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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Fair
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Madison's neighborhood secrets: West
Lombardino's model of Rome's Trevi Fountain.

Yes, Hilldale Mall has a basement, complete with dance school, music school and coin and stamp shop. But the best reason to go downstairs is the cheerfully retro Hilldale Barber Shop, where the haircuts are cheap and the vibe is friendly. Take a seat, grab a copy of Sports Illustrated and wait for a cheerful "Next!" There's no smoking, but you can still appreciate the fact that the barber chairs come equipped with ashtrays.

Budget Bicycle's used-bike outlet, 930 Regent St., has a fun corner for kids and nostalgic adults, featuring old-time arcade machines. Not all of them work at any given time, but you can keep yourself amused in between purchases with the Foot Massager, the Metal Stamper, the Cowpoke pinball machine or the alluring peep shows called "A Sailor's Paradise" and "When Will You Marry and Have Love in a Cottage."

Some go to Lombardino's, 2500 University Ave., for the food, others for the spectacular seven-foot-tall model of Rome's Trevi Fountain, complete with ceramic columns, gods and seahorses. The fountain's basin is filled with coins, as is the Roman original. Sadly, the water doesn't run anymore, but even a dry Trevi Fountain is an unexpected treat some 6,000 miles from Italy.

On Friday nights, an authentic mariachi trio called Soles strolls through Mexican restaurant Cancun, 704 S. Whitney Way. Clad in silver-studded black charro outfits, the three jovial guitarists stop at tables to strum and sing, even making "Happy Birthday" sound like indigenous Mexican music.

The Regent Market Co-op, 2136 Regent St., is a small neighborhood grocery store with its own character, surviving despite competition from the nearby Trader Joe's and Whole Foods chains. The store opened in the 1920s and went through several incarnations - some people still call it Joe's after Joe Heggestad, who owned the place from the 1970s to the 1990s. It went co-op in 1998 with help from hundreds of supportive neighbors.

The Zuzu Café, 1336 Drake St. across from the Vilas Zoo, features the city's most casual all-ages open mike on Saturdays, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The hosts keep it homey and low-key, making this a great place for adults and kids to try out an act.

The Annie C. Stewart Memorial Fountain sits at the old pedestrian entrance of Vilas Zoo, south of 632 Wingra St. Built in 1925, it features a mermaid and a dolphin, with shells that once served as drinking fountains. The water no longer runs, and the structure is badly damaged, but how many other examples of tragic grandeur can you find on the near west side?

Tucked into a quiet west-side neighborhood is one of Madison's least-known but most impressive parks: Owen Conservation Park, a 93-acre nature preserve with more than three miles of trails. It's one of the loveliest places in Madison, a paradise for bird watchers and wildflower admirers. The park is accessible by foot from several areas, including Inner Drive, and by car off Old Sauk Road across the street from Crestwood School.

Dinner at the University of Wisconsin Hospital cafeteria, 600 Highland Ave., is a cheap night out, and the food is surprisingly tasty and eclectic. Plus, trained medical staff are always on hand in case of choking.

The graceful sycamore is not a tree often seen in Madison; we're a little north of its normal range. But several sycamores can be found in the village of Shorewood Hills, including a huge one on Lake Mendota Drive at the triangular intersection with Sumac Drive and Edgehill. Sycamores are known for their spotty, peeling bark and generous spreading crown.

Sister Stevie taught at Edgewood College. She liked to fish at an especially serene spot on Lake Wingra. A plaque commemorates that fact on a path in the woods behind Edgewood. Sister Stevie's fishin' spot is not to be confused with Sister Stevie Hall, an Edgewood dormitory.

The Glenwood Children's Park is not visible from Glenway Street; you just have to know it's there, hiding below street level. The secluded quality is part of the park's allure for kids, who play Huck Finn on the artfully shaped hills, gullies and council circle.

On tiny Hillington Green, off Virginia Terrace near West High, the neighborhood maintains a charming ice rink in the winter. Residents take turns hosing the small patch of ground to keep the ice smooth for hockey players and pint-sized figure skaters.

You'll find the Sushi Box in an inconspicuous strip mall at 2433 University Ave., but don't let the modest storefront fool you. The restaurant serves succulent sushi, and the friendly owner knows her customers by name.

The wooded spot between Forest Hills Cemetery and the southwest bike path is a pleasantly rustic dog-walking area. Good dogs commune with each other on the hills and trails, while the bad ones make a break for the rolling fairways of the nearby Glenway Golf Course.

Saturday Night Live comedian Chris Farley grew up in Madison, and his 1997 funeral at Our Lady Queen of Peace off Mineral Point Road was attended by Dan Aykroyd, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler and other stars. You can pay your respects at the mausoleum near the intersection of Farley Avenue and Regent Street in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery.

Named for the eccentric electromagnetic engineer Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the block running from North Rosa Road to North Kenosha Drive was long misspelled Telsa Terrace in his honor. Attributed to a sign-painting error in the 1940s or '50s, the transposed l and s were reproduced on maps and in directories for so many years that they resisted correction until 1987, after a class of diligent Michigan third-graders mounted a letter-writing campaign that generated sufficient media coverage to force the issue. Despite the corrected signage, the misspelling persists in some resources, including Google Maps, which continues to identify the block as Telsa Terrace.

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