One of my most memorable trips this year was a weekend getaway to Madison, Wisconsin. I was charmed by the city’s balance of urban offerings and small town tempo (note: the Badgers had an away game).
In just over two hour’s drive from Chicago we arrived in a town where New Glarus beer floweth and cheese curds seem to grow on trees. Madison’s location among the Midwest’s farms lends itself to a thoughtful food scene. Fortunately, we balanced out the indulging with bike rides and rambles through the cycle-friendly city.
I shared some of my favorite Madison finds in an article for Chicagoist. I’m including them below along with the accompanying map I designed for Urban Explorer.
Best Bloody Mary – The Old Fashioned (23 N. Pinckney St.)
Steps from the capitol, the Old Fashioned deals in distinctive Wisconsin dishes. The taps are filled with local suds and the plates are piled with cheese curds. Previously, Milwaukee won for my favorite Bloody Mary, but the Old Fashioned’s Wisconsin Bloody just pulled ahead with its all-local version. The mix is well-balanced and flavorful, with no extra spice needed. Garnishes abound from the glass—a giant hunk of beef jerky, a pickle, fresh cheese curds, and a spicy pickled egg. Served with a beer chaser, it’s an appropriately hearty start to the day.
Best Intimate Space – Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (227 State St.)
The MMCA’s angular glass lobby is impressive enough from the street, but the Cesar Pelli designed building has more to reveal inside. The free museum features four galleries of visual art, which can be seen in about an hour. From quiet nooks to a rooftop sculpture garden, the MMCA offers respite and inspiration in the midst of the city.
Best Views of the City – Wisconsin State Capitol (2 E. Main St.)
The Badger State’s capitol building stuns inside and out. With free tours and no fuss entry, it’s worth popping in to admire the exquisite interior of glass mosaics, hand-carved woodwork, and the nation’s only granite dome. Visitors can admire Madison from 92′ above on the observation deck and see the dome mural up-close from the interior deck. Back outside, be sure to snack at the Dane County Farmer’s Market. The country’s largest producer-only farmer’s market surrounds the capitol on Saturdays.
Best Place to Learn Bar Dice – Paradise Lounge (119 W Main St.)
It’s not until we’ve pulled up a stool at a local dive bar that we really settle in on a trip. On our visit to the Paradise Lounge punk tunes, Garth Brooks, and the Free Willy theme filled the wood paneled room while a mom and her son danced around the pool table and bikers battled the no-nonsense bartender in beer dice. The scorekeeping is intimidating, but all players take a shot in the end. Everyone is a winner at the ‘Dise.
Best Way to Cut Class – The Lakeshore Path
Madison is a city on the move, with over 200 miles of trails and its self-proclaimed status as bike capital of the Midwest. We headed from UW-Madison’s Memorial Union, a great place to enjoy a beverage on the terrace, west along the Lakeshore Path. Named after a Nobel Prize winning UW professor, the Howard Temin Path winds 2.5 miles along Lake Mendota to Picnic Point. The path was festooned in autumn foliage on our visit but we imagine the scenery is lovely in any season.
Best Sunset View – Monona Terrace (1 John Nolen Dr.)
Frank Lloyd Wright’s civic center design was rejected back in the 1930s, but the city revived it sixty years later to build Monona Terrace. The building’s curves and sweeping glass facade are a superb compliment to the colorful sunset on the lake. Don’t miss the exhibits inside and the public sculpture on the rooftop garden.
Best Use of Malört Outside Chicago – Forequarter (708 E. Johnson St.)
Technically, Forequarter uses besk, not Jeppson’s, in their Nom De Plume cocktail. The bourbon, plum sherry, grenadine, and walnut bitter concoction is only one sampling from an outstanding menu. Forequarter’s small, rustic space commands a wait for its rotating menu by a collective of cooks. From mezcal and pear eau de vie to calvados and cider gomme, the bar program did not miss. Our only regret after brussel sprouts with apple pancetta jam, earthy smoked beets with coffee oat crumble, and lamb tartare was being too full to continue.
Finally, while researching Madison I came across this adorable icon set by local developer Bendyworks. The set is free to download on their website.
Madison lovers and locals, where else would you recommend?