Boutique Bowling. You don't have to pretend you know what that means. It doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry yet (in English).
If Segredo, University Ave's most recent nightlife installment, is an accurate representation of the concept, then boutique bowling hardly involves any bowling. That was the first thing that came to mind as I stood at the bar and became the first person to order an alcoholic beverage at Madison's largest liquor license holder Wednesday night. Although the four sparkling half-sized bowling lanes are the center of Segredo's decadent set-up, which includes four bars, a basketball hoop, Nintendo Wii games and three massive music video-playing TV screens, their presence seemed to have much more to do with design than entertainment.
After talking with owner Michael Hierl, I was happy to find out that my assumptions were not far off mark. No, the bowling alleys are not there only for aesthetic value, but rather are just one part of a business model that seeks to de-emphasize what Hierl refers to as "vertical drinking" by offering customers a variety of social activities. The concept began in Brazil, where it met immediate success, and was quickly expanded to other international party capitals in Latin America and Europe. Its introduction in Madison represents Hierl's first chance to see if his fellow gringos give this Brazilian product the same warm welcome they gave the Samba and the thong.
The drink list is fun and interesting. Similar to the Cabana Room, it offers a bunch of exotic cocktails, which all cost $6.50. Being the first customer, I felt obligated to order the drink with "Segredo" in the name, either the "Segredo Mojito" or "To Segredo With Love," but then I realized that Jason Joyce was not around to buy my drink, so I switched my order to a cold one. It's not exactly a place for beer connoisseurs, especially those looking for a variety of local brews. There a handful of beers from the region including a couple Capitol brews, an Ale Asylum, Fat Tire, Spotted Cow and Bell's Two-Hearted Ale (Michigan).
Although Segredo is classified as a bar by the Alcohol License Review Committee, and its owners project that 62 percent of its revenue will come from drink sales, the place has put a big emphasis on its food selection, which is oriented towards sharing for groups, a la tapas. Menu items include an assortment of appetizers, which appeal to the Madisonian's yearning for exoticism as well as his devotion to the dear locale. I got to try a couple of their more familiar items, including some delicious miniature cheese steaks and hamburgers (called "sliders"). But there are also enchiladas, nachos, tortas and calimari and much more. Perhaps most intriguing is the effort Segredo has put into original sauces to accompany the grub, such as the "spicy remoulade," the "sriracha chili-mustard-lime dipping sauce," or, even more extravagantly, the "chili and cumin scented tomato fondue."
While it's way too early to tell Segredo's fortune, the excitement and curiosity boutique bowling has already generated will likely make its record-breaking capacity of 605 not seem absurd in coming weeks. Many in the community are eagerly waiting to see if Segredo succeeds where Madison Avenue, it's predecessor, failed so miserably: providing a safe social hub for people above and below the drinking age. Campus-area Ald. Bryon Eagon, who voiced frustration last year after the ALRC turned away a large multi-activity sports bar/restaurant at University Square, said that he hopes Segredo will prove that mixed-age establishments are viable in Madison. "I like that it is active. It offers people things to do besides stand around and drink. I hope this can be a catalyst for more activity in bars and restaurants."
To assure standards of decorum, Segredo has enlisted the help of Milwaukee security firm RTM, which you might recognize from Freakfest. In addition to the muscle, Hierl has put in place a set of "ground rules," which are displayed on every napkin. Although some of the rules, such as "Gentlemen will remove their hats," seem anachronistic, the number one commandment, "Be good or be gone," makes clear what this bar aspires to be: respectable.
Jack Craver is a UW-Madison student and editor of The Sconz, a local political blog.