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The perfect bar

Bars, wine, beer, cocktails, drunken escapades

The perfect bar

Postby jjoyce » Wed May 22, 2013 10:56 am

I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago with some friends and we rolled up on THE perfect bar. It's in Lincoln Park, but far enough off of Lincoln to avoid the playpen atmosphere that attracts the post-collegiate bros. It's right on a corner and has these windows that push up so the sidewalk-facing counter is open air, but not floor-to-ceiling. Walking up, I immediately noticed a 60-something guy sitting there having a beer and doing the crossword puzzle, which seemed like the greatest thing to be doing at 4 on a Saturday afternoon.

Front room is nice, bar with about 14 stools, owner/operator behind it serving up an order of tap beer, can beer and cocktail in record time. Willing to engage in a discussion about the proper way to order multiple Schlitz/Schlitzes. Patrons putting good music on the jukebox: a mixture of Motown, '90s alt-rock, Elvis Costello. Cheerful laughter, but not obnoxious. Pleasantly populated... maybe 25 people in there total.

Back room has six booths and a pool table which was free (!). There was a second bar behind a closed door, presumably used as a backup or when someone reserved the back room for private parties.

It occurred to us while hanging out there that even the best Madison bars don't often find what this one has: effortless comfort. On a Saturday afternoon, the place had a very bright feel and it had thoroughly achieved the "third place" idea (not home, not work). It was a neighborhood joint, but because of its location, the people there were coming from all over the north side, many on their way somewhere else or back home. I like to think that a lot of places in Madison have a healthy drinking crowd, as in people there to have 2-3 beers on a Saturday afternoon, not get housed. But drinking seemed to be secondary at this place to conversation. And while there was hockey on TV, nobody was fixated on the game (might have been different if the Blackhawks were playing). There was no overwhelming theme. Art was photos of old Chicago and a great mural in the back room depicting a roaring twenties nightclub. The tap selection was a good mix of imports and micros with the standard Old Style and Bud Light, but you wouldn't consider it a "beer" bar.

Genna's, the old Wonder's, Weary all have similar vibes, but without the cool relationship to the street and the open air brightnesss. Malt House is cheerful, but dedicated to beer and no pool or games on TV. Other taverns are even darker and the clientele stick to their own groups instead of mixing in with other people. Also, this place does not serve food and the drinks-only bars in Madison tend to not be very cheerful in the afternoon on a Saturday.

I've since learned that the place was originally built by Schlitz pre-prohibition. I wonder what genius was designing taverns for them back then.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby gargantua » Wed May 22, 2013 11:36 am

Wow, you're kind of a Goldilocks when it comes to bars. I like the fact that Malt House doesn't have TV's.....their presence tends to inhibit conversation at times. And while they don't serve food, one can order out. We ordered in from Burrito Drive on a Sunday afternoon during craft beer week. The place was full of happy, chattering patrons.

What about Mickey's? It even has a pool table. Dexter's has food, great beer, TV's, games, and is a neighborhood bar. Even volleyball dude!
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby jjoyce » Wed May 22, 2013 11:44 am

gargantua wrote:What about Mickey's? It even has a pool table. Dexter's has food, great beer, TV's, games, and is a neighborhood bar. Even volleyball dude!


Mickey's has come very close to perfect. I can't believe I didn't think of it. But I think I liked it better before they served food, however. Right around 2003, that place was the ideal hangout I needed at the time.

I used to really enjoy going to Mickey's right after work with some teacher friends and leaving at about the time the too-cool-for-school kids started to come in. I always liked having discussions with total strangers across the U-shaped part of the bar, when the bartenders weren't too busy to shoot the shit.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby Stebben84 » Wed May 22, 2013 12:40 pm

jjoyce wrote:Mickey's has come very close to perfect.


For me it's the couches in the second room. I have had some awesome conversations with strangers in that space. And I do believe that have the best patio in town.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby talagaster » Wed May 22, 2013 12:50 pm

I'd put in a strong argument for The Plaza before 8 PM. That place is wonderful earlier in the day: regulars who aren't depressing alcoholics, food, drinks, Street Fighter II, a pool table with enough room to move around, a cliff that looks like a butt, not super loud. For those of us who have spent many years in Madison, it has that tinge of nostalgia without having to actually spend time around drunk college students.

Sure, it could use a patio but I don't feel it needs it.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby Ducatista » Wed May 22, 2013 5:39 pm

talagaster wrote:I'd put in a strong argument for The Plaza before 8 PM.

Agreed. It's been my favorite afternoon/evening bar since 1985.

I'm ashamed to say that in all those years I never noticed the cliff shaped like a butt. Something to scan for during my next visit. I do like the new(ish) Pabst Blue Ribbon version of the Sistine Chapel "Creation of Adam" hanging over the little door to the back room.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby rrnate » Wed May 22, 2013 8:03 pm

OMG Joyce.

jjoyce wrote:Patrons putting good music on the jukebox: a mixture of Motown, '90s alt-rock, Elvis Costello.


jjoyce wrote:Mickey's has come very close to perfect. I can't believe I didn't think of it. But I think I liked it better before they served food, however. Right around 2003, that place was the ideal hangout I needed at the time.


You are throwing out some serious old-guy vibes, all over the internet, and you're a couple posts away from me being able to turn everything you say in to some kind of BuzzFeed "Jason Joyce Is Feeling Old" listicle (which I will then hopefully sell back to Isthmus at a tidy profit).

OK, now that THAT'S out of the way - I was in England a little while ago and was pretty struck by the Pub scene, which is pretty close to what you're describing I think (particularly once you get out of London) - too many places in town include either food or "hey we're a night club!" -style vibes in their setup. Definitely agree that more of these kinds of places would do well in Madison, where there are a considerable market's worth of aging Jason-types out there, looking for a Cheers vibe.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby gargantua » Wed May 22, 2013 9:13 pm

It's not in Madison, but since Jason started with a perfect bar in Chicago, I have to say that the Map Room, in the Bucktown neighborhood in Chicago is my favorite bar in the world. Friendly patrons and knowledgeable bartenders. An extensive and ever-changing tap and bottle list. The walls are all maps of various places around the world. It has racks of National Geographics covering decades...last time I was there I paged through one from 1960.

And it's a little thing, but I love it that they put out pint glasses full of pretzel rods to nosh on while you nurse your beer and soak in the vibe.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby snoqueen » Wed May 22, 2013 11:00 pm

I like a bar with a good selection of beers and non-loud music. After half an hour of trying to have a conversation while yelling over a sound system cranked up to 10, I'm done and gone.

I wish when people review a bar or a restaurant, they'd rate the loudness factor along with the food and the drinks. After 10 pm it doesn't matter of course.

I vote for peanuts over pretzels, but either one is nice.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby fennel » Wed May 22, 2013 11:03 pm

snoqueen wrote:I wish when people review a bar or a restaurant, they'd rate the loudness factor along with the food and the drinks.
Hear, hear!
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby narcoleptish » Wed Jun 05, 2013 8:01 am

Mickey's was definitely my favorite bar before it became a restaurant, and it is a restaurant now, with a bar in the middle of it. The food is good and I still go there but it isn't the same.

When you bring in food service to a bar it just becomes a big messy distraction. When a table opens up you have to wait for it to be bussed. There's the constant danger of slipping on a pickle. And who doesn't love it when the drunk at the bar orders a big sloppy burger and then proceeds to do a spot-on impression of a 200-lb 2-year old? "Hey buddy, is that mustard in your mustache or do you just have a bad cold?"

A bar that I rarely go to, yet enjoy when I do, is Woody & Ann's on Winnebago. It has many of the classic features of a WI tavern. Some old-timers, some new-timers, dumpy little bathrooms, shuffleboard, not-on-purpose vintage decor. That big window keeps it bright inside and it just looks like one of those places that will have a perfect level of air conditioning on a hot summer day.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby green union terrace chair » Wed Jun 05, 2013 10:20 am

snoqueen wrote:I wish when people review a bar or a restaurant, they'd rate the loudness factor along with the food and the drinks. After 10 pm it doesn't matter of course.

Chaser's has this metal ceiling that seems to amplify crowd noise to a very unpleasant level when it's not even full. Yeah, it's a total bro-bar, but they have a surprisingly good beer selection and specials.

Another one: Cooper's Tavern. I love that place but MAN does it get unreasonably loud in there.
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby gargantua » Wed Jun 05, 2013 11:20 am

narcoleptish wrote:There's the constant danger of slipping on a pickle.

Thanks for giving us yet another thing to worry about!
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Re: The perfect bar

Postby TheBookPolice » Wed Jun 05, 2013 11:28 am

narcoleptish wrote:When you bring in food service to a bar it just becomes a big messy distraction. When a table opens up you have to wait for it to be bussed. There's the constant danger of slipping on a pickle. And who doesn't love it when the drunk at the bar orders a big sloppy burger and then proceeds to do a spot-on impression of a 200-lb 2-year old? "Hey buddy, is that mustard in your mustache or do you just have a bad cold?"

You worry too much. And I'd rather the sloppy drunk had something to distract him that wasn't A) some perceived slight by another patron, or B) more alcohol.
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