Beloit, WI, Both Hip and HistoricMar 30, 2019 11:25AM ● By Vanessa Orr
Clara Bo & Gatsby Wine Bar
When I think of the Midwest, I picture farmland as far as the eye can see. And while much of the area is extremely rural, I was surprised on a recent visit to Beloit, WI to discover a city with a thriving art and cultural scene, as well as the fantastic farm-to-table cuisine that you’d expect from America’s heartland.
Home to Beloit College, the oldest college in the state, the town has a cool urban vibe mixed with a healthy respect for its history. Walking across campus, for example, you can still see the 20 conical, linear, and animal effigy mounds built by Woodland-era Indians between AD 400 and 1200. The mounds are protected under the Wisconsin burial law, and many still contain Native American remains. The rare animal effigy mound in the shape of a turtle has since become the inspiration for the college’s baseball team, the Snappers.
Rumor has it that Beloit-born Ray Chapman Andrews, the naturalist, explorer and author who later became the director of the American Museum of Natural History, was actually the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones. Talk about street cred!
History buffs will find a wealth of inspiration at the Logan Museum of Anthropology, which contains a world-renowned collection of more than 350,000 objects from more than 125 countries and 600 cultural groups. Housed in a two-story, glass “cube,” the objects are easily displayed for visitors to get up-close views of pottery, basketry, art and more. The Wright Museum of Art, which is also on campus, houses more than 6,000 pieces of work from a range of cultures and art movements, including American Impressionism, German Expressionism and Japanese modern prints.
You can also find the works of famed local artist O.V. Shaffer throughout campus and in downtown Beloit. The Beloit College graduate, who later taught art at the institution, has even earned his own road trip tour—you can follow a map to visit his public art in Beloit, Janesville and throughout Wisconsin. I especially liked that because Beloit is so walkable, it was easy to come across Shaffer’s work—it almost became a scavenger hunt to find the next gorgeous sculpture!
Another historical site worth a drive out of town is Beckman Mill Park, a 50-acre park that houses the Beckman Mill, which was built in 1858. Most Saturdays, members of the Friends of Beckman Mill, including volunteers Sheri and Jim Disrud, grind grain into corn meal on the original 150-year-old equipment, including a 1,200-pound millstone from Paris, France. Watching the labor-intensive chore reminds you just how lucky we are to be able to buy our food pre-made; visitors can pick up a bag of corn meal in the on-site store which goes toward the upkeep of this historic property.
Speaking of food, just about everything in Beloit is farm fresh—so much so, in fact, that you can even have breakfast on a working farm if you want. You can stop into the Double B Farm & Country Café for eggs and more or drop into the Apple Hut for apple cider donuts. I highly recommend Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar for lunch, which not only has incredible burgers—seriously, there’s mac & cheese IN the burger—but has a really fun staff whose outfits pay tribute to Lucy Winslow, a southern Wisconsin girl turned war hero who became one of the most popular pin-up girls of the era.
I was also hugely impressed by the Clara Bo & Gatsby Wine Bar, not just for their delicious food (my pasta carbonara was to die for), but for the atmosphere. Walking in the door, you feel like you’ve just wandered back into the 1920s, with every detail perfect from the ragtime music to the opulent décor. This is a wonderful place to kick back with a cocktail like the Little Tramp, Great Lover, or Bee’s Knees martini, or of course, wine; the selection is immense.
If you’d prefer whiskey, tequila or tacos, truk’t in downtown Beloit is a great place for dining and people-watching. Open on two sides to the street, you can watch everyone during lunch—or join them at this packed place for happy hour. If you’re staying in town, what’s nice is that you can then walk right back to the ultra-trendy Hotel Goodwin across the street or the luxury Ironworks Hotel on the next block, so you don’t even have to drive. And yes, you can spot an O.V. Shaffer sculpture on the way as well.
To learn more about Beloit, WI, visit https://visitbeloit.com.