By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave
Located in the heart of Paoli — which has one of the most charming downtown scenes you’ll encounter in Dane County — is The Mill Paoli. About 20 minutes from central Madison, this historic 1864 stone mill houses a handful of small businesses in a picturesque setting along the banks of the Sugar River.
Owner Lori McGowan acquired the property in December 2019 — “just in time for COVID” — but the space has continued to thrive despite the pandemic. “It worked out just fine,” says McGowan. “People are so happy to be out there … it’s like a family gathering.”
Indeed, an ongoing calendar of entertaining events offered at the Mill lead to steady gatherings of happy people. The week begins with a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings, hosting 20-plus vendors and serving Bloody Marys, breakfast gin ‘n’ tonics and quesadillas.
Wednesday nights alternate between music, drag queen bingo and trivia. Beyond Wednesdays, the musical lineup is bursting with performances from a variety of local talent every Thursday to Sunday through the end of October. The dreamy green space between the building and the river provides the perfect venue, with ample room for kids to explore, well-behaved dogs on leashes and BYO lawn chairs.
Within the Mill building, shopping enthusiasts will enjoy Secret Garden, featuring handmade outdoor baby swings and hammocks, seedlings and air plants nesting in adorable containers. Fans of The Purple Goose will find their fab and fashionable women’s clothing in the standalone shop in front of the Mill.
If you’re not shopped out, but ready to put your feet up, My Tipsy Gypsy liquor boutique is your go-to spot. Choose from cocktails, “elixers” or restoratives to sip on while you peruse their unique selection of retail items like specialty local liquor, Mill merchandise and thoughtful gifts. “It’s definitely not like any place else — and that’s on purpose,” says McGowan.
Nibble on locally-made Driftless Chocolates, artisan chocolate made on- site. For brew enthusiasts, the downstairs taproom at The Hop Garden serves a rotating selection of small-batch, seasonal and craft beer made with hops grown in nearby Belleville. Farmtastic is a favorite brew, which is a light and tasty pale ale with less hops and more malt flavor. Jam Fest uses blackberry hops to highlight its IPA. Soon, visitors will also be able to sip a glass of vino at the forthcoming Lazy Squirrel wine bar, named after the squirrels on property.
The Hop Farm also grows produce for Molino Taqueria, a small building adjacent to the Mill, where you’ll wind up eventually because it’s hard to pass up great tacos. Chicken tinga, simmered in a tomato-rich, chili-infused broth, is always a good choice. If you know, you know — which means come out on a Friday for their shrimp tacos (and arrive before they’re sold out).
Looking to make a weekend adventure out of your excursion to Paoli? Book a room at the upstairs Mill House Retreat bed and breakfast, which sleeps eight guests. And you can get your recreation fix at Sugar River Outfitters, a canoe and kayak rental service located on-site.
Sounds like the makings of a fun staycation for a summer weekend. themillpaoli.com