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Monday, Aug. 15, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Taverns

Carl Corey photographs corner bars in Wisconsin

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Loss and anxiety are the undertones of Carl Corey's Tavern League, an intriguing collection of color photographs from the interiors of Badger State bars. Its publication by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press places the project in a retrospective light. In his introduction, Corey worries that the local tavern, those community gathering places where everybody knows your name, are in danger of fading into the past "as people become more physically isolated" through the acceleration of social networking and texting.

His fears may be exaggerated, as a casual evening stroll down Water Street or East North Avenue might suggest, but they are not without basis. Formulaic sports bars are competing with old-school corner taps and the strange phenomenon of people sitting alone at a bar, plugged into their iPods, makes one wonder about the future of humanity. Most of Corey's beautiful compositions show lonely places devoid of people or dominated by a barkeeper staring into the emptiness. Unease clings to many of the pictures. One expects to find a ghost reflected in a mirror, or the bartender from The Shining to emerge from a back room.

Major cities such as Madison, Kenosha and Racine are omitted, but Corey covers most areas of the state and devotes the greatest number of pages to Milwaukee, represented by At Random, Jamo's, Palomino, Thurman's "15," Von Trier and Wolski's.

Historic Milwaukee Inc. will present an unusual book event starting at 5 p.m. Aug. 18 in the appropriate setting of Palomino. Carl Corey and architectural historian Jim Draeger will discuss Wisconsin tavern history as well as the bars featured in Tavern League. Following their presentation, Hey Man, Cool! Digital History Productions will unveil a 10-minute audio documentary by Erin Dorbin and Matthew Prigge on Gee Willickers, the long-running Riverwest tavern. Admission is $10. Space is limited to 100 attendees.
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