Best Day Ever!

We happily cram sixteen Best of Madison 2013 winners into one action-packed day

Morning

Bliss Flow Yoga & Wellness (yoga, silver)

When you’re about to embark on an epic day of local fun, not just any a.m. exercise will do. That’s why Bliss Flow’s Morning Jam yoga class is perfect. Flowing from one pose to another at this near west side studio keeps both mind and body engaged, while a cool soundtrack by the likes of Lauryn Hill to Neil Young, Norah Jones to Ray LaMontagne, keeps energy high through your vinyasas. Expect to leave relaxed, recharged and ready for what’s to come throughout the rest of the day.

Batch Bakehouse (bakery, silver)

A workout in before most people leave the house? Nice! Reward yourself with a from-scratch treat at Batch Bakehouse on Willy Street. As the selections of croissants, pastries and breads vary daily and seasonally, it’s best to arrive early in the morning for the most extensive selection—and to grab the prime spot outside to munch in the morning sunshine. But now the tough part: Will it be a Gruyère croissant or a cheddar bacon biscuit? Perhaps a raspberry oat bar or a gingerbread muffin? If you’re feeling pangs of guilt about this post-yoga indulgence, steel yourself with the knowledge that all products are made with the freshest ingredients each dawn.

Barriques (coffee roaster, gold)

It’s coffee time—and what better place to get a jolt of caffeine than bustling Barriques on West Wash? Filled with businesspeople, political types, students and others spread out among the rustic tables throughout the loft-style space just south of the Capitol, the coffee shop may tempt you to stop and sip a latte, mocha, espresso or cup of joe. But grab your java to go and get on with this Best Day.

A Room of One’s Own (bookstore, bronze)

One of life’s joys is browsing a bookstore, and A Room of One’s Own is a wonderful place to do so. Now located on Gorham Street along with Avol’s Books, this independent, local business—long rooted in Madison’s feminist community—offers the latest in fiction alongside classics, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, books for children and young adults, women’s studies and LGBT selections and works by local authors. No matter where your tastes take you, you’re likely to emerge (perhaps hours later) with newfound knowledge and a desire to return.

Zip-Dang (men’s clothing, bronze) and A Stone’s Throw (women’s,clothing, bronze)

A Best Day would hardly be complete without a little retail therapy. So head to Monroe Street for fantastic picks for both men and women. Begin your excursion at Zip-Dang, a gift shop/clothing store/art gallery owned by creative husband-and-wife duo Natalie and Mike Bass. Here you’ll find garments from orangyporangy, Natalie’s independently designed clothing line, plus art and cards created by Mike. All the products at Zip-Dang have a quirky, distinctly Madison vibe. Next, meander north to A Stone’s Throw, a boutique with trendy yet comfortable clothing tailored toward the active woman’s lifestyle. Local yogis can shop organic cotton tops and yoga pants from eco-conscious brands, while fashionistas can peruse stylish dresses and cute tops.

Afternoon

DLUX (new restaurant, gold)

Ah, lunchtime! All that shopping has worked up your appetite, and there’s no better place to sit back, relax and dig into fries and a burger (or “sorta burger”) than at the new and hip DLUX. Into beef? Burger options include novel variations like the Carnegie with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese and the Sunrise with a fried egg, pepperjack cheese and housemade tomato jam. Not into beef? No prob. DLUX has five non-beef sandwiches, like the California chicken club and Southwestern white bean veggie burger, plus the three salads on the menu can be ordered sans meat. Couple the all-American food offerings with a retro-chic interior of red walls, 1950s artwork and semi-circle booths and you have the perfect space for a lunch hour catch-up with an old friend or a meet and greet with a new coworker. As this is the Best Day Ever, indulge in a decadently delicious side of truffle cream fries and a red velvet shake. You won’t be disappointed. And, hey, you need fuel for the rest of the day, right?

Tenney Park (park, gold)

Squeeze in some after-lunch relaxation with a stop at Tenney Park, a fairy-tale setting on the shores of Lake Mendota and a favorite city green space. Grab a seat and watch the activity all around you—volleyball and soccer games, boats, fishing and kids playing. Or be a part of the action by breezing down the paths on foot, bike or skates. Be sure to cross the park’s beautiful bridge and, before leaving, check out the new pavilion.

Chazen (museum, silver)

A can’t-miss stop on the city’s cultural scene is the Chazen Museum of Art. A magnificent expansion in 2011 doubled the size of this UW–Madison museum, which is home to more than 20,000 works: pottery from ancient Greece, Russian icons, European and American art ranging from the fourteenth to twenty-first centuries, Regionalist paintings, and works by Pablo Picasso, Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella, and more. Temporary exhibitions are also compelling; this month, check out Michael Lucero’s giant hanging forms and a selection of Japanese woodblock prints.

Banzo (food cart, gold)

Time for a boost. Navigate through the sea of food carts in Library Mall until you spot the bright green goldmine: Banzo. Perfectly creamy hummus, crispy falafel and authentic pita are calling your name, and you would do well to give into this worthy temptation.

Boulders (alternative fitness center, gold)

Now it’s time to make that pita work for you. Head west to Boulders Climbing Gym, where it doesn’t matter if your climbing accomplishments go as far as Everest or as near as your kid’s jungle gym. The founders meant for Boulders to be a space where anyone could try out climbing, which is why they established climbing routes to suit all skill levels and have the equipment you need available to rent right there. If you haven’t been to this gym before, you’ll go through a safety intro and get belay certified (meaning you’ll be able to hold the ropes for others who are climbing), and then you’ll be ready to rock. The nice thing about rock climbing here is you can go at your own speed. If you’re feeling confident, go ahead and scamper up to the top, or if slow and steady is more your pace, there’s no rush. The staff is more than supportive and willing to give advice on which rock to grab next and how to adjust your footing. So go ahead—challenge yourself.

Evening

Opus (happy hour, gold)

Follow up your climbing adventure with a cocktail at this classy (and dare we say sassy?) lounge nestled on King Street. Arrive before happy hour ends at 7 p.m. and score twenty-five percent off food and drink. The menu is extensive, so take advantage of the knowledgeable bar staff for recommendations, or concoct a new favorite from the top-shelf offerings. The dim-lit lounge is the perfect start to your night out with its urban-chic decor and matching soundtrack, ranging from acid jazz to hip-hop funk. You just may start to feel like you’ve added a little Manhattan to your Madison.

Harvest (best restaurant, gold)

Stick around downtown and satiate your hunger pangs with dinner at Harvest. Here, owner Tami Lax delights in the challenge of maintaining a premier menu reflective of the freshest locally grown ingredients. You get top-quality food that’s big in flavor, paired with a welcoming atmosphere that’s void of pretension. The food is typically categorized as American, Italian and French, but Harvest is all about giving dishes a modern twist, focusing on straightforward flavors and avoiding heavy sauces.

For red meat devotees, the grass-fed hanger steak or pan-seared beef tenderloin won’t disappoint. And plenty of lighter options, plus entrées for vegetarians, are offered as well. If a post-dinner dessert strikes your fancy, save room by sampling one or two of Harvest’s small-plate options—perhaps Korean BBQ octopus, grilled pimento crostini or pommes frites, available Monday through Friday—instead of a heavier entrée and round off your meal with lemon posset, housemade cherry-walnut ice cream or sweet bean and passion fruit semifreddo.

Another feature distinctive to Madison’s farm-to-fork eatery is the restaurant’s themed dinners. Hosted one Sunday a month, they showcase a choice local grower or particularly in-season ingredient. For a flat fee, guests are invited to enjoy a specialized alternative menu typically consisting of six courses and specially paired wines.

Merchant (cocktail, bronze)

Mosey across the Square for an after-dinner cocktail at Madison’s go-to for craft drinks. Mixologists at Merchant use quality spirits, freshly squeezed juices, hand-crafted bitters and just-picked herbs to make the kind of drinks you savor—from the Regret (rosemary demerara syrup and fresh lime juice with Death’s Door vodka) to the Paris Noir (cognac, fresh lemon juice, apricot syrup, honey and Chateau d’Orignac rinse).

Steve Renfro, High Noon Saloon (bartender, gold)

Pay a visit to Madison’s Best Bartender, Steve Renfro at the High Noon Saloon, itself a consistent Best of Madison winner. Renfro has been at the High Noon since it opened in 2004, but his bartending experience dates back to 1996. Renfro’s the kind of bartender who will often whip up his own version of fun cocktails—an exercise in creativity, if you will. Patrons can identify his original creations by the addition of “Fro” at the end of the drink name. He’ll also mix something for you on the spot. Whatever your beverage of choice, get out on the dance floor or, if you’re there on a Thursday, head back to the patio for the High Noon’s free Summer Patio Series. This East Wash music destination draws a dynamic mix of local bands and national touring acts, but no matter who’s playing, you can bet on an intimate vibe and the company of fellow music lovers, all with an expertly-crafted cocktail in hand.

Memorial Union (live music venue, bronze)

What better way to cap a jam-packed day than taking in some tunes at the iconic Memorial Union Terrace? There really is no better spot on a summer night—from the pitchers of local beer to the quintessential starburst chairs and breathtaking views of Lake Mendota, this is Madison at its best. The eclectic music programming (powered by a committee of UW students) ensures that you’re just as likely to hear indie rock as you are reggae or hip-hop any night of the week (except Mondays, when movies are screened). Most shows are free, and Terrace patrons run the gamut—the young and the old, first dates and families, townies and tourists. Cheers to that, and cheers to the Best Day Ever. 

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