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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Alterra slings coffee on the shore


Someone once said life's too short to drink bad coffee, and it's true. Luckily, Milwaukeeans have a boatload of locations to consume high-quality joe, and one more is about to get on board.

After two years of negotiating and seven months of construction, the new Alterra Cafe, formally called Alterra at the Lake, will open in the Milwaukee River Flushing Station, 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.

At first thought, a partnership between a local coffee company and the MMSD (Milwaukee Metropolian Sewerage District) is surprising, maybe even a little, well, gross. But, really, it makes sense. After all, they have one major thing in common: Water. (MMSD operates the deep tunnel system and the city's two sewage treatment plants, and Alterra sells coffee, which is nearly 99% water.)

The Flushing Station was built in 1888 to pump fresh water into the Milwaukee River from Lake Michigan, to flush out pollution. The 1,700-sq. ft. cafe takes up two-thirds of the building, with the still-functioning flushing pump filling the remaining third.

"Ultimately our goal was to be true to the building and to use green building techniques and as few resources as possible," says Paul Miller, who owns Alterra with brothers Lincoln and Ward Fowler.

Myriad environmentally-friendly features complement the cafe, both indoors and out. A wetland garden captures and filters parking lot runoff, and rain from the roof trickles into barrels and irrigates plants on the grounds.

Inside the tri-level cafe, many of the materials are recycled. The floor's wood decking came from an old soap factory in the Fox Valley area and the cream city brick and steel were both recovered from pre-existing buildings. Plus, the counters are made from salvaged wood -- some of which is 200-year-old pine -- from the pump room.

Enhancing the water theme, a mammoth waterwheel-like sculpture, created by Joe Niedziakowsk, takes up an entire wall. The water-churning masterpiece was created almost entirely from found items.

The cafe offers a slew of hot and cold coffee drinks, bakery items, soups, sandwiches (including the must-try Love Rock Club), quiches, panini, bakery items and salads. The food will be prepared in a kitchen on Prospect Avenue, formerly the Salvation Army space, across the street from Alterra's flagship cafe.

Alterra has more than 300 wholesale accounts in Milwaukee, surrounding areas and throughout the country. The Prospect Avenue cafe and on-site roasting plant was opened in 1997, and three smaller cafes are located in Bayshore Mall, Mayfair Mall and in the US Bank Center.

"Our goal was to develop a really public gathering place for people to come and enjoy the lake and see friends," says Miller. "That's what's so wonderful about cities: All sorts of people coming together."

The cafe will remain open year-round, seven days a week, from 7 a.m. -10 p.m. Many grand opening events are planned for the near future. Call (414) 223-4549 for more information.

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