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The Hot List 2010

Is it just us, or do the winters seem to blow in more blustery each year? Even Old Man Winter is tinkering with the thermostat! So nestle next to the fire, grab your afghan and a cup of cocoa and let our 2010 staff picks stir your likings for places and things to see and do.

NOTE: Our intensions are that the Hot List is not a season-specific catalog, but a reference guide all year long!

BEST IN BUNKS

Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve offers a cozy “overnight” cabin for rent. Located in the pines of the Appleton sanctuary, the rustic lodge sleeps a maximum of 12 people in bunk-style beds. It’s available for organized groups (like Scouts) or for families interested in enjoying outdoor hobbies.

“There is no running water or access to flush toilets,” says Cynthia Muller, executive director.

While the cabin has a strict “dry” policy and can’t be reserved for “parties,” it functions as a nice warming shack after snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the preserve’s 8-mile trail system.

HIP-HIP HIBACHI

Who says grilling in Wisconsin is solely a summertime thing? We found that Downtown Appleton eatery Taste of Thai fires up a mini hibachi grill for guests any day of the week!

Four pieces of chicken tenders (marinated in coconut milk and curry sauce) is cooked in the kitchen before it’s guest-ready. The tiny tenders are bought to guests with the hibachi grill and served with a cucumber salad and homemade peanut dipping sauce. “It’s fired up and fueled for the table,” owner Jimmy Phimmasene explains. “You can talk and grill at the same time.”

RIDDLE ME THIS

Forty-five years ago, a man by the name of James B. deRosset started The Great Midwest Trivia Contest at Lawrence University in Appleton. Today, Lawrence student Drew Baumgartner manages the 50-hour competition and has earned the rank of Grand Trivia Master after five years of trivia mastering.

Trivia or not, there’s nothing trivial about this. People from around the world tune in to participate in the contest, which is broadcasted over Lawrence University’s radio station, WLFM. From Lawrence’s dorm residents to fun-fact fanatics in China, the competitors vary in seriousness and dedication and are organized into two categories, on campus and off campus. “It was originally designed for college students,” says Baumgartner. “Today, it’s adults and their kids. Generations have grown up on this contest!”

Baumgartner and his team of trivia masters write over 500 questions and mandate everything from keeping score, reading questions and answering the phones (with the help of some volunteers).

The contest begins at 10:00:37pm on Friday, January 29 and concludes just after midnight on Sunday after the “garrudas” (the last three stumpers) are answered.

FLIGHT TO THE FOX

Bird lovers don’t need their binoculars to get a glance of the American white pelican, one of the largest and newest bird breeds to the Fox Cities. Touching down here for the first time in 1995, these birds have made a home in the Fox Cities waterways, where they have migrated to and from the Dakotas.

From the bay of Green Bay to Lake Winnebago and even as far south as Rush Lake, distance is no hurdle for a bird with a 9-foot wingspan.

Bettie Harriman, a Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and Oshkosh Bird Club member, says its possible the pelicans have made a home here after their pot-hole lake habitat dried up, or their Dakota and Saskatchewan homes became to crowded to raise their young.

“Because they’re ground nesters, the birds’ eggs got washed away during the bad flooding in June 2007,” she explains. “They were loafing around because they didn’t have to take care of their young. It was then that [Fox Citians] started noticing them everywhere.”

Pelicans are group fishers, and because of that, you are likely to find pods of them nesting on some of the islands of Lake Winnebago.

So this upcoming summer, keep your eyes up for their black-tipped wings cutting through the Fox Cities clouds, or as you’re passing a popular shoreline. When you see one, a small group of others are likely nearby.

BAND OF BEER

“I traveled the world over and never left my barstool,” reads Bazil’s Beer Club T-shirt.

“People are so used to Miller and Budweiser beers and want to try something new, but don’t know what,” says Bazil’s Pub & Provision’s owner Mark Behnke, who started the club two years ago.

Just five bucks gets you into this club where members must sample 100 different beers before graduating. As of November 2009, nearly 50 names decorated the wooden beer bottle plaques on the bar’s back wall.

The must-taste list is chock-full of dark beers, wheat beers, Indian Pale Ales, American-style beers, ales, lagers, porters and stouts.

Behnke is ringing in the New Year with a seasonal beer club. This winter, members will have the opportunity to taste beers like 2 Below Ale, Leinie’s Fireside Nut Brown, Santa’s Private Reserve and New Glarus Snowshoe Ale.

CHESS MATE

Three years ago, Kaukauna resident Ryan Baewer founded the Fox Cities Chess Club with only five mates. Today, the club has about 50 members.

The group meets the last Wednesday of every month (with summer months off) for four and a half hours of puzzles, games and tournaments. Meetings are open and free to the public and, starting this month, will be held at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton.

But for these strategy-savvy players, chess isn’t so black and white. Each meeting opens with a puzzle, which challenges members to creatively visualize checkmates. The social and recreation qualities of the club are an added bonus.

“The club’s about exercising brain power and having fun,” says Baewer, who mastered the game by the time he was 10 years old. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “My four-year-old son William can now play,” Baewer adds. And William isn’t the only child benefiting from Baewer’s lessons. He also teaches a group of children chess mates called FC3.

BEACHY BREAKFAST

The gentle-moving waves of the lake are an easy way to jump start your Sundays during the summer months in the Fox Cities.

Waverly Beach in Menasha serves a buffet-style Breakfast on the Water every Sunday, June through August. “You’re literally eating breakfast on the lake,” says owner Doug Schneider, noting diners can also sit inside if they prefer. “You have a great view.”

Start off with yogurt, fresh-baked pastries, bagels and fresh fruit before dishing yourself scrambled eggs, bacon and ham or cinnamon French toast. “We also have a Chef’s Choice item, which is typically something like egg strata or eggs Benedict,” adds Doug Schneider.

The cost includes coffee or milk and, more importantly, is all you can eat!

TWILIGHT TEE-OFF

Who says the game has to stop once the sun sets? A new deal, called Twilight Golf, was launched during the 2009 season at Reid Golf Course, a city-owned green in Appleton. It encourages golfers to play into the fall season.

Until October, all-you-can-play after 5pm is only $8; in October and November, $8 will get you all the golf you could squeeze in after 3pm! A parent and child pair could play for just $10.

“It’s a little slice of heaven in the middle of Appleton,” says one Reid employee.

SHAKE YOUR SALSA

Mexican restaurant by day and Macarena by night, Señor Tequila’s is known for its Thursday night salsa dance lesson. Registration is not required and classes are free and open to the public.

The hour-long class is conducted by Necolas Salbereo, a professional dancer with nearly 20 years of experience and a Señor Tequila’s employee.

For the last six years, people from the Fox Cities and beyond have attended the class to learn salsa, samba, cha-cha, cumbia, bachata and merengue. With new participants at each class, Salbereo makes two lines and manages to teach newbies and regulars at the same time.

“Bring a partner, or come solo,” says Señor Tequila’s owner Alex Lopez. “He’s good with teaching two different levels. He likes when everyone participates!”

“Sometimes we have 40 in a class, sometimes we have five,” Lopez adds. “But we always have a class! And most people stay to dance the night away until 2am.”

UP-CLOSE ARTIFACTS

In the 1890s, a fellow by the name of Clarence Olen owned a farm on the easterly shore of Lake Winneconne. The Fox, Winnebago and Menominee Indians inhabited that area for many years, throughout various Indian cultures.

Olen hunted Indian relics from early life and developed an extensive collection of artifacts. Some would regard it as one of the best collections in the state.

Charles Velte, a Neenah attorney, represented Olen’s estate after he passed away. Velte and some of his associates purchased the Olen Collection to preserve the Indian culture as it was lived in the Fox River Valley. Velte found a home for it in Neenah’s City Hall. For years, it was displayed in The Charles H. Velte Room, but today, you can find the cases of Olen artifacts in a hallway of the first floor.

From the Paleo Period to the Early Woodland and Mississippi periods, the Velte cases illustrate the historic times of our earliest settlers.

OPTING FOR OPERA

For Appleton resident and self-declared opera lover Pat Boldt, the first Saturday of every month (October through May) is a day at the Metropolitan Opera.

Where can you take in opera sensations Renée Fleming, Susan Graham and Plácido Domingo in the Fox Cities? The Hollywood Marcus Theater in Appleton presents The Met: Live in HD series, now in its fourth season.

Besides getting a front-row seat to the Metropolitan Opera performances (which is broadcasted live from the Lincoln Center in New York City), the Live in HD series is loaded with extras, such as interviews with performers and producers and other behind-the-scene bonuses.

“Seeing the opera on the big screen in a movie theater is a whole different experience,” Boldt shares of the Hollywood Theatre showings. “It’s starting to develop a real audience.”

“What makes it a special opportunity is that unless you go to NYC and see it live, this is the only other time to see it happening at the same time it’s happening there,” says Carlo Petrick, the director of communications at Marcus Theatres Corporation.

If you can’t make the Saturday broadcast at noon, the Met rebroadcasts the performance the following Wednesday (times vary).

FROM PRESCRIPTIONS TO PINOT

If there’s one thing we can’t get enough of, it’s locally-owned businesses.

Last November, Uncorked Wine Bar and Bistro opened downtown Neenah. The space has seen its fair share of occupants through the decades. Morton Drug Pharmacy occupied the space for many of those years.

When owners Keith Miller and Stephanie Humblet were cleaning out the basement prior to their grand opening, they discovered an old Morton’s prescription board. “When we found the sign, we brought back a little piece of downtown,” says Miller. “We left it in its original form.” Today, the little bit of history hangs on the back wall of the bar as the drink specials board.

Starting this month, they will host wine tastings every Wednesday evening in a private party room, which features a clever tie-in: cork flooring. “I came up with the idea after we decided to call the bar Uncorked,” Miller says. “It just made sense for a wine bar.”

Miller bought cork tiles from Menards and installing the floor became a DIY project for him and his team. “It’s like laminate flooring, but it is real cork,” he adds. “It just snaps together, but we glued it to ensure we have a good seal.”

But if there’s one thing that won’t stay sealed at this varietal venue, it’s the wine bottles!

LODGY LIBATIONS

There’s a new lodge in town and it has something most other watering holes don’t: leg lamps.

Occupying the second floor of The Bar on the Ave downtown Appleton, the Leg Lamp Lodge is adorned in retro extras and vintage furniture (think 60s and 70s), and that’s exactly how owners Becky and Chris Kafka want it.

The windows are festooned with original trimmings that Becky made. She also took it upon herself to paint the mural in the stairway leading up to the lodge and decorate the restrooms with retro wallpaper, refurbished chandlers and her own art pieces. Becky patronized local antique malls and consignment shops for furniture pieces. One table even has an underside signing dating back to 1962.

We love it for its grandmotherly charm, neighborly comfort, and we mustn’t forget the libations!

LAUGH AT NO COST

Starting last June, the Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton kicked off a program called Worry-Free Wednesdays, which featured free admission for employees in a specific industry every Wednesday for a month. “It’s tough in the entertainment industry right now,” says Skyline owner Cliff Diedrick. “We had to step it up.”

Starting this month, the club will offer Worry-Free Weeknights, free admission Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm, and Fridays at 10:15pm.

This month, the venue is opening its doors to those in the hospitality industry – restaurant, catering and bar employees.

Looking ahead, February will acknowledge lodging hotel staffers, March will pay tribute to childcare providers, and April will welcome credit union employees.

DOWN THE MOUNT

Pack up your toboggans and head to Grignon Park in Kaukauna to experience a top-of-the-line sledding hill. To the locals, it’s known as Mount Misery. “Mount Misery is just a locally recognized name because it’s miserable to climb back up!” says Jeff Malloy, director of the Kaukauna Recreation Department. “It’s a hill for advanced sledders.” Consider yourself warned!

Located behind the Grignon Mansion, Mount Misery is a whopping 64 feet high, 400 feet wide and has a 500-foot long run. It is one of three Kaukauna locations for sledding activities.

White City Park, also recommended for the “advanced” sledder, has a 32-foot-high, 250-foot-wide and a 100-foot-long run, and Jonen Park (a brand new development on the south side of town) maintains a friendlier foothill sledding option.

“It’s a smaller man-made hill for the younger kids to use,” Malloy explains.

FOUR SEASON-FRIENDLY

Every Fox Citian tunes in when they hear the words “year long.” We can’t help but love that characteristic even more when associated with a restaurant patio.

Now under new management, Sliders Bar and Grill has primped up its fenced-in outdoor seating by adding new heated concrete and an S-shaped fireplace with a round pit on each end.

Off of Lake Park Road in Menasha, it’s the perfect pit-stop for snowmobilers, who can pull right up to the fenced in patio and let themselves in the back entrance of the establishment.

Between a glass of wine, some spicy buffalo wings and the crackling fire, Sliders is a hot hangout.

—By Alison Fiebig

 

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