Thirty Local Bars We Love
From the best beer bars to the swankiest joints for a craft cocktail, here are our favorite places to grab a drink
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It’s cold outside. Winter’s not far off. But fear not—fall is the perfect time to continue Wisconsin’s rich tradition of populating its taverns and sharing a drink with those closest to you. Discovering a new place to socialize with family and friends over a local brew, craft cocktail or bubbly soda is the perfect distraction from the increasing chill. And if you’re particular about the kind of place you go for a beverage, don’t worry. There’s a bar in Madison for every conceivable situation, location and preference. Cheers!
554 W. Main St., 256-6928
Looking for the best spot to catch the game, just far enough from the stadium and crowds but still situated downtown? With seventeen huge screens and expansive outdoor seating, Echo Tap is your answer. Plus, ex–head football coach Bret Bielema reportedly stopped by the Echo Tap on occasion for a drink during his time in Madison, so you can be sure it’s Badger sports approved. We can only wonder if Gary Andersen will make it a tradition.
1501 Monroe St., 819-8228
The Wise stands out for a couple of reasons. Not only is it the classiest destination for sports viewing, but also this HotelRED bar is as close in proximity to Camp Randall as you’re gonna get. With big glass windows facing the stadium, you can comfortably watch the pre-game entertainment of the rambunctious students descending upon Bucky’s abode. And if you’re not going to the game, swivel your chair around and watch the action on television, all while sipping a finely fashioned cocktail.
State Street Brats
603 State St., 255-5544
The legendary reputation attached to watching a Badger game at State Street Brats might seem exaggerated, but it’s truly well deserved. Badger fans young and old congregate at this Madison mainstay for an environment comparable to being at the event itself. The crowd at Brats is always enthusiastically engaged in the game, and the food and drink are classic stadium fare. Just make sure to get there early if you’re planning on scoring a table.
AFTER A SHOW
1980 Atwood Ave., 204-7644
After catching a performance at the Barrymore, hang around to enjoy the Atwood neighborhood and head on over to Alchemy Café, where you can usually catch live music any day of the week. The Alchemy is kid-friendly—and friendly in general—but appeals to grown-up palates with a solid bar stocked with local craft beer and cocktails. The food menu is delicious and unique, with dishes ranging from salads and sandwiches to steak and seafood. Don’t miss the daily specials, either.
117 E. Main St., 294-9371
Maduro is a verifiable one-of-a-kind in Madison and a great spot to lounge on date night or with a small group after a play at the Bartell or a concert at Overture. Maduro takes itself seriously (but not too seriously), which is a good thing when you’re the only true cigar bar left in town. With massive leather couches, dim lighting and seasoned DJs playing pleasant mixes, Maduro provides patrons with a comfortingly nostalgic atmosphere.
211 King St., no phone
If you’ve just left a crowded, rousing show at the Majestic and need a cozy, laidback place to unwind within walking distance, Natt Spil is your go-to. Hands down the most eclectic interior of any downtown bar, the little tavern tastefully mixes its quirky-cool décor with grade-A drink options, from creative cocktails to potent martinis, plus local beers on tap. Rotating DJs set a chill backdrop, and did we mention the delicious wood-fired pizzas and dim sum available late into the night?
7 W. Main St., 255-2015
Where most Irish pubs come off as kitschy and disingenuous, Brocach strikes a tasteful balance of Madison meets the Emerald Isle. Many nights of the week feature live Irish music during happy hour, with the Currach performing on Fridays. Drink specials include price reductions on Guinness, Murphy’s and Powers Whiskey, plus $3 off all Irish and Scotch whiskeys usually priced $7 to $12.
105 W. Main St., 255-4770
Always drawing a large, amiable crowd, and consistently popular happy hour at Genna’s is a good measure of just how worthwhile this place is. With forty percent off all rail drinks and select tap beers, along with tasty hors d’oeuvres, it’s pretty hard to beat the deals at Genna’s. The old-school jukebox is the icing on the cake, holding a killer catalogue of tunes certain to please all music tastes.
1 S. Pinckney St., 251-2700
While Graze is perhaps better known as a foodie haven than a place to grab drinks, the restaurant’s happy hour offerings deserve mad props. The two-for-one draft beer, tap wine and rail drinks from four to six are reason enough to go. Additionally, there’s a weekday late-night happy hour from nine to eleven, so you can bask in the glow of the Capitol through the enormous ceiling-high windows while you sip your cocktail on the cheap.
1923 Monroe St., 255-8500
Brasserie V is the premier location in Madison for Belgian beers and those who love them. Good luck finding many of the brews served here anywhere else in town—or the state, for that matter. With such an impressive foreign beer selection, this is one place where an absence of liquor and spirit options (wine and beer only) is a good thing. The food at Brasserie V is also notable, reminiscent of what you might find in a European gastropub.
The Coopers Tavern
20 W. Mifflin St., 256-1600
The beer selection at Coopers—both draught and bottled—has been masterfully selected, representing the best local, domestic and international areas where brewing is renowned. If you’re having trouble choosing, the staff is knowledgeable and always willing to recommend something based on what you like. And if you’re a soccer fan, Coopers should be high on your list of places to grab a brew and watch the game. It’s often the only spot in town showing games from leagues overseas.
The Mason Lounge
416 S. Park St., 255-7777
With no TVs, low-volume music, a plethora of board games and an eclectic repertoire of tap beers, Mason Lounge is the perfect place for meaningful interaction with friends. Even the biggest beer snob in your group will have a hard time claiming they’ve previously encountered every one of the brews available. And that’s saying something, considering the beer list is relatively modest in size.
FOR WHISKEY OR TEQUILLA
744 Williamson St. #2, 280-9378
Tequila aficionados, unite. A true Madison tequila mecca, Eldorado Grill is stocked full of great tequilas, ranging the full gamut of type and price. And yes, that also means a number of terrific margaritas and tequila-based cocktails. If you’re the one driving, you can still feel in the atmosphere by picking from a number of appropriately themed non-alcoholic drinks, like a glass-bottle Mexican Coke or grapefruit Jarritos.
The Malt House
2609 E. Washington Ave., 204-6258
With more than seventy premium options available, the Malt House is a whiskey fortress. It’s the perfect place to share a drink with friends, as jukeboxes, TVs and food items are nonexistent. You are invited to bring your own eats, which is great when you know exactly what you want to chow down on while enjoying a spectacular whiskey.
Old Sugar Distillery
931 E. Main St., 260-0812
All of the drinks served at the Old Sugar Distillery are mixed with liquor and liqueurs made in-house. The Queen Jennie Whiskey, made with Wisconsin sorghum, stands as one of the best whiskeys around. The name comes from the tales of Prohibition-era entrepreneur Jennie Justo, who managed to run some of Madison’s most popular watering holes despite the best efforts of law enforcement.