Girls’ Night Out
by Barbara Sanford
Girls just wanna have fun — and there’s no better place than the Fox Cities for a fun-filled girls’ night out and getaway. My best girlfriends Amy and Erin and I are ready to shop till we drop, eat and drink to our hearts’ content, and kick back big time.
We stay at the newest hotel in town, the Settle Inn & Suites, where we’re just a hop, skip and jump away from the Fox River Mall. This morning it’s a happening place filled with moms and kids and girlfriends like us looking for that special something. It’s light and airy, with upbeat music playing, and that makes shopping here so enjoyable. I love Wisconsin Poet Laureate Ellen Kort’s sayings on the walls of the Northwoods Café food court — thoughts like “Quench your thirst with the sound of laughter,” “celebrate everything,” and “share your gifts.”
Filled with hip clothing, kitchen, and home decor shops that I thought were only in big cities, I’m impressed with the variety and friendliness of the shops. Pottery Barn gives us a lot of great decorating ideas for our apartments and gift ideas. Williams Sonoma’s bright, colorful cookware makes us want to cook and entertain more. I buy a marked-down French tablecloth here, and Amy finds the perfect sparkly party outfit at Express. We can’t resist seeing what’s new and sexy at Victoria’s Secret and giggle as we hold things up in the mirror. We sample exotic Japanese cherry blossom lotion at Bath & Body Works.
All this shopping makes us hungry, so it’s off to downtown Appleton for lunch at the popular Cheyenne’s Sports Bar & Grill, famous for its huge Cheyenne burger topped with haystack onions. We split two and are stuffed. This is a perfect conversation place. You can watch TV (no sound) from every seat in the house. It’s a warm place, with lots of dark wood and the chatter and laughter of lunch-goers. Our friendly waitress Kay makes us feel right at home.
But we can’t linger long. All of the hip, cool shops along College Avenue beckon us on this picture-perfect sunny day. With a little over a mile of unique shops, restaurants and museums housed in quaint old buildings, we stroll up and down the avenue, popping into shops and galleries along the way.
The first is Hey, Daisy!, a trendy boutique with sassy contemporary clothing, funky accessories and fabulous gifts for all occasions. There’s a relaxed atmosphere here. “Thirty-something women find their perfect look here,” says co-owner Sarah Rupiper. “It’s a fun store, something the area needed.” I like the brightly patterned duffle and laundry bags.
But we’re not just thinking of ourselves today. Two Paws Up Bakery has freshly-baked natural treats for our pets. Co-owners Alan and Ann Noyce’s black lab Annie greets us at the door. We chuckle at the cleverly named “gourmutt” dog treats displayed — beagle bagels, Bark-B-Q ribs, bacon & egg piglets, to name a few. You can get a decorated birthday cake for your pet here, even dog ice cream. “We’re dog people who decided to bake,” says Alan. “We saw a dog bakery in Illinois, took lessons from the owner, and here we are.” I buy a bag of seafood treats for my cats, Bert and Ernie, and Amy buys assorted treats for her golden retriever, Max.
We continue on to Studio 213, where, instead of a dog, life-size, hand-painted carousel animals painted by owner Cherie Greek greet us. “My mom and I worked at the House on the Rock painting carousel horses for many years,” says Cherie. She also restores old ones that people bring in and rents space to local area artists and antique dealers. A dozen rooms are filled with their work — jewelry, paintings, pottery, sculpture, antiques, and old books. It’s a totally fun place to visit.
I find the perfect keepsake for our getaway — a Girls’ Night Out photo album — at Sparkadoodles, an eclectic gift shop with everything from a wall-mounted gumball machine (their most popular item) to a voodoo toothpick holder. Owner Courtney Hentges particularly likes the Pop Cam that with one click gives you a pop art print of four photos in four colors. I like the wacky-patterned shower caps and curtains, and animal-sound alarm clocks. Erin enjoys a mug with attitude that says “I have many faults, but being wrong isn’t one of them.”
We stop for a gelato break at Brewed Awakenings, a friendly family-owned café, the only place in town that makes fresh gelato. Who can resist flavors like tiramisu, biscotti and coconut almond? It’s a funky old place with a tin ceiling, wooden floors and lots of local art.
Renewed by our sugar rush, we continue on to Coventry Glassworks & Gallery. I especially like this shop because I’ve taken stained glass classes and made some pieces for my living room windows. We tour the art glass studio to see works in progress. The shop features original fine art and crafts by more than 100 local artists — furniture, sculpture, pottery and jewelry. I admire some stacking pagoda boxes.
We’re happy to get back to our hotel to unload our purchases and freshen up for dinner. Fresh popcorn and chocolate chip cookies tempt us at the front desk.
A full day of shopping calls for a relaxing before-dinner drink at Fratello’s on the River, voted the area’s best bar and view. Housed in a century-old renovated power plant, the panoramic view of the Fox River dam with ducks and seagulls swimming on the river is a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city. We order cranberry red cosmopolitans, the special of the day, and make a toast to our friendship. I spot a bald eagle swooping over the river. Large sailboat models and bottles of wine sit on glass shelves against the large windows, and unique, fused-glass light fixtures hang overhead. This bar is totally cool.
For dinner we check out Tapas, the new tapas restaurant in town. It’s all white, from its soft leather couches to the waitstaff uniforms. We sit at a front table open to the sidewalk and enjoy the passersby and lively hum of conversation and laughter from the tables around us. We order a variety of savory hot and cold tapas, including hot tuna croquettes and crab meat and shrimp ceviche, and discover exciting new tastes and textures. This intimate new restaurant is a hip, happening place. The ambience is great, with Spanish music playing and candlelit walls and tables. Owner Alejandro Lopez tells us it’s the only full-service restaurant in town serving food until 2 a.m. “People change when they come in here. It’s like another world.”
Our day isn’t complete without a visit to Cleo’s Brown Beam for a nightcap. It’s said that you haven’t been to Appleton unless you’ve been to Cleo’s. We wait in line to get into this landmark bar where it’s Christmas all year round. The joint is jumping, with people of all ages and types talking and laughing amidst the festive lights and decorations. Original owner Cleo Brown’s smiling photo behind the bar watches over the festivities. People strike up a conversation with us, including bartenders Suzy and Kimmy. “We decorated the first year and were too lazy to take the decorations down,” they explain.
We start off the following day with fresh-baked waffles in the hotel’s light and airy breakfast room overlooking a pond. Then it’s off to Agea Spa to be pampered. I have my first-ever full body massage, Amy has a facial and Erin has a pedicure. It’s an exclusive full-service, luxurious spa where no detail is overlooked — orchids and decorative bolsters on the massage table, heated changing room floor, luxurious robe and slippers, dim lighting, new age music, and burning candles. I relax in the serenity room and meet Lauren, my massage practitioner. “I love what I do,” she says. “My mother had back surgery and I wanted to help her. I took massage classes and loved them.” Agea has the only hydro-bed in the state, and it’s awesome. All my cares melt away. We’re totally transformed after our visit — smiling and serene.
Continuing to indulge ourselves, we go to ScatterJoy, a unique gift and home accent boutique near our hotel in Trasino Park. “These are gifts with attitude for our women shoppers,” says co-owner Lori Dudley. I like the birthday-girl, hand-painted wine glasses with drink recipes on the bottom. Amy enjoys the bad girl magnets (“It’s impossible for both me and my house to look good at the same time.”) So fun!
Now we’re off to the Hearthstone Historic House Museum, the first house in the world to be lit by a centrally located hydroelectric station using the Edison system. This elegant Victorian mansion, located on the banks of the Fox River, has the original Thomas Edison light fixtures and period “electroliers.” I wonder what it was like living in such a “modern” home with electric lights, indoor plumbing and steam heat back in the 1880s. I marvel at the carved woods, tiled fireplaces and stained glass windows.
Seeing the Hearthstone dining room table set for dinner reminds us that we’re hungry, and we head to Cy’s Asian Bistro in downtown Neenah for lunch. I admire the unusual menu on a board with a silver elephant frame. This intimate, comfortable restaurant serves Thai-inspired Asian cuisine. Waitresses wear traditional silk jackets and Thai music plays in the background. We order shrimp egg rolls and a tasty variety of curries — Hawaiian, red, and sweet noodles — with chicken and seafood. Everything is sensational. I want to return to try other dishes.
After lunch we’re energized for our Neenah historic walking tour of the mansions the paper barons built on the shore of Lake Winnebago. These massive, ornate mansions are breathtaking. We walk through Riverside Park around Kimberly Point to the Kimberly Point Lighthouse, topped by a schooner wind vane, and push each other on the swings on the shore of the lake, just like we did as children.
We’ve heard so much about the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, the only paper baron mansion open to the public. It sits across from Riverside Park on the lake and houses the world’s largest and finest glass paperweight collection. We linger in the gift shop featuring unique glass from over 180 international artists. I buy an unusual pulled-glass, shell-shaped piece, perhaps the start of my collection.
On our way out of town we stop at the Country Squire Christmas & Gift Shoppe. “If local people have visitors, they bring them here,” says Bev Olson, who co-owns the shop with her husband Dick. Ornaments are their specialty and there are thousands on display. “If I don’t have it, it doesn’t exist,” she says. There are ornaments for all occupations and hobbies — trains, tropical, musical, sports, food, animals, Packers, fishing, hunting and hundreds of different Santas. This place is a total experience, a fun note to end our getaway on, and we each buy an ornament as a memento.
Awesome shopping, wonderful food, historic places, a luxurious spa, great accommodations — we’ve had the best time of our lives right in our own backyard. Our trunk is full of goodies, our spirits high, and our friendships renewed as we head home. We’re already planning next year’s girls’ night out — and we just can’t wait!