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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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150 things we love: Wonderful Madison, from the obvious to the obscure

Share your own favorite things on Forum. Better yet, upload photos or videos of stuff that makes Madison great to Flickr or YouTube and tag them "Isthmus150." We'll aggregate them on for all to see.

It's not a comprehensive guide to the city
It's an enumeration of enthusiasm
A compilation of our staff's favorite things about Madison, in honor of our city's 150th birthday year.

Start with the obvious ' the view of Madison's downtown skyline. Whether it's from the middle of Lake Monona, along John Nolen Drive, or at points far out in Dane County, where only the Capitol's spire is visible, the city center as viewed from afar thrills.

The view from the Capitol building's observation deck.

UW Arboretum.


Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Memorial Union Terrace.

State Street.





Dane County Farmers' Market: 300 vendors, all selling stuff they grew and made themselves. It's an extended celebration of nature's bounty, and a people-watchers' paradise.

Art Fairs On... & Off the Square. If you don't like one art fair, start your own.

Warner Park. More than 200 acres with a beach, a baseball field, and the city's only recreation center. Plus, once a year, it hosts a show known as... Rhythm & Booms. The all-day event (1-1/2 if the show's postponed due to weather) offers spectacular fireworks set to music.

Madison Mallards. The once and future champs of the Northwoods League always put on a good show, win or lose, packing the Warner Park Duck Pond game after game. Plus, you get a free wiener if you catch a foul ball.

Biking from Lake Monona through still-rural fields and farms of Fitchburg all the way to Verona on the Capitol City Trail.

UW-Madison students. A continuously cycled transfusion of new blood for the city. Plus, move-in day is good entertainment; move-out day means good junk-picking.

Madison Repertory Theatre. Our own professional troupe ' now with comfortable seats in Overture's Playhouse.

Monona Terrace rooftop, for relaxing at the Otis Redding Memorial and whistling "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," having a lunchtime picnic or dancing at dusk.

Sledding, especially at the monster hills at Elver and Hiestand parks.

Picnic Point. One of the few places in the city where you can legally build a campfire and melt your s'mores.

Fish fries. This Friday night ritual isn't about the best one... it's about finding the best one.

Ice skating on Tenney Park lagoon.

The sound of the sailing whistle near Memorial Union, almost as good as a foghorn in Duluth.

Letting your pooch run off-leash at one of the area's eight city and county dog parks. Your pup socializes with a diverse group, from pampered poodles to Humane Society surprises. Poop bags provided.

Williamson Street. If it's not the hippie enclave it was in the past, it's still a thriving alternative to chains and the mass-produced, while providing goods and services to the near east side. It's also home to the Willy Street Co-op and the... Willy Street Fair and Parade... and its star attraction the Bubble Car. Not to mention the graffiti wall at Mother Fool's coffeehouse.

South Park Street. This jumble of ethnic groceries and restaurants is one of the most underappreciated thoroughfares in Madison. Home to some cool mid-century-modern architecture, too. Find out more courtesy of Randall School students, at

The Tenant Resource Center. style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family: "Times New Roman"'>Kind of like marriage counseling for renters and landlords.

Vilas Park Zoo and carousel.

Tenney Park Locks. If you don't think they're cool, go through 'em in a kayak.

Madison Public Library. The books you want, plus CDs, DVDs, Web access, free holds and interlibrary loans ' downtown and at eight branches across the city, with cozy chairs, community rooms and even fireplaces.

Paddle and Portage. Crazy people carrying canoes through downtown Madison every year.

A picnic dinner, set to a John Philip Sousa march, at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's Concerts on the Square.

YMCAs. Cheerfully democratic. Everybody goes there: buff gym rats, teenage jocks, overweight boomers, kids, senior citizens, those looking for specialized fitness programming. Jack Lussier and other community donors couldn't have put their money in a better place.

The second-story tennis court style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family: "Times New Roman"'> on top of a city well at Reynolds Park is the easiest place in Madison to elevate your game.

Governor's Island. One of Madison's prettiest places is also among the least known. This tiny patch of paradise off the Mendota Mental Health grounds provides stunning bluff views over Lake Mendota.

Paul Soglin. Sure, he's a curmudgeon. But no one knows Madison better than its two-time (so far) mayor, and no one cares more.

Dave Cieslewicz. Madison had a mayor who was good at the job but seemed to hate it, and one who liked being mayor but wasn't so good at it. Mayor Dave combines the best of both.

The city's screen-printed gig poster scene.

The Pro Arte Quartet + Mendelssohn. A match made in heaven.

Rockin' John McDonald's "I Like It Like That." style='font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"'> The world's most erudite oldies show; WORT (Saturdays, 6-8 p.m., 89.9 FM).

High Noon Saloon. The eclectic slate of bands, and especially the table at the front corner of the balcony. It's also home to... Rock Star Gomeroke, your chance to front a rock band ' specifically the Gomers, the reigning champs of live karaoke shtick.

Madison Ballet's Nutcracker.

UW Cinematheque. Vintage, experimental and foreign films at this mecca for movie buffs.

The Wisconsin Union Theater's performance series. style='font-size: 12.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'> In a dumbed-down world, the WUT remains committed to meaty programming.

Quarry Park. A nearly unknown 17-acre wilderness gives space to mountain bikers in the midst of a genteel west-side neighborhood (just off of University Avenue at Hill Street).

Juggler Truly Remarkable Loon unspooling rolls of toilet paper with his trusty leaf blower.

Bands at the Barrymore Theatre under a star-spangled ceiling.

The Overture Center's dance schedule, particularly the annual appearance by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum. War is a terrible thing, and this museum on the Square doesn't glorify or demean. It simply brings together icons from past military adventures, from the Civil War to the Persian Gulf War, including a Huey helicopter suspended from the ceiling.

Irish-rock stalwarts the Kissers play fiddle tunes, Johnny Cash covers and their belligerent original material with the same poise and good humor.

The Orpheum Theatre's deluxe lobby, harking back to vaudeville's glory days.

Goodman pool. The wait was worth it. The first year was quite a splash, with more than 77,000 swimmers making the plunge.

"Italian arbor" at Olbrich Gardens style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family: "Times New Roman"'>. This vine-covered arbor commemorates virtually every Italian family from the old Greenbush neighborhood, their names ' Parisi, Scalessi, Gargano ' inscribed in the brickwork floor. Smuggle in a bottle of vino, take a seat on the shady bench, and toast the old country.

Free outdoor music. Whether it's at the Union Terrace, Party in the Park, or many more, bands amping it up outside give us our own ad hoc Summerfest.

Clyde Stubblefield, a.k.a. "The Funky Drummer," laying into a James Brown-style backbeat.

The Wisconsin Film Festival.

Chazen Museum of Art.

The Wisconsin Book Festival style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family: "Times New Roman"'>.

The Bartell Theatre.

Local elections. A bizarro world in which the candidate who spends the most money and goes negative DOESN'T win.

Forest Hill Cemetery. A beautiful 19th-century burial ground.

Community Pharmacy. A worker's cooperative that fills prescriptions and stocks homeopathic supplements while empowering customers to manage their own well-being.

Bucky Badger.


Planet Bike. This east-side developer and wholesaler of bicycle accessories donates 25% of company profits to bicycle advocacy groups.

Nepalese food. Madison has not one but three Nepalese restaurants (Chautara, Himal Chuli and Dobhan), which as far as we can determine is the same number that New York City has.

Parking. It's easy and cheap to park here. Don't believe it? Try parking in Chicago.

One-way streets. They confuse visitors and make giving directions to the lost a challenge. But what better way to prove you're a native than to slip elegantly through the maze?

Smart People. The 142,489 Dane County voters who tried to defeat the ban on civil unions.

Smart Studios. Nirvana's Nevermind was recorded here. What more do you need to know?

The Innocence Project. The Justice system sometimes screws up, putting innocent people in prison, then mightily resists admitting that it made a mistake. Thankfully, this UW Law School team has helped gather the incontrovertible evidence needed to overturn several wrongful convictions.

Making a five-minute film in 48 hours at a Wis-Kino Kabaret.

Capitol Amber, Crop Circle Wheat style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family: "Times New Roman"'> and other heady local brews.

Walking along the shore of the lake in the middle of a snowstorm.

Madison Trust for Historic Preservation.

Community Shares of Wisconsin. The nation's oldest social-action fund helps underwrite dozens of grassroots nonprofits devoted to progressive ideals.

Madison Curling Club. Local curling enthusiasts have been delivering rocks to the house for 75 years, first at its longtime Burr Jones Field home and, since 1997, at its world-class facility in McFarland.

WORT-FM. Community-sponsored, back-porch radio, broadcasting everything from feminist folk to the news in Hmong.

The Onion. Newspaper Makes Everything Up; Prospers.

All-weather Scram! Couriers delivers parcels and documents by burning calories and exhaling carbon dioxide ' not fossil fuel. That a city this size has a bike courier outfit at all is a coup.

As teardowns sprout McMansions, old lake cottages are ever harder to find, but bring back memories of summers fishing and swimming on the four lakes.

John DeMain whipping up a crescendo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Bascom Abe.

World-class jazz. Richard Davis, Roscoe Mitchell, Ben Sidran, Joan Wildman and others swing both old- and new-school.

Effigy mounds. Madison's legacy as a special place, an epicenter of elaborate rituals of remembrance and renewal, goes back more than 1,000 years, as the remaining examples of the area's effigy mound culture serve to remind. The Effigy Tree at Lakeland Avenue and Maple Street. When lightning struck an old hackberry tree on the northeast shore of Lake Monona in 1990, the neighborhood wasn't ready to give up on it. Local Native American sculptor Harry Whitehorse transformed the tree into a 13' tribute to the Ho-chunk people.

Probing interviews on "To the Best of Our Knowledge," Wisconsin Public Radio's Peabody-winning "audio magazine of ideas" (Sundays, 9 a.m., 88.7 FM; and noon, 970 AM).

Madison Opera's soloists rattling the rafters in Overture Hall.

Red Bikes. $40 deposit gets you two-wheeled transportation for as long as you need it.

Community Car. The car-sharing program offers Mini-Coopers and energy-efficient hybrids ' cheaper and a lot more dependable than your '92 Tercel.

The Capital Times. Madison's afternoon newspaper is about to begin its 90th year, still proudly bearing the banner of Wisconsin progressivism. Its circulation continues to tumble but it remains relevant, a true community asset sustained by a dedicated staff and an ownership arrangement that lets it sponge off the profits of the jointly owned Wisconsin State Journal.

Cherokee Marsh. At 1,200 acres, it's the largest preserved wetland in Dane County, with seven miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.

Breese Stevens Field. This near-east-side landmark was constructed during the Depression from stone quarried from what is now Hoyt Park ' once of the few known instances of the east side taking advantage of the west. A former baseball park that hosted the city's minor league team, it is now used mainly for soccer.

Bram's Addition. In this south-side neighborhood, Madison still feels like a small town.

Bread. Whether it's Sophia's croissants, Madison Sourdough, Clasen's, Cress Springs, Stella's, L'Etoile or a dozen other specialty bakers, Madison excels in baked goods that warm the Midwestern soul.

Broom Street Theater. The casts create whole worlds with minimal sets and props, and no actors do a better job playing inanimate objects.

Community gardens. From showcase Troy Gardens to patches of land squeezed along the railroad tracks on St. Paul Avenue, the city has a thriving collection of veggie and flower plots.

Tammy Baldwin. As the first out lesbian in Congress, the Madison Democrat has for years taken principled stands as a member of the House minority. Now that her party is again in charge, she's positioned to become a major player. Go, Tammy, go.

Lake access points. These odd patches of public property at the ends of streets ensure that the common man or woman has a way to get to the lake, sit on a rock and breathe free. Some are mysterious, hidden mini-wildernesses.

The two weeks in April after the lakes have melted and before they start stinking.

Simpson Street Free Press. Newspapers serve all sorts of functions, many of them noble. But this Madison institution is especially meritorious, providing an outlet and real-world learning experience to young writers. And it's fun to read!

Catfish Stephenson plays 100% American roots music, so throw some 100% American dollars in his guitar case.

Food carts. More than hot dogs.

The Harmony. Talk a about a perfect name! This east-side Madison watering hole is much more than a bar, a music club or place to grab a bite. It's a melting pot, an icon, a community asset.

UW pianist Christopher Taylor style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family: "Times New Roman"'>interpreting Olivier Messiaen.

Wisconsin Pop Explosion, a collective of local bands dedicated to spotlighting each other with themed shows, silk-screened posters and unmatched enthusiasm.

Freakfest. At last, Halloween on State Street returns to fun.

The O'Sheridan Street illusion. style='font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"'> As you drive toward the Capitol on this street just south of Monona Bay, an optical illusion makes it looks like the headquarters of our state government is receding. Try it.

A scathingly satirical print by artist Warrington Colescott.

Polka. Weekend dances at the Essen Haus provide ample evidence that there is life in the old step yet. When the "Beer Barrel Polka" rolls, join in the fun as hoofers of all ages ' and at all stages of inebriation ' get their bouncing freak on.

Greenbush neighborhood. What there is left of this historic Italian neighborhood highlights diversity and some great Italian food.

Lou & Peter Berryman... and Lou's accordion.

An idiosyncratic collage, book or box by artist Walter Hamady.

The vitality of the city's hip-hop community in the face of years of stigmatization.

Digibot. The long-running punk band has never lost its ability to improvise thought-provoking (and entertaining) songs.

The Fifth Quarter.

The Food for Thought Festival.

Michael Feldman's world-class one-liners on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Whad' Ya Know?" (10 a.m. Saturdays, 970 AM, and 8 p.m. Sundays, 88.7 FM).

Bubblers. A "fountain" is something you throw coins into.

The incredible aroma that suffuses the area surrounding Gardner Bakery when anything is baking.

Science Hall. One of the first buildings in the world to be reinforced with steel I-beams, it remains one of the oldest, most impressive structures in Madison.

Sid Boyum's sculptures. The painted concrete work of the late sculptor populates the east side with a sense of playfulness (the Polar Bear chair in Elmside Park) and whimsy (the smiling mushroom on Atwood Avenue).

Protests of all sorts that proceed up State Street and convene at the steps of the Capitol.

The Wienermobile!

Community CHIP, the philanthropic tip jar that lets customers at participating businesses add 1% to their bill to support more than 50 local nonprofits.

The four weeks in late winter and early spring when the downtown is filled with WIAA visitors.

The ultimate spot for Ultimate, Olbrich Park. When players are chasing plastic with a shimmering Lake Monona and the downtown skyline (oh right, that again) as the backdrop, it's hard to picture a better venue for the sport.

The first beer purchased at one of Madison's many street fairs. Plastic-cup beers provide the subtle thrill of strolling the street holding an open intoxicant with impunity.

East High School gym. For a special atmosphere, including a crowd that supports the show choir with the same enthusiasm as the hoops squad, head to East. The home of the Purgolders is the best venue for prep buckets this side of Hickory, Indiana.

Bait and ice cream in one convenient shopping stop at Monona Bait & Ice Cream, 4516 Winnequah Road, across from Schluter Park beach in Monona.

Le Tigre Lounge. Carrying a torch for the cocktail age, this feline-themed bar is tucked away in a strip mall on Midvale at Verona Road. Watch the language or you might find yourself 86'd.

MSCR softball umpires. The play on the field might barely resemble any kind of athletic endeavor, but the MSCR ump will be wearing an official blue uniform and exuding the authority of a major league official. Just because you think it's okay to disrespect the game with your beer breath and dangling earrings doesn't mean he has to sit idly by and watch it happen.

The Mad Rollin' Dolls.

The Dreamkeepers The big flightless beasts surprise newcomers to Paterson Street, and are the product of Dr. Evermor, the renowned trash artist from Baraboo.

John De Andrea's nude woman ' "Untitled Bronze #1" ' on the fourth floor of the Chazen Museum of Art. Is she a sculpture or is she real?

Chad Vader and his local videographers Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda.

"Cooking with Bob," community access station WYOU's unfathomable cooking show that offers no instruction, just video of food grilling. 8 p.m. Tuesdays, replayed at 3 a.m.

The Art Bike Parade.

The robot that accompanies local band Droids Attack onstage.

Night swimming. Why does it seem like everyone we know has a story about being spotlighted by cops in the middle of the night at B.B. Clarke Beach in various states of undress?

Telling the cook at Lazy Jane's Cafe your name is "Stella," so he has to bellow "Steeeeellllllla" when your food is ready.

Marco Pogo. You know you're at a good show when the bearded, bespectacled Marco shows up and starts pacing the floor in anticipation. Pogo is rarely spotted socializing with anyone who might distract him from his mission: pogoing to indie rock music.

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