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The Madison Guide to Bars

June 27, 2017 by
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So you’re heading to Madison, Wisconsin for the CrossFit Games. You’ve never been here before and you want to know the best places to grab a brewsky or two. Madison is full of fantastic local watering holes, but here are a few that we’ve found to be worth checking out.


1. Essen Haus (and their Boots of Beer)

Location: 514 E Wilson St, Madison, WI 53703

The Essen Haus is a traditional German restaurant – time to get your schnitzel on! – located right in downtown Madison. If you’re going for the Boots of Beer it’s wise to bring a few friends since you’ll need them.

When the boot arrives at the table, the first person will take a drink. This is where it gets real important – once the boot has been put in play, you can not set it down on the table! (I don’t know what happens if you do set it down, just don’t.) Take a drink and pass it around. Now, this is also important, because of the shape of the boot once you get towards the bottom, air will get trapped in the toe. Be sure to tilt the boot so the toe is pointing to the side or even down so the boot doesn’t hiccup and rush a bunch of beer down your chin.

Keep drinking and passing. The person to finish the last drink from the boot is the “winner.” Which isn’t nearly as important as the person just before him that couldn’t finish it off – that is the person that buys the next boot.

2. The Tipsy Cow (Downtown Staple)

Location: 102 King St, Madison, WI 53703

Two words: happy hour. Because going to the Tipsy Cow you’re guaranteed to have one. Another one of Madtown’s brewpubs, the food is excellent and there is usually less of a wait than a few of the other bars nearby. Pro tip: order the truffle fries.

3. The Great Dane (Brew Pub)

Location: 123 E Doty St, Madison, WI 53703

This downtown brew-pub is located in the 140 year-old “Fess Hotel” building. Opened in 1994, the Great Dane’s unique space features a 10 barrel brew house, a stone-walled Rathskellar, semi-private dining area and billiards lounge, along with a quaint and relaxing courtyard beer garden that receives accolades again and again for Best Outdoor Dining awards in Madison.

4. The Silver Dollar Tavern (Dive Bar)

Location: 117 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703

It’s creaky, old and it’s cash only. But as far as dive bars go, you can’t do much better than this old place. It’s been around since 1933 and some of the prices haven’t changed much either. Don’t be surprised if you find a $7 pitcher up on the board.

5. The Old Fashioned (Classic Madison)

Location: 23 N Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703

Inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs, The Old Fashioned exists to pay tribute to the foods and spirits that make Wisconsin famous. You’ll find fish fry, prime rib dinner, and Sunday wood-fired chicken, and of course brandy Old Fashioned. But be aware, this place fills up FAST and there are no reservations so get here early.

6. Villa Tap (Dive Bar, Off the Beaten Path)

Location: 2302 Packers Ave, Madison, WI 53704

Located on the East side of Madison a few miles outside of downtown, the Villa Tap is where the locals drink. You won’t find many college kids, mostly folks grabbing a few beers after work or watching the ball game. Bartenders J.P. and Big John have been running the Tap for as long as we can remember. Don’t be intimidated by the decor. Just come in , take a seat and come along for the ride.

7. Brassiere V (European, Belgian)

Location: 1923 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711

Located on the famous Monroe Street downtown, Brassiere V is a quaint Franco-Belgian neighborhood bar has sold more than 200,000 orders of frites (fries), which works out to be more than $1million. Pretty impressive for only being around a decade. Their combination of a love of rustic French food paired with Belgian beer and noble wines makes this a solid spot for a round or two.

8. Café Hollander (Belgian — Off the Beaten Path)

Location: 701 Hilldale Way, Madison, WI 53705

Located over on the West side of Madison in the Hilldale Mall, Café Hollander screams old world Europe from the inside. If you’re looking to drink domestic, you’d probably should head elsewhere but if Belgian ales are your thing and you’re in the neighborhood you can’t get much better.

Pro Tip: Order the Bloody Mary, which comes loaded with sconnie staples like bacon, olives and cheese curds!!!


Nikole Gessler is co-owner of CrossFit Recursive in downtown Madison, WI. 

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