I occasionally get on the defensive--at least in my mind--with regard to my visits to Milwaukee's Potawatomi Bingo Casino. Some people find it hard to believe that I don't gamble. It's difficult to describe my need for the particular kind of people-watching that Potawatomi offers and the unique niche it fills in the Milwaukee area. Nevertheless, I'll try. Milwaukee has a strong, proud bourgeois tradition of "buy low, sell high" that is nearly ubiquitous, particularly in the Downtown, East Side and Third Ward areas.
Though restaurants, coffeehouses and similar venues face an uphill battle growing customer traffic--particularly outside peak periods--there are structural and strategy problems that may get in the way. There's too much of a "me too" mentality that leads, for example, to too many coffeehouses in the Third Ward that are too much alike, too many sports bars everywhere, and the list goes on. Great boldness is required in order to disrupt the dynamic, as has been demonstrated by the Kickapoo Café. One might argue that the long-awaited opening of such a café (with an admittedly steep price point) was aided by a fortunate break in the general economic doldrums.
Obviously, a great deal of freedom from conventional economic strictures and service industry requirements is granted by the fact that at Potawatomi, the cash flow is pretty much covered. I admit that the ethical ins and outs of the situation are, at best, a big gray area. On some level, I may be deriving enjoyment from others' misery, though that seems like a stretch. I would argue that that situation is a given due to the nature of the establishment and that my attendance, if anything, makes the situation better.
My ritual is to plunk myself down in one of the comfy chairs (!) at the 360° bar and watch the people pass by on the casino floor. The bartenders know me by my favorite drink, the Milwaukee Mad Men (basically a brandy old fashioned). The family restaurant-type venue, The Fire Pit Sports Bar and Grill (where the WhiskeyBelles occasionally play in the stage area) offers good food at a good price.