Thursday, May. 5th, 2016

Win $500 in Free Food: Volume One's Review-a-thon 2016

It's back! Throughout May, we're running our semi-regular "Review-a-thon," giving away $900 in gift certificates to local restaurants. To win, you simply leave a restaurant or bar review in our online Eat Scene and Night Out dining and tavern guides. The more reviews you leave, the better chance you have to win.

How Do I Win?

It doesn’t matter if your review is good or bad, long or short, carefully informed or overly opinionated. Every restaurant or bar review you post will give you another chance at winning a drawing for $500 in free food. The more reviews you leave, the more chances you’ll have to win!

Tasty Prizes!

For every restaurant or bar review you post from May 3–31, you’ll be entered to win the grand prize: $500 in local restaurant gift certificates to the eateries shown above. But also! Once a week throughout May, we'll award $100 in certificates to a lucky local diner (4 total).

Grand Prize Deadline: May 31

Our Grand Prize winner will be announced June 3, weekly winners each week in May. Watch and for updates.

Here's How to Get Started!

1. Go to and under Food & Drink,
click on Restaurants or Bars

2. Peruse the categories to find the restaurants or
bars you want to review

3. Under Reviews, fill out the form (name, email, etc.)
and leave your review

Email with any questions

Win fabulous feasts from these fine eateries:


Visit these eateries on Facebook: Azul Tequila, Bug Eyed Betty’s, Dhimëters, Dooley’s Pub, Eau Claire Ale House, French Press, HuHot, Mahli Thai, Milwaukee Burger, Mona Lisa’s, Rice Palace, The Plus

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Attention Tubers: What the Water Street Bridge Project Means for You

The Water Street Bridge, shown here in late 2015. Image: Wisconsin DOT
The Water Street Bridge, shown here in late 2015. Images: Wisconsin DOT

As the Wisconsin weather warms, so does the water temperature, and soon enough that will mean tubers will be launching into the Chippewa River from Phoenix Park for a serene float through Eau Claire. However, their relaxation may give way to sudden anxiety as they drift into sight of the aquatic construction zone otherwise known as the Water Street bridge project.

If you’re going downstream, you’ll notice buoys in the water indicating a path between the two massive piers that hold up the new bridge. (This happens to be the route the current carries tubers along anyway.)

Demolition work on the old bridge began last September, and the new bridge won’t be finished for several more months. Does this mean that that floating down the river in your favorite inflated inner tube is off-limits? In a word, no, says project manager Tara Weiss of the state Department of Transportation. Because the bridge straddles a navigable waterway, Weiss says contractors are required to provide a passage for tubers, boaters, and anyone else traveling Eau Claire’s urban river route.

If you’re going downstream, you’ll notice buoys in the water indicating a path between the two massive piers that hold up the new bridge. (This happens to be the route the current carries tubers along anyway.) Weiss says that high water earlier this spring washed a few of the buoys away, but they have since been replaced.

Current work on the bridge.
Current work on the bridge.

While work on the bridge has progressed to a point where river travel likely won’t be impeded, there will still be construction barges in the water and contractors working on the bridge overhead, so keep your eyes open and use common sense.

And whether you are traveling down the river or simply are eager to travel over it on the Water Street bridge again, you’ll be happy to know that the project is now in the home stretch. By the end of May, workers will pour concrete to form the bridge’s deck, Weiss says. After that, they’ll pour more concrete for the sidewalk (which, thankfully, will have higher railings than those on the previous bridge) as well as for the parapet walls and other elements. After other work is done – grading, adding lighting and signs, etc. – the project is on track to be finished by Sept. 1, which means you’ll be able to travel across (or, if you prefer, under) the new, improved span while there’s still some warm weather left.

For more information on the Water Street bridge project, visit

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Wednesday, May. 4th, 2016

The Lismore: Now Open


Check out this huge press release from Hilton about The Lismore hotel in downtown Eau Claire, which as of tonight (May 4) is officially open for business ...

Hilton Worldwide Announces Reopening of The Lismore Hotel Eau Claire – a DoubleTree by Hilton

Following $21 million renovation, Eau Claire’s only downtown full-service property joins fast-growing, global collection of upscale hotels

EAU CLAIRE, Wi. and MCLEAN, Va. – May 4, 2016 – DoubleTree by Hilton, one of Hilton Worldwide’s (NYSE: HLT) 13 market-leading brands, has reopened a historic Wisconsin hotel following a $21 million rebuild.

The Lismore Hotel Eau Claire – a DoubleTree by Hilton has restored its status as the only full-service hotel in the city’s bustling downtown area, offering 112 stylish guest rooms and suites plus a multi-purpose convention center. It is owned by Pablo Properties and managed by Interstate Hotels & Resorts.

Featuring a uniquely inspired contemporary design, both inside and out, the eight-story hotel is located in the heart of downtown near the vibrant Farmers Market, just five miles from Chippewa Valley Regional Airport and 91 miles from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Its proximity to The Mayo Clinic, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, Phoenix Park and other Chippewa Valley attractions makes it an ideal destination for business and leisure travelers.

“With its top-to-bottom transformation, The Lismore Hotel Eau Claire is poised to fill this thriving city’s need for a high-quality, full-service hotel and convention center,” said Dianna Vaughan, senior vice president and global head, DoubleTree by Hilton and Curio – A Collection by Hilton. “We look forward to welcoming guests with the first-class services and extensive amenities they expect from a Hilton Worldwide brand.”

The hotel’s name, as well as many of its new design features and artwork, have been inspired by its sister city of Lismore, Australia. For instance, wallpaper in the guest rooms consists of 12 different designs all made of clippings from Lismore newspapers. Other elements of the hotel’s modern industrial design feature custom artwork provided by local artists as well as textures and color schemes inspired by Eau Claire’s natural wonders, including its beautiful parks and rivers.

Each stay at The Lismore Hotel Eau Claire – a DoubleTree by Hilton begins with a warm DoubleTree chocolate chip cookie greeting, which signifies the brand’s industry-recognized service culture built around the idea of CARE, which stands for Create a Rewarding Experience. Among its other amenities are a 24-hour workout facility featuring state-of-the-art Precor equipment and a 24-hour business center. Planned for the future is an indoor pool.

All of the hotel’s spacious guest rooms feature scenic views of downtown Eau Claire, and the top-floor suites offer both skyline and river views. Rooms include a 42-inch HDTV, the DoubleTree Sweet Dreams Sleep Experience bed, mini-refrigerator, Cuisinart® coffeemaker and complimentary Wi-Fi. For a premium experience, guests may reserve an 8th-floor suite with floor-to-ceiling windows, a living area with sofa and 50-inch HDTV.

Guests have a multitude of dining options without ever leaving the hotel, including a full-service restaurant, coffee shop and bar. The Informalist, a restaurant and lounge adjacent to the lobby, offers locally sourced, regional cuisine with international influences. Signature dishes include Prince Edward Island Mussels, Icelandic Lamb Kabobs and Wood-fired pizzas, such as a Tre Carne pizza with pancetta, sausage, prosciutto, tomato and cheese. The restaurant also features outdoor patio seating to enjoy during summer months. ECDC - Eau Claire Downtown Coffee – serves organic signature blend coffee from Roastery 7 out of Minnesota, house-baked pastries and breads, delicious grab-and-go foods and freshly prepared juices. Guests seeking a relaxing bar atmosphere may enjoy Dive, a second-floor, modern and eclectic cocktail lounge with light fare and a stunning terrace. Room service and a 24-hour snack shop are other convenient onsite culinary options.

For business meetings, wedding receptions and other special events, The Halls @ The Lismore conference center provides nearly 14,000 square feet of space, including a 7,200-square-foot ballroom that accommodates up to 620 guests. All meeting rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi and access to A/V equipment.

For smaller groups, the hotel offers the Meetings Simplified™ by DoubleTree by Hilton package, which includes a meeting room; basic meeting Wi-Fi; meeting room supplies including a flipchart, markers, extension and power cord; and all day non-alcoholic beverage service. Catering services and a dedicated events staff are available to enhance any event.

The hotel’s full complement of services and DoubleTree by Hilton brand amenities include an assortment of gourmet in-room tea and coffee offerings by The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and a refreshing array of the London-based Aroma Actives Essentials natural skin and body care line.

“Visitors to this beautiful region deserve a lodging choice that can fulfill every need, and our revitalized hotel and conference center offers everything a business or leisure guest would desire,” said Pete Bauchle, general manager, The Lismore Hotel Eau Claire – a DoubleTree by Hilton. “Our carefully-selected and highly-trained staffers are eager to deliver the award-winning culture of service for which the DoubleTree by Hilton brand is known around the world.”

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May the 4th Be With You: Connections Between the Star Wars Universe and the Chippewa Valley

Above: A somewhat historical photo.
Above: A somewhat historical photo.

NOTE: Yes, these "connections" are pretty tenuous, but come on!  May 4 is a Star Wars holiday, people!

1. Phantom Theft 

The 1999 theft of a print of The Phantom Menace from a Menomonie movie theater played out more like slapstick than sci-fi. Several drunk young men stole a film reel, hoping for a private screening. Instead, 40,000 feet of film unspooled, and the panicked thieves washed it in a bathtub to remove fingerprints and hid the mess in garbage bags. They ended up serving short jail terms, making national headlines, and becoming laughingstocks on par with Jar-Jar Binks.

2. And the Winner Is ...

Above: Fake Chippewa Fallsian
Above left: Fake Chippewa Fallsian Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton. 

The original Star Wars (a.k.a. Episode IV) may have been a blockbuster back in 1977, but at Oscar time it was no match for a free-spirited (though fictional) girl from Chippewa Falls. Annie Hall – the Woody Allen flick starring Diane Keaton as the title character, who hails from Chippewa Falls – beat Star Wars for Best Picture.

3. Titanic Decision 

Speaking of fictional characters from Chippewa Falls, that (short) list is topped by Jack Dawson of Titanic, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. What does that have to do with Star Wars? Well, it seems Leonard0 turned down the role of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. future Darth Vader) in Attack of the Clones. Considering how most fans view Clones and the other prequels, it was probably a good career move.

4. The Ultimate Weapon

The Strategic Defense Initiative: A Space Adventure!
The Strategic Defense Initiative: A Space Adventure!

In the’80s, Star Wars wasn’t just a film; it was the nickname of the Strategic Defense Initiative, President Reagan’s proposal to blow Soviet nukes out of the sky with missiles and lasers. While that Star Wars never came to fruition, calculations needed to design space-based weapons were performed on Cray supercomputers created by Chippewa Falls native Seymour Cray.

5. Chad Vader 

Another day, another space dollar.
Another day, another space dollar.

A decade ago, when “viral video” and “Web series” were still exotic concepts, a couple of guys from Madison created Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager. The series, which ran for four seasons, focused on grocery store manager Chad (Darth’s younger brother). The series was co-created by UW-Eau Claire graduate Aaron Yonda, who began his public access television endeavors right here in Eau Claire.

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Tuesday, May. 3rd, 2016

Phoenix Park Bridge Project Aims to Add Lights and Color

The Big Four Bridge in Louisville, Ky. (top), was a big inspiration for the folks behind the Phoenix Park Bridge Project (below). Plans were announced at a blustery press gathering April 26.
The Big Four Bridge in Louisville, Ky. (above), was a big inspiration for the folks behind the Phoenix Park Bridge Project (below). 

A new project from the combined brainpower of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., UW-Eau Claire, and the Eau Claire Noon Rotary Club would put dynamic, programmable lights on the Phoenix Park bridge this year. At a windy press gathering in in front of the historic bridge, which has been there since 1903, the groups shed some light (wink) on the $250,000 to $300,000 project.

“We want to create more energy and light (in downtown) and bathe this bridge in color.” – Salina Heller, Downtown Eau Claire Inc.

Initial plans merely sought to splash some regular ol’ white light on the bridge, but soon the project evolved and included the talents of Jason Anderson, UWEC’s assistant director of conferences and event production, and his crew of light programming students. With this expertise behind them, over 300 individual lights will be affixed to the bridge, capable of projecting millions of different colors on the uprights and trusses for themed displays, regularly scheduled light shows, and big events like the Let It Glow holiday tree lighting in Phoenix Park.

“We want to create more energy and light (in downtown) and bathe this bridge in color,” said Salina Heller, of Downtown Eau Claire.

Heller said this project takes inspiration from another, the Big Four Bridge in Louisville, Ky., which crosses the Ohio River. Heller said the organizers of that (much larger) project told her that lighting the Big Four Bridge was a real economic driver for their city: More than 2 million people visited the bridge in the first 18 months after it was lit. Eau Claire organizers are hoping something similar happens here.

Plans were announced at a blustery press gathering April 26.
Plans were announced at a blustery press gathering April 26.

The Eau Claire Noon Rotary Club is the fundraising arm of this project and hopes to get the six-figure price tag raised by mid-August, the lights ordered and shipped by September, installed by October, tested in November, and have it all good to go in time for Let It Glow in December. Jerry Kuehl of the Rotary Club told me they’ve got about $40,000 raised already; soon they’ll look to club members, individual donors, coporate donors, the Chamber of Commerce and DECI memberships, and then give everyone an opportunity to contribute via crowdsourcing.

When it’s all said and done, if you have dinner and drinks downtown or catch a show, you won’t have to linger around Phoenix Park for long to enjoy a full-scale light show, right on there on the Chippewa River.

“This is a project that’s going to complement all the wonderful things that we have going on downtown. We’re pretty excited about it,” Heller said. “It’s these quality of life types of things that we’re really trying to promote.”

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Monday, May. 2nd, 2016

Shaun Johnson Big Band Ready for You to 'Experience' Rescheduled Gig (May 3)

If you were disappointed when the Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience’s gig at the State Theatre was canceled last month – or if you’re simply a lover of a contemporary spin on that swingin’ Big Band sound – then perk up your ears! The Emmy-winning singer-songwriter and his band, who canceled their April 14 concert because of illness, are set to take the stage at the State (for real this time) on Tuesday, May 3, at 7:30pm. Don’t worry: The tickets you had for the April 14 show are still good (plus seats are still available if you didn’t get them the first time around).

You may recognize Johnson as a member of the Minnesota-based a capella trio Tonic Sol-fa, but the Big Band Experience connects the tenor with an eight-member big band that includes guys who’ve backed the likes of Aretha Franklin and Johnny Mathis (so you know they’re legit). According to Johnson’s website, “His vision was to create a contemporary big band sound with a pop flair, honoring legends like Frank Sinatra, with a nod to Michael Bublé, while giving the music his own twist.” Considering the sparkling reviews Shaun and his band have collected, apparently he’s succeeded. To learn more about the band, check out, or to get tickets (which range from $15-$25), go to

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A Big Home for Little Critters

CREATURE FEATURE. The new small animal building and visitors’ center at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls is expected ot be completed by Memorial Day.
CREATURE FEATURE. The new small animal building and visitors’ center at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls is expected to be completed by Memorial Day.

By the end of the month, the Irvine Park Zoo’s smaller animals – and the people who visit them – will have new digs.

Construction is wrapping up on a new small-animal building and welcome center at Chippewa Falls’ Irvine Park, which city parks director Dick Hebert hopes will be open by Memorial Day. Overall, the project will cost about $3.95 million, and more than $3 million is already in hand, Hebert says. Only $100,000 is coming from the city, while the rest is from donations.

The building replaced the previous small-animal building and aviary, which had deteriorated after more than 50 years of use. The prior building made it difficult to properly view and care for animals: The concrete enclosures were long and narrow, and animals were out of sight in the cold weather.

“I remember taking the volunteers who served on the capital campaign through the old building, and after they went through it the comment was, ‘We are done talking about why we need a new building,’ ” Hebert recalled.

“It’s going to be a beautiful facility. During our walk-throughs so far, people are very excited and amazed. They’re very impressed.”– Dick Hebert, Chippewa Falls parks director

By contrast, the new 13,500-square-foot building will provide larger, more comfortable quarters for both animals and humans. The exhibit areas will be taller and wider, making it easier to see the animals inside (and easier to clean up after them); the aviary will feature screened exterior exhibits; and the facility will be better suited to transferring animals, which will mean less stress when the veterinarian comes.

And the new quarters will keep unwanted animals out: The old building was a haven for mice, Hebert says.

Meanwhile, the welcome center will greet visitors to the park – from kids on class trips to senior citizens – and provide an informational area, a store for souvenirs and snacks, a rentable meeting and party room, and an area to display artifacts. While the exact nature of that display hasn’t been determined, it will likely showcase the history of the park and its namesake, 19th-century lumberman William Irvine.

“It’s going to be a beautiful facility,” Hebert says. “During our walk-throughs so far, people are very excited and amazed. They’re very impressed.”

The new building is the culmination of a decade of zoo improvements, which has included the construction of larger, more natural living quarters for the zoo’s bears and big cats.

Once construction is complete, the small animals and birds – who returned to their permanent owner, an animal broker, when the old building was demolished last year – will settle into their new residences. The new building will feature six animal exhibits, each of which will house two to three animals, and four bird exhibits, which will be home to two to five birds each. Because the animals come from a broker, Hebert isn’t completely sure what species visitors will see when the building opens, but in the past the small animal exhibit has featured raccoons, porcupines, and foxes as well as more exotic creatures such as capuchin monkeys and coatimundis.

Hebert expects the new building to attract more people to the already popular park; in fact, he says, the construction already has drawn curious visitors. And if you come to check out the small animals’ new home, don’t forget to take a gander at the domestic creatures in the petting zoo (which also opens Memorial Day), as well as the tigers, bears, and hyenas in the large-animal exhibit and the elk and bison who are pastured at the park all year long.

To learn more about Irvine Park and the capital campaign, visit

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Friday, Apr. 29th, 2016

11 Sconnie Fun Facts for Your Next Trivia Night

How much do you know about Wisconsin? Living here is one thing, but our great state has some pretty cool trivia. How many of these cool Wisconsin facts did you already know?

Green Bay's East River, just one of the many miles of Wisconsin water
Green Bay's East River
1. Wisconsin's rivers and streams are longer than you might think

If you laid all of Wisconsin's rivers and streams end to end they would be 26,767 miles long, almost 2,000 miles more than the Earth's circumference! It's amazing that all fits inside our mitten shaped state.

2. Wisconsin has how many lakes?

Keeping with our massive waterways, Wisconsin is home to approximately 16,692 lakes according to a DNR estimate. Take that Minnesota!

Current cheeseheads contain 0% couch.
Current cheeseheads contain 0% couch.
3. An old couch gave birth to The Cheesehead

The first of the now iconic cheesehead you see fill the stands on Packers Sunday was originally made of burnt couch AND started at a Brewers game! Sports enthusiast and true Sconnie Ralph Bruno was reupholstering his mom's couch when he saw the foam and decided to embrace cheesehead like no one else. A few burnt holes and some yellow paint have made Bruno a true Sconnie hero!

4. The origin of the Wisconsin badger isn't actually the animal

Since 1957 the badger has been the official state animal of Wisconsin, but the origin of the Wisconsin badger actually refers to lead miners. In the 1820s miners would travel for work and didn't have anyplace to stay so they dug holes to sleep in, much like the beloved badger.

5. Wisconsin's is home to three "UFO Capitals"

Belleville, Dundee, and Elmwood, Wisconsin all claim to be the UFO capital of the world despite what Rosewell might have to say about that.

ET phone a friend
Elmwood, WIsconsin's (never used) landing port.
6. Wisconsin almost had an official state microbe

Move out of the way badgers and robins we've got a new Wisconsin symbol! In 2010 we almost made "lactococcus lactis" the official microbe of Wisconsin. And yes, of course it's used in making cheese.

7. You can major in your favorite food!

Wisconsin is the first - and only - state to offer a master cheese making program. It takes three years to complete and you have to have ten years of prior cheesemaking experience before even applying to the program. We don't take the title Master Cheesemaker lightly.

8. Wisconsin beats all other states in water fun

Noah's Ark in Wisconsin Dells really is the largest water park in the U.S. and Wisconsin Dells as a whole has the largest concentration of water parks in the world. ALso – Somerset, Wis. is the inner tubing capital of the world. Maybe it's the beautiful weather after a long winter or just access to so much water around the state but Wisconsin beats all other states when it comes to having fun on the water.

Slip and Slide into fun! Image: Wikimedia Commons
Slip and Slide into fun!
9. Wisconsin hosts the nation's largest music festival

The Chippewa Valley has made quite a name for itself lately when it comes to music festivals but Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wis. is still the largest music festival in the U.S. Summerfest averages 2,500 performers and over one million visitors each year with a Guinness World Record to prove it!

I can see where the record comes from. Image:
Summerfest: I can see where the record comes from. Image:
10. Wisconsin got overexcited to bring back drinking

Prohibition was repealed in 1933 nationwide however Wisconsinites had been drinking as we pleased for awhile already. In 1929 Wisconsin repealed prohibition statewide and Sconnies rejoiced while Wisconsin senator John Blaine spent the next four years passing the 21st amendment to repeal prohibition nationwide.

11. The swiss cheese capital of the world is where?

It would be a shame to end this list with anything other than a cheese fact so here you go. Monroe, Wis. is actually the (self-proclaimed) swiss cheese capital of the world. Visit Monroe this September for Green County Cheese Days to celebrate your love of all things dairy, no passport required.

Did we surprise you with anything? Let us know in the comments what your favorite fact was and go conquer that trivia night!

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Thursday, Apr. 21st, 2016

5 Things About Lismore, Australia (Eau Claire’s Sister City)

Lismore Australia
Lismore, Australia

1. College Town

Lismore isn’t just the name of a new hotel in Eau Claire; it’s also a city Down Under that happens to be Eau Claire’s sibling. And like Eau Claire, it’s a mid-sized city with a great big college. Southern Cross University has about 15,000 students, while the city of Lismore has about 46,000 residents. SCU is a public research institutions that excels in fields such as zoology, geochemistry, and forestry.

2. Timber!

Like Eau Claire, Lismore once was in the middle of the big woods, although in Lismore's case it was a subtropical rainforest known as the “Big Scrub” that covered a large area in the state of New South Wales. In the 19th century, Europeans felled most of the forest to make way for farms and settlements. (Sound familiar?) Now less than 1 percent of the region’s rainforest remains.

3. Confluence Community

Like its big sister in Wisconsin, Lismore sits on a confluence, with Wilsons River and Leycester Creek coming together in the city’s downtown. As with many river cities, Lismore has experienced flooding throughout its history, including a massive flood in 1954 that came just days after a visit from the young Queen Elizabeth II.

Lismore Australia
Once again: Lismore: Australia, where they drive on the other side of the street! Like it's a whole different country!

4. Musical Mention

Lismore is name-checked in the original (i.e., Australian) version of the country tune “I’ve Been Everywhere,” which rattles off dozens of colorful Aussie place names. You’re probably more familiar with the American adaptation, made famous by Johnny Cash and others (“Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota ...”).

5. Got Milk?

Lismore is located in a traditional dairying region, and is the headquarters of a large dairy co-op that operates an ice cream factory. However, far and away the biggest employers are in healthcare, retail, and education, so we’ve got those things in common, too.

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