Ex­plor­ing

This re­ju­ve­nat­ing town east of M hip­pie-era mojo with jazz and bl

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - By BILL HAM­MOND

The Joynt, fa­mous for its eclec­tic juke­box, abil­ity to defy change and one dol­lar taps, is also known for not serv­ing light beer and for be­ing one of the cooler bars in North Amer­ica. (Be­low) The bar on Wa­ter Street is con­sid­ered an in­sti­tu­tion where top­notch blues/folk and jazz mu­si­cians once did gigs. MY WIS­CON­SIN home­town is easy to miss – the real Eau Claire, that is. Take any of its three I-94 ex­its, 145km east of the Twin Cities, and you’ll find gas sta­tions, fast-food joints, chain ho­tels, a shop­ping mall. Noth­ing too mem­o­rable.

But head a few miles into the core of this sprawl­ing city of 68,000, to the rivers that gave it its iden­tity and pur­pose, and you’ll find a thriv­ing, ac­tive, happy place in the midst of a re­mark­able re­ju­ve­na­tion.

First set­tled in 1845 at the con­flu­ence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, the com­mu­nity was born as a bustling lum­ber town. In 1917, a huge tire fac­tory be­gan its rise along the Eau Claire River – it be­came the city’s top em­ployer un­til it was shut down by Uniroyal in 1992. To­day, part of the red brick plant has been con­verted to shops and of­fices.

But the nearby down­where town is vi­tal­ity, com­merce and ap­peal are build­ing in dra­matic fash­huge ion.

Af­ter a Phoenix Steel plant was razed in 1985, city of­fi­cials met with cit­i­zens to de­ter­mine the best use for the re­sult­ing brown­strong field.

A de­sire for a farm­ers mar­ket was fulin filled 2005. It now at­tracts roughly 7,000 vis­i­tors a week in warmer months. An open-air con­cert space abuts the mar­ket­place, as do bik­ing/hik­ing trails, all part of the ap­pro­pri­ately named Phoenix Park. Apart­ment build­ings, a cof­fee shop and restau­rants have sprung up, buoyed by two ma­jor busi­nesses that de­cided to lo­cate there – JAMF Soft­ware and Royal Credit Union’s world head­quar­ters.

Just across the Eau Claire River, ground will be bro­ken this fall for a US$45mil (RM188.53mil) per­form­ing arts cen­tre, a shared project with the city and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sinEau Claire, whose pretty cam­pus lies just down­stream.

But not all of Eau Claire’s at­trac­tions are found down­town. Let’s look around a bit.

Wa­ter Street dis­trict

The city’s nightlife epi­cen­tre is his­toric Wa­ter Street, just across the Chippewa River from the univer­sity, linked by a foot­bridge. In well-pre­served 1880s store­fronts, you’ll find bars, restau­rants, gift shops, cof­fee em­po­ri­ums and a bike shop, all within a few blocks.

You must visit the leg­endary Joynt (322 Wa­ter St), a bar that for years man­aged to at­tract big-name blues, folk and jazz artists to its tiny con­fines. To­day the mu­sic comes only from a cool juke­box, but the hip­pie-era mojo re­mains in the form of celebrity photos, old beer cans and a neon sign that screams “NO LIGHT BEER.” Le­gend has it that Bon Iver front­man Justin Ver­non’s par­ents first met at the Joynt.

Per­haps the op­po­site of the Joynt is Mona Lisa’s (428 Wa­ter St, mon­al­isas. biz), of­ten cited by lo­cals as their favourite Eau Claire food/drink ex­pe­ri­ence. Of­fer­ing more than 20 wines by the glass and a ro­tat­ing ros­ter of speci- al­ity beers, an ad­ventu pa­tio.

At­thew a per­fect e home vibe. the real de with knotty reg­u­lars in fancy beer Ray’s hot b and­beans very af­ford messy with sand­wiche and a squa your si­nus ish-laced h

At Rivers St, river­sid kayak, can which can skat­ing hou Mu­nic­i­pal

Car­son P

Just around crown jew tem, a woo juts into an grounds an the park’s c com­plex – from the u schools pla ball­park.

Car­son P Bun­yan Lo bun­yan­cam Chippewa com) and a

The Eau Claire Down­town Farm­ers Mar­ket is a bustling thing of beauty held at Phoenix Park on River

A bust of the then 18-year-old short­stop, Henry Aaron who be­gan his ca­reer with the Eau Claire Bears, is on dis­play out­side the Car­son Park base­ball sta­dium.

One-time log­ging town Eau Claire is among the towns that lays claim to Paul Bun­yan and (left) Babe the blue ox.

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