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