl Street West complex houses the ice cream and candy shop.

But we had a schedule to keep and ice cream to eat. Not that we were hungry after the filling lunch at The Old Crow. Still, we could not leave downtown La Crosse without eating homemade ice cream at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor. It’s a must stop, for the old-fashioned soda fountain atmosphere and the creamy ice cream. After that treat, I was ready for the 2 1/2 hour drive back home to Faribault.

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CHECK BACK tomorrow for more from La Crosse. Click here to read my first post from La Crosse and click here to read my second post in this Exploring La Crosse series.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring La Crosse Part II: Drinking & dining October 21, 2015

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Turtle Stack Brewery, 125 Second Street South in downtown La Crosse.

Turtle Stack Brewery, 125 Second Street South in downtown La Crosse.

FROM PREVIOUS VISITS to La Crosse, Wisconsin, I don’t recall the downtown as crazy busy as last weekend. Friday evening we circled block after block after block trying to find a parking spot near a newly-opened brewery. Construction doesn’t help. But even without that, there seems an obvious shortage of street-side and other free parking spaces in this Mississippi River town.

The IPA I tried.

The IPA I tried.

Randy's flight.

Randy’s flight from Turtle Stack Brewery.

After finally securing parking, my husband, our daughter Miranda and I popped into Turtle Stack Brewery, one of La Crosse’s newest breweries. For a Friday evening, this sparse place with shiny wood slab tables supported by pipe was surprisingly quiet. Randy and Miranda ordered a flight of four brews while I selected a single sample. After tasting the beers—ranging from lager to ale, stout and IPA—we weren’t raving about any of them. Not that we are experts. But we’ve each tried enough craft beers to know when we really like a brewery’s offerings.

Buzzard Billy's

Buzzard Billy’s, 222 Pearl Street. It’s frustrating to see empty lots like the one next to Buzzard Billy’s with signs threatening towing if you park there and aren’t a customer of the business owning the space. And, yes, that’s a parking ramp. But we didn’t want to spend money for parking when we were already dropping a lot of money downtown.

From Turtle Stack, we headed around the corner for dinner at Buzzard Billy’s, a favorite of Miranda, who’d eaten there while attending the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Normally I would not wait 45 minutes to be seated. But I determined that Creole and Cajun food would be worth the wait. So we secured our spot in line then crossed Pearl Street to check out The Cheddarhead Store, source of Wisconsin cow and cheese related merchandise including cheese.

Pearl Street West includes Cheddarheads, a Wisconsin gift shop on the right in this image.

Pearl Street West includes Cheddarheads, a Wisconsin gift shop on the right in this image.

Inside Cheddarheads you'll find lots of Wisconsin themes t-shirts like this one displayed in the window.

Inside Cheddarheads you’ll find lots of Wisconsin themed t-shirts like this one displayed in the window.

Another view of Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse. I love the old buildings and the signage here.

Another view of Pearl Street in historic downtown La Crosse. I love the old buildings and the signage.

Eventually, after also perusing Art—211 Pearl, in the same complex of businesses known as Pearl Street West, photographing some nightscapes and stashing my camera in the van, we headed back to Buzzard Billy’s with 15 minutes to spare.

Finally, we were seated in the noisy bar area, where waitresses, hands balancing large trays of food overhead, squeezed between standing room only bar patrons and tables. It looks like a disaster waiting to happen.

While I didn’t care for the bar dining spot, I loved the food. We all did. I chose a spicy Shrimp Creole. Miranda opted for a Crawfish Platter and Randy a pasta with Andouille sausage. Service was quick. It helped that we had our menu choices pre-picked and that I told the welcoming and friendly waitress I was really really hungry. She took our food orders to the kitchen before bringing beverages. Not long after, our meals arrived piping hot. I tried my first ever hush puppies and crawfish sampled from Miranda’s platter. I will confess here that I thought hush puppies were potatoes rather than corn meal. Can you tell I’m a northerner who’s not well-traveled?

Another dining option a half a block away from Buzzard Billy's.

Another dining option a half a block away from Buzzard Billy’s.

Hungry for pizza? This was a busy place.

Every college town needs pizza places.

I love this Prime Rib sign.

I love this Prime Rib sign.

Once my left-overs were boxed, we headed upstairs to walk through The Starlite Lounge, a 1950s cocktail lounge. Oh, how I wished I hadn’t left my camera in the van. The lounge is now on my list of places to patronize the next time I’m in La Crosse. This throwback setting of curving aqua couches and swivel chairs appears the perfect place to try my first ever martini.

Signage marks another La Crosse bar.

Signage marks another La Crosse bar.

No shortage of places to have a beer in downtown La Crosse.

No shortage of places to have a beer in downtown La Crosse.

Yup, another bar...

Yup, another bar…

The sophisticated Starlite Lounge seems out of place in La Crosse, known for its beer-focused Oktoberfest and downtown bars frequented by college students. But that’s OK. With so many drinking establishments, bars need to distinguish themselves. And let me tell you, there are a lot of bars in downtown La Crosse.

The Pearl, a quaint shop serving homemade ice cream.

The Pearl, a quaint shop serving homemade ice cream.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a look at another downtown eatery and an ice cream shop.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling