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Madison/Wisconsin Diners

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Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:56 am

I was wondering what no-frills diners, present & past, were located in Madison. Also, if you know of any notable diners [that fit the description below] in greater Wisconsin, feel free to list them.

No listing national chains (IHOP, Dennys etc.), and even though I know some of you are going to be tempted to list Food Fight Inc.'s Monty's Blue Plate Diner, Hubbard Ave Diner and Market Street Diner, please refrain from doing so. Food Fight Inc.'s version of "diners" do not fit the classic definition because of their varied menu's (far from no-frills), their non-budget prices, and their standard restaurant closing times.
Also, truck stop diners (like The Pine Cone etc.) do not fit the classic definition of a diner in my book either, because their purpose and locations are to serve truckers passing through, and do not cater to the urban/neighborhood crowd.

Touching on a few points from the Wikipedia Entry on diners;
Diners are characterized by a wide range of foods, mostly American, a casual atmosphere, a counter, and late operating hours.
Diners frequently stay open 24 hours a day, especially in cities, making them an essential part of urban culture, alongside bars and nightclubs; these two segments of nighttime urban culture often find themselves intertwined, as many diners get a good deal of late-night business from persons departing drinking establishments. Many diners were historically placed near factories which operated 24 hours a day, with night shift workers providing a key part of the customer base.
There is often an emphasis on breakfast foods such as eggs (including omelettes), waffles, pancakes, and French toast. Some diners serve these "breakfast foods" day round.


From Dinercity.com;
Some insist that in order for a restaurant to qualify as a diner, it must be a prefabriacted structure with a counter and stools which swivel and are bolted to the floor. There are others who refine the distinction even further and insist on the judicious use of stainless steel, inside and out. Others require the place to be long and narrow, and not too big. Others appoint diner status based on the menu and prices. "A diner serves unpretentious, home cooked meals for a reasonable price, and is generally family-owned and operated," some may say. "If it doesn't serve breakfast at any hour of the day, it's not a diner." Nod supportively, but don't accept those words as fact.

Webster's Dictionary defines a diner as "a restaurant in the shape of a railroad car." The word "diner" is a derivative of "dining car" and reflects the stylings that diner manufacturers borrowed from railroad cars. Some people mistakingly believe that all diners are converted railroad cars or trolleys. While in fact some were, the vast majority of diners were built to be diners and are not salvaged rolling stock.


Here's an article from OnMilwaukee from 2006.
"Breakfast and coffee build community. When you go to any major downtown, it's the cafes, diners and casual eateries that are its lifeblood."

I guess the closest thing to a legitimate diner I've been to in Wisconsin was The Copper Penny (defunct) at 633 W Wisconsin Ave two blocks up from the MPM in Milwaukee.
I remember going there when I was a kid with my Grandpa to get a bite sometimes before or after a trip to the Public Museum. The food was never that great and it was kinda sketchy (though sketchiness is definitely not a prerequisite to this list). We'd also sometimes go to the McDonalds across the street (now bulldozed to make way for condos).
The Copper Penny was later renamed The Midwest Diner.
Here's an article on the Midwest Diner from September 2009, and a comment noted that it had closed shortly after the article was posted.

Are there any books on Wisconsin diners?
Last edited by MadMind75 on Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:52 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby workboy7 » Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:53 pm

Those are some narrow parameters you've chosen. I do take exception to excluding any Food Fight locations though. I believe that Monty's, Hubbard, and Market Street fit just fine in most definitions of diner, and are good values too. One trait that I love about many diners, not any of the FF locales though, is the specials offered that reflect the owners background, Greek, Estonian, whatever. Madison has others that I find very happily diner-like too, such as Pine Cone (a TOTALLY real diner), Dairyland, Family Table, Parkway, The place on Monona Drive, and the one at Milwaukee and 51. Or maybe you are anti Food Fight train enthusiast, if so good luck. How about the term "greasy spoon"? Are there rigid definitions for that too?
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Mon Mar 29, 2010 5:59 pm

workboy7 wrote:I believe that Monty's, Hubbard, and Market Street fit just fine in most definitions of diner, and are good values too. Or maybe you are anti Food Fight train enthusiast, if so good luck.

If Foo-Foo's "diners" magically one day lowered all their prices to exceed no more than the most expensive thing on the children's menu, and stayed open 24 hours a day, they'd make the grade. But I don't forsee either ever happening. Also, any real diner doesn't cater to vegetarians!
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Wed Mar 31, 2010 8:20 pm

workboy7 wrote:Those are some narrow parameters you've chosen.

Sorry, sometimes I forget the fact that Madison isn't a real city.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby jackisonian » Wed Mar 31, 2010 9:14 pm

Cottage cafe on atlas, no dinner closed @ 2pm and no foofoo.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Henry Vilas » Thu Apr 01, 2010 9:12 am

Mickey's Dairy Bar on Monroe Street is basically a diner.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby swoon_queen » Thu Apr 01, 2010 9:28 am

Honestly, I don't understand how Madison, a legitimate "college town" if ever there was one, does not have a 24-hour diner within walking distance of campus. Friends and I speculating on this a while back were thinking it must have something to do with zoning or city ordinances prohibiting food served past a certain hour or something. Even though there are places serving diner-style fare at diner-style prices (Mickey's really is the only place that comes to mind) none of them stay open late enough to grab the college all-nighter crowd.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Henry Vilas » Thu Apr 01, 2010 9:37 am

The campus IHOP was the closest thing to a 24 hour diner near UW, but the land was too valuable, so it was torn down and high rent apartment tower replaced it.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Ned Flanders » Thu Apr 01, 2010 10:14 am

In the classic East Coast sense, Madison has no diners.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Peacetrain » Thu Apr 01, 2010 11:28 am

White Fox Den in Burlington WI.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby rrnate » Thu Apr 01, 2010 12:00 pm

swoon_queen wrote:Honestly, I don't understand how Madison, a legitimate "college town" if ever there was one, does not have a 24-hour diner within walking distance of campus. Friends and I speculating on this a while back were thinking it must have something to do with zoning or city ordinances prohibiting food served past a certain hour or something. Even though there are places serving diner-style fare at diner-style prices (Mickey's really is the only place that comes to mind) none of them stay open late enough to grab the college all-nighter crowd.


Well, on State Street there is the Gyro place and the semi-skeezy pizza place which are both open 'till past bar time (at least on the weekends). I know your fairly-dumb definition specifies "mostly American food", but greazy gyros/pizza is pretty American at this point.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby keelio » Thu Apr 01, 2010 3:40 pm

Not meant to hijack the thread, but didn't the smoking ban cause the extinction of truly legit diners? Is The Curve or Curve II still in operation? Now those were some seriously greeaazzzy joints.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby green union terrace chair » Thu Apr 01, 2010 3:49 pm

workboy7 wrote:Madison has others that I find very happily diner-like too, such as Pine Cone (a TOTALLY real diner) ...


On the ratings of some restaurants, tastes vary and there's room for different opinions. However, the Pine Cone is such a fantastic, magical place that if someone tells me they don't like it, then I say FUCK YOU.

Henry Vilas wrote:The campus IHOP was the closest thing to a 24 hour diner near UW, but the land was too valuable, so it was torn down and high rent apartment tower replaced it.


No, the IHOP closed of its own accord at least two years before it was torn down to be replaced by The Embassy. In fact, another diner tried its luck for a year between IHOP and demolition of the building.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby swoon_queen » Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:04 pm

rrnate wrote:Well, on State Street there is the Gyro place and the semi-skeezy pizza place which are both open 'till past bar time (at least on the weekends). I know your fairly-dumb definition specifies "mostly American food", but greazy gyros/pizza is pretty American at this point.


I didn't use any specified definition ('fairly-dumb' or otherwise); just basing my opinion on my experience at what I'd call "real" diners. and yeah, they were on the East Coast, but there's also a place in Minneapolis around the corner from where my brother used to live that fits the bill.... can't remember what it's called.

The main difference between the Gyro place and the handful of pizza places open past bar time and the diners I'm referencing is that diners encourage people to sit down and stay awhile. Ordering from a menu, not at a counter. Free refills of (usually bad in a good way) coffee. House-made desserts in a well lit and sometimes revolving case. Comfy booths. Sometimes a juke box. Nick's is a perfect example, come to think of it, but their hours are fairly limited as well, if I recall, and I don't think they serve a breakfast menu (a diner must).

The 24 hour truck stop near my alma mater was packed between the hours of 1 AM-5 AM with students studying alone or in groups, or taking a study break for some greasy food or cherry pie a la mode. The waitresses knew us by name and let us stay for hours. Some of the best lengthy conversations I've ever had in my life happened there. The last time I started anything resembling a deep conversation at Pizza di Roma after bar time, the blare of ESPN above me and the guys mopping the floor around me quickly sent me and my friend to the street.

I have a feeling that anyone who started a bona fide diner on State St. would make a mint. Not to mention it'd be a great alternative to the bar scene, especially for younger students.
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby wallrock » Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:26 pm

swoon_queen wrote: there's also a place in Minneapolis around the corner from where my brother used to live that fits the bill.... can't remember what it's called.

Maybe it was Mickey's, either the train car in DT St. Paul or the other one on 7th. I had a friend who lived close to the one on 7th - it was a decent enough hangover breakfast the time I went. I was told it's a bit crazy after bar time.

There is also the Ideal Diner in Minneapolis, but I don't know if it is 24-hour or for that matter even open at night.

I travel enough to have stopped at plenty of diners over the last few years. I cannot say that I'm a fan of most, since you're usually getting the lowest common denominator of food and the quality of the ingredients is suspect. But when I am in the mood for a simple and cheap hangover breakfast I much rather prefer the old-line Greek/Albanian/Balkan family restaurants.
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