Illustration by Peter O'Toole
Every year, Isthmus asks its readers to nominate their favorites and vote for them, from coffee shops to kids’ gear, from delis to doggy day care. Make no mistake, there is passion in the ranks. And while more than ever there are scores of options to pick from in our growing metropolitan area, when push comes to shove, there’s a clear winner.
We also ask readers a few questions about how they feel about who they are and what Madison is all about. While the old “hippie/hipster/liberal” stereotype is both loved and hated, one sentiment became very clear from looking at your responses: That while Madison’s 79.4 actual square miles may in many ways still be an appealing alternative to reality, we are also not immune from reality. Readers voiced concern about racism, homelessness and both the behavior of and the support given to the police.
Thanks to all you peace-loving, bike-riding, Prius-driving, yoga-mat-toting, easily offended vegan hippies/hipsters who voted. And everyone else, for that matter. What do you all really think? Without further ado....
Among the many stereotypes of Madisonians, one near the top is that we’re all a bunch of organic, farm-to-table, local-sourcing foodies. People actually don’t seem to mind this stereotype, and what’s the harm? That it makes someone feel too guilty to eat at Arby’s? Besides, sometimes it’s even true.
“Local” is the name of the game at The Old Fashioned, where the menu is an homage to the cuisine of Wisconsin, and whose name pays honor to the state cocktail. Wisconsin cheese plates, beer cheese soup, Door County cherries, bratwurst from Sheboygan, of course a Friday fish fry and a superb Scandinavian-style chicken dinner on Sunday—each one is simply better than the last. No wonder this forward-looking but backward-glancing tavern/supper club on the Capitol Square takes top honors in our first-ever “Favorite Restaurant” category. There’s so much to love (the list of items above is just the tip of the iceberg), plus, there’s a dynamite local tap list. Considering all that, it’s a no-brainer that the Old Fashioned is our readers’ favorite locavore/Midwestern-focused restaurant, too.
Favorite New Restaurant: Lucille
The favorite new restaurant to open in Madison in the last year was Lucille, the three-story cocktail hangout/wood-fired pizza juggernaut at the top of King Street on the Capitol Square. Though finding a table has been difficult since the place opened in May, enough people have experienced the convivial vibe, stylish interior and craveable food to put it over the top in this year’s poll. Two other stellar new entrants to the city’s food scene, Julep and Estrellón, were in hot pursuit.
There’s nothing new about the top pick for steakhouse in the area. The Tornado Room opened 20 years ago in a building that was already longtime home to Crandall’s restaurant. The menu took on the air of an upscale supper club, and the formula still works.
Although Lucille is this season’s it spot, top pizza honors go to Salvatore’s Tomato Pies. Both of Sal’s locations (East Johnson Street in Madison and Sun Prairie) specialize in something called the Trenton pie, where the sauce arrives on top of the cheese, not under it. But it’s really the specialty pies that wow at Sal’s — the sweet fig and bacon, for instance, or the Forestiere, which features local Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese. Local sourcing is one of the draws here, but the vibrant flavors are the enduring lure.
Lombardino’s Restaurant combines a loveable Italian-American 1950s-era interior with a contemporary Italian menu to win patrons’ hearts year after year. Local sourcing brings Italian classics home, with dishes using Fraboni’s sausage, Jordandal Farm pork and Pinn Oak Ridge farm lamb, paired with San Marzano tomatoes from the old country.
Banzo is a true Madison success story, having risen in just five years from a food cart to boasting two brick-and-mortar restaurants and a second food cart. It’s also the city’s favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. People are obsessed with the crispy falafel, but also the schnitzel pita, delectable hummus, kebabs and hand-cut potato chips. Banzo also took top place in the “Favorite Food Cart” category, easing past newcomer El Grito Taqueria, which features locally sourced tacos and inventive sauces.
“Going out for Chinese” can mean storefront takeout, places with an “authentic” menu written in Chinese characters, or a nice-looking dining room that’s basically the supper club of Chinese classics. The latter might best describe Imperial Garden, where the large menu and spacious surroundings make it a good place to take a group, or grab dependable takeout.
Favorite Japanese restaurant Red Sushi began as a small restaurant in a narrow space on King Street. Its reputation for stellar sushi and a few select Japanese dishes grew. This fall, Red makes a big move to new digs in the revamped AT&T building on West Washington Avenue.
For Southeast Asian dishes, readers like the Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian options from Willy Street’s Ha Long Bay. The AP10 appetizer—a Vietnamese eggroll wrapped in a spring roll—is another longtime reader favorite.
For a while, Madison’s Indian restaurants were difficult to untangle (two Maharajahs, a Maharani and a Maharana, plus a Swad and a Swagat). We’re now absent two Maharajahs, which simplifies matters somewhat. The favorite is Maharani—that’s the one on the corner of West Washington and Broom, with its delectable dishes and a big, big spread at the lunch buffet.
Taqueria Guadalajara remains true to its Mexican roots even after a remodeling upgrade a few summers back. Street food like sopes, huaraches, flautas and tamales round out a menu filled with platillos típicos, like lengua de res en salsa verde.
When you have a hankering for Southern food, it’s the Cajun/Creole cooking from New Orleans Take-Out that’s your favorite. From the fried oyster po-boy to Deb’s barbecue shrimp, it’s all the best homage to NOLA north of the Louisiana border. The original location on Fordem Avenue actually has a dining room now, belying the name.
Despite Madison’s reputation as a town full of tree-hugging vegetarian/vegan locavores, it still has only one dedicated vegetarian restaurant (third-placer the Green Owl). But vegetarian-friendly restaurants, now you’re talking. Vegetarians and omnivores share booths at favorite Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. The Meatless Loaf of the Gods, vegetarian hash, “The Sheldon” (a meatless Reuben) make skipping the meat a pleasure. The kitchen also provides a special page of options for vegans.
Brunch is a special time. The best brunches rise above both breakfast and lunch, and Sardine makes that happen. It approaches the meal brasserie style, with moules frites, croque monsieur (and madames), a duck confit salad and pastries as only the French know how to make them.
When you have out-of-town guests, you want to show off the best of Wisconsin cuisine, so head again to The Old Fashioned, which has truly become the spot to dine for all reasons and in all seasons. Although, if your guests are here in summer, you might want to take them to the favorite outdoor patio in town. It’s at the Great Dane-downtown, a leafy garden respite in the rear of the historic building, quite invisible from the street.
It will surprise no one that Ella’s Deli wins readers’ hearts as a place to take kids. After all, a large portion of the menu is ice cream. There’s also a menu specifically for kids. And a merry-go-round.
Are you too busy to cook but too lazy/tired to go out? Glass Nickel Pizza delivers as your Too-Busy-to-Cook Go-To spot, and not just for pizza. The pastas are a great alternative, and you can mix and match noodle shapes and add-ons. Shake open a tablecloth, light candles, open a bottle of wine and you’re not having takeout— you’re dining in.
1.The Old Fashioned
3.Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
1.Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
2.Glass Nickel Pizza
Middle Eastern Restaurant
2.Hong Kong Cafe
Southeast Asian Restaurant
1.Ha Long Bay
3.Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace
American Southern Restaurant
1.New Orleans Take-Out
1.Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
2.Ha Long Bay
3.The Green Owl Cafe
1.The Old Fashioned
Restaurant for Brunch
2.Shamrock Bar & Grille
2.El Grito Taqueria
Outdoor Patio Dining
1.The Great Dane-Downtown
Restaurant to Take Out-of-Town Guests
1.The Old Fashioned
3.Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
2.Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
3.The Nitty Gritty
Too-Busy-to-Cook Go-To Restaurant
1.Glass Nickel Pizza
2.Ha Long Bay
3.Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
Madison is a town that appreciates a good drink — and knows where to find one. From fanciful, high-end craft cocktails to inventive, local microbrews to shot-and-beer deals at hole-in-the-wall dive bars, there’s a broad spectrum of potent potables and places to enjoy them, no matter who you are or what you’re looking for. We are, as they say, truly blessed.
For the after-work crowd, reigning champion Genna’s Lounge once again this year claims the honor of being Madison’s favorite spot for happy hour. It turns out that great drink specials, a beautiful patio and free cocktail snacks create a magical combination that just keeps winning. Even pesky summer construction on the Capitol Square can’t dim Genna’s special shine.
The craft beer bar scene in Madison is ever-expanding, but another perennial favorite, the Malt House, clinched the top spot over newcomers. Guess they don’t call it “Madison’s craft beer oasis” for nothing. Barley and hops still reign supreme in this city, but more options for wine drinkers are cropping up lately, too. Even so, readers stuck with Eno Vino as their favorite place to sip and swirl that delicious, mood-enhancing, grown-up grape juice.
Madison’s favorite bar for cocktails, aka the “Best Picture” category of the Mad Faves drinking bracket, goes to the venerable Merchant. It helped usher in the local mixology movement, but doesn’t rest on its laurels. An ever-changing, consistently creative menu put together by a team of talented bartenders makes it a classic that continues to impress.
Favorite Craft Cocktail: Honey Cap from Old Sugar Distillery
Madison’s favorite craft cocktail this year is the Honey Cap from Old Sugar Distillery. A real Madison original, this Midwestern riff on a Brazilian caipirinha is made with muddled lime, honey, soda water and OSF Honey Liqueur, which also happens to be the winner in the category of Madison’s favorite locally distilled spirit. There really is a lot to love about that sweet, magical alcohol, made with love in small batches on Madison’s east side.
The tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando reminded everyone of the important role that gay bars play as safe spaces for the LGBT community. Madison is lucky to have several well-loved venues to choose from, but Plan B is this year’s voter favorite. Known for its fabulous drag events, wild dance floor and welcoming vibe, it’s the star around which local gay nightlife orbits (and straight people love it, too!).
Everybody loves a good dive bar. And this year’s Mad Fave, the Crystal Corner Bar, would probably hold its own in a nationwide ranking of the greatest down-and-dirty haunts. It’s a great place to grab a cheap drink and see a live band, but as they say, the real attraction that draws a crowd is the crowd itself. And for good reason. You’re a stranger there but once.
But sometimes, people like to drink at home. And as for Madison’s favorite liquor store, the honor goes to Steve’s Wine Beer and Spirits. Boasting a massive selection of the titular wines, beers and spirits along with a knowledgeable staff, Steve’s has what you need, whether you’re hosting a party or drinking alone.
As for local breweries, the tried-and-true New Glarus Brewing Co. takes top honors this year. Its flagship product, Spotted Cow, is also the winner in the favorite locally brewed beer category. And it’s not just our voters who love it—remember when that bar in Minnesota got busted for serving it illegally? We’ll take it as a compliment from our neighbors to the west.
If there’s one thing that Madisonians love almost as much as drinking, it’s showing off their knowledge of obscure factoids. This makes the city a natural hotspot for pub trivia. At the Echo Tap & Grill, this year’s Mad Fave winner, it’s so popular that there’s trivia two nights a week. Maybe it’s because of all the smarty-pants Epic employees in the neighborhood?
And for when Madisonians need to sober up, they look no further than Colectivo, this year’s fave coffee shop. With its funky decor, hand-roasted beans and locations on the Square, State Street and Monroe Street, it’s the perfect spot to grab a quick cup of joe or to linger over a latte.
2.Shamrock Bar and Grille
3.The Nitty Gritty
Bar for Craft Beer
1.The Malt House
2.The Great Dane Pub
3.One Barrel Brewing Co.
Bar for Wine
Bar for Cocktails
3.The Robin Room
2.The Nitty Gritty
3.Wilson’s Sports Bar & Grill
2.Shamrock Bar and Grille
Pub Trivia Night
1.Echo Tap & Grill
2.Next Door Brewing Co.
1.The Crystal Corner Bar
2.The Caribou Tavern
3.The Paradise Lounge
3.Johnson Public House
1.Steve’s Wine Beer Spirits
1.New Glarus Brewing Co.
Locally Brewed Beer
1.Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing Co.
2.Fantasy Factory from Karben4
3.Hopalicious from Ale Asylum
Locally Distilled Spirit
1.Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur from Old Sugar Distillery
2.Gin from Death’s Door Spirits
3.Cane & Abe Rum from Old Sugar Distillery
1.Honey Cap from Old Sugar Distillery
2.The Regret from Merchant
3.Peaty Pablo from Merchant
What is a “signature dish,” exactly? It’s the restaurant equivalent of a signature song. It’s the dish a spot is known by or, perhaps, the item no patron should go home without. It’s the entree that chowhounds blog about, the fare that will most likely keep you from ever ordering anything else on the menu.
Start the day out right with an old-fashioned doughnut from Greenbush Bakery. These are rather rustic looking, homemade in the best sense, made with the shop’s special sour cream batter. They come in a variety of flavors. That’s why you buy doughnuts by the dozen, people.
After that carb-filled start to the morning, you may be looking for a salad. Readers love the Strawberry Love from the Good Food cart, a spring seasonal that comes with organic greens, candied walnuts, feta, cucumber, balsamic vinaigrette and a choice of chicken or local tofu. The only bad news is its limited availability.
Sandwiches may be the most brilliant of all foods—portable vehicles for an infinite variety of fillings. And they’ve traveled around the globe, from the banh mi French-Vietnamese hybrid of Southeast Asia to the Middle East’s falafel in pita. But the top vote-getter here is the West of the Andes from the Weary Traveler. The flavors are borrowed from Peru, with a hint of Mexico, and based on a choice of beef or tuna steak, spiced up with avocado, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo. Viva fusion!
Favorite Sandwich: Weary Traveler Freehouse, West of the Andes
Red Sushi garnered votes for many of its sushi rolls, and in fact took both top honors and third place in this category. Its volcano roll, a California roll augmented with baked crab and spicy aioli, is the victor.
Ramen is undergoing a resurgence in Madison, with two new ramen houses opening in the last year. But readers still like an old favorite from Umami: the rich tonkotsu ramen. This pork-bone-based broth came out on top.
Looking for great fried chicken? Isthmus readers will send you first to Graze, where the fried chicken comes with a waffle, spiced butter and Wisconsin maple syrup. And it’s only served at Saturday and Sunday brunch, so plan ahead.
We were truly curious about standout gluten-free dishes around town. The gluten-free crust at Glass Nickel Pizza was the favorite, making pizza a possibility again for those who want or need to avoid gluten.
Finally, there is no more essential signature dish in Wisconsin restaurant-dom than the Friday night fish fry. No event brings in more crowds, fills more tables or generates more buzz. And the new favorite in this category is served at Alchemy in Schenk’s Corners. Really, you say, tell me more.
Alchemy’s fish fry—Fridays only, of course—features beer-battered cod, housemade red pepper tartar sauce, a citrusy housemade slaw, a Nature’s Bakery wheat roll and a choice of green beans or house-cut french fries.
Serving starts at 5 p.m. Grab a table.
1.Greenbush Bakery, old-fashioned doughnut
2.Lazy Jane’s Cafe and Bakery, scones
3.Batch Bakehouse, ham and gruyere croissant
1.Good Food Cart, Strawberry Love
3.Forage Kitchen, batatas rancheros
1.Weary Traveler Freehouse, West of the Andes
2.Banzo, pita falafel sandwich
3.Mermaid Cafe, meatless banh mi
1.Red Sushi, volcano roll
2.Sushi Muramoto, rainbow roll
3.Red Sushi, vegan rainbow roll
1.Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar, tonkotsu ramen
2.Sujeo, shio ramen
3.Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar, vegan ramen
1.Graze, fried chicken & waffle
2.Julep, fried chicken thighs
3.Avenue Club, buttermilk fried chicken
2.The Old Fashioned
1.Glass Nickel Pizza, gluten-free pizza
2.Ladonia Cafe cart, tamale platter
3.jacs Dining & Tap House, gluten-free Friday fish fry
When it comes to goods and services, there’s something to be said for shops on both ends of the spectrum. Mom ’n’ pop stores are small and personable, with lots of character. On the other hand, larger chains can offer great deals on a wide selection of dependable products.
But Isthmus readers almost always lean toward the mom ’n’ pops.
For instance, voters clearly like their groceries local, natural and organic, and the Willy Street Co-op fits the bill. With a deli, soup and salad bar, and three locations, the co-op has come a long way since its early granola days. Membership, er, ownership is a one-time payment of $58. Some think the co-op’s monthly newsletter, with its hilarious (intentionally or otherwise) customer letters, alone is worth the price.
At Underground Butcher, another Willy Street denizen, meat is king. Its butchers will deliver on whatever cuts the discerning carnivore desires in the way of beef, poultry, pork, lamb or even rabbit.
If cheese is more your thing, those in the know head to Fromagination. Owner and chief cheese evangelist Ken Monteleone has gathered a dizzying array of some of the finest artisan cheeses in a charming, old-world storefront, along with all the go-withs to make a dinner or picnic a meal to remember. The shop caters, too, and you can even rent your own personal cheesemonger to explain the cheesy details to your guests.
All right, you have your cheese, you have your meat, you have your groceries. Now you need the proper cutlery, dishes, placemats and utensils to make and present the perfect meal. For kitchen gear, you head to Orange Tree Imports, a Monroe Street mainstay for more than 40 years. It carries a beautiful array of pots, pans, plates, casseroles, aprons and much more, as well as a wall of gadgets and gizmos that would satisfy the most gourmet-ish chef. Don’t know how to use your shiny new cookware and gadgets? It also has an on-site cooking school.
Locals know that Fraboni’s Italian Specialties and Delicatessen has an awe-inspiring deli case filled with the antipasti of your dreams, as well as a large selection of Italian canned goods, cheeses, frozen lasagna and meatballs, and some of the best subs in town.
But man does not live by subs alone. A guy’s gotta look good too. And the sharp-dressed Madison man buys his glad rags at Jazzman on State Street. The men’s clothing boutique has been in business since the mid-’70s and knows a thing or two about stepping out. With its knowledgeable staff and a great brand selection, shop at Jazzman and you’ll never be out of style.
The sharp-dressed Madison woman heads for UpShift on East Johnson Street, a local, sustainable clothing exchange boutique. You bring in a bag (or more) of your gently used clothes, pay $20, and go home with a bagful of other folks’ trendy apparel. It’s a pretty nifty arrangement. (Any items deemed below their standards are donated to charity and thrift stores.) Bonus: complimentary wine with your shopping!
What about the kids? Downtown’s Capitol Kids has been bringing tykes, parents and doting grandparents through its doors in droves since 2000 with a carefully curated selection of books, toys, science kits, puzzles, board games and clothing. Items are selected with an eye toward imagination, creativity and fun.
It speaks volumes that readers have chosen Burnie’s Rock Shop as their favorite jewelry store. The Johnson Street emporium has been around since at least the Pleistocene. The space is filled wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with fossils, crystals, shells, beads, bangles and, yes, jewelry. Many of the bracelets, pendants, rings and necklaces are made using semiprecious stones from the store’s inventory; the staff also does excellent repair work. There’s also a second location, Burnie’s on Park.
Zimbrick Motors, a family-owned car dealership, began in 1965 when founder John Zimbrick purchased a Buick dealership. It’s since grown to include several car brands, from Hyundai and Chevy on up to Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW. Its philosophy of “Loving Care Service” and breadth of choices have made it a reader favorite.
Favorite Bike Shop: Revolution Cycles
Madison’s bicycle market is probably even fiercer than the car business. The city website lists some 22 shops. Revolution Cycles on Atwood Avenue emerged as a clear favorite among readers. The shop is known not just for its repairs and sales, but for being a neighborhood hangout, hosting art shows, concerts, repair seminars and potlucks. And the shop’s cats are almost as friendly as the staff.
Madison may not be big enough to support an Ikea big-box furniture store, but the city can still stay in touch with its Scandinavian roots at the Century House on University Avenue. It specializes in modern interiors with more than 50 brands. And you won’t need to monkey with those weird wrenches.
It’s hard to say whether Madison is more of a cat or a dog town. But lovers of both will find something at MadCat — food, supplies and advice for felines and canines at its three shops, on Willy, Monroe and Mineral Point Road.
All three of Madison’s favorite pharmacies are local, edging out national chains like Walgreens and CVS. The winner, Community Pharmacy, was established in 1972 as a worker-managed cooperative. It offers a mix of pharmaceutical and homeopathic remedies — not going to find those at CVS. It now has two locations — Gorham at State, and in Middleton.
The demise of Borders Books in 2011 has been a boon for local, independent bookstores. A Room of One’s Own nabbed the top spot. Its owners, Sandi Torkildson and Nancy Geary, are hoping to retire after 40-some years, and are looking for someone to take over the business.
Books of course make great gifts, but when you need a gift that’s not a hardcover or a paperback, you like Little Luxuries on State Street, with its scarves, ties, dishes, games, bric-a-brac and, yes, even some books.
The competition among thrift stores is fierce in Madison, with no shortage of spots to browse for vintage hand-me-downs. This year’s winner, St. Vincent de Paul, isn’t exactly a mom ’n’ pop store (the charitable organization is international in scope, spanning 140 countries). But its thrift shops certainly reflect Madison’s hip, iconoclastic style.
The city’s top antique store, Lazy Jane’s Junk and Other Treasures, is just across the street from its favorite thrift store. But don’t let the name fool you — one person’s junk is, of course, another person’s treasure.
This year’s winner for garden supplies, Jung Garden Center, doesn’t exactly qualify as “small.” The company circulates some 8 million seed catalogs around the world each year. But it is certainly homegrown. Founded in Randolph, Wis., in 1909, the company has five garden centers in southeast Wisconsin, including two in Madison.
One area where a national chain came out on top is outdoor recreation. Although REI, which won this category, is big and national, it is organized as a consumer cooperative. It also garnered headlines in 2015 for spurning “black Friday” — which is a Madison sort of thing.
1.Willy Street Co-op
3.Jenifer Street Market
2.Knoche’s Market and Butcher Shop
Specialty Food Shop
2.Willy Street Co-op
3.Fraboni’s Italian Specialties and Delicatessen
Kitchen Supply Store
1.Orange Tree Imports
2.The Kitchen Gallery
3.Wisconsin Cutlery & Kitchen Supply
1.Fraboni’s Italian Specialties and Delicatessen
Men’s Clothing Boutique
Women’s Clothing Boutique
Shop for Kids’ Gear
1.Burnie’s Rock Shop
2.Machinery Row Bicycles
3.Budget Bicycle Center
2.Smart Motors Toyota
3.Wilde East Towne Honda
Home Decor Store
3.Vault Interiors & Design
Pet Supply Store
2.Mounds Pet Food Warehouse
3.Bad Dog Frida
1.A Room of One’s Own
2.Half Price Books
3.Mystery to Me
2.Orange Tree Imports
1.St. Vincent de Paul
2.Agrace Thrift Store
1.Lazy Jane’s Junk and Other Treasures
3.Antiques Mall of Madison
1.Jung Garden Center
2.Klein’s Floral & Greenhouses
3.The Bruce Company
Outdoor Recreation Store
2.Fontana Sports Specialties
It’s been a tough road for The Edgewater, which several years ago decided it wanted to launch a major renovation of the lakeshore hotel and build new quarters as well. It took years — Dave Cieslewicz was the mayor during the first battles — but the new hotel opened in September 2014 and is now a major downtown draw. With its luxury rooms, multiple restaurants, boat launch, spa and some of the best outside seating in the city, it’s where our readers like to stay.
Location, location, location! True in so many ways, including when it comes to fitness. A gym close to work or home is ideal, and that’s why downtown residents, as well as state government workers, have it good with Capital Fitness, located on the corner of North Bedford Street, just a couple of blocks from the GEF office buildings and the State Capitol. In addition to weights and cardio machines, it offers personal training, small classes, yoga and a spa.
The spa in Capital Fitness just so happens to also be a winner. Elevation Salon & Spa offers manicures, pedicures, facials, haircuts, massage, even acupuncture. Sit back, soak your feet and take in a pretty sweet view of Madison at the same time.
But wait, there’s more. Elevation S&S is also your favorite salon. Go alone for a cut and color or bring a party — a bridal party, that is. They do it all.
For another kind of body adornment, readers head to Capitol City Tattoo. How can you not love a place whose tag line is “Tattooing Madison’s finest people since 2000”? Want to see some of their work? Check out their Instagram account at capitolcitytattoo1.
And what better way to show off your new body art than at a yoga class? Inner Fire Yoga offers classes to meet all tastes: hot yoga, power, inner fire flow, slow, candlelight flow, yin and sculpt.
Favorite Yoga Studio: Inner Fire Yoga
Dutch’s Auto Service took first place honors for Auto Repair Shop. Located near Woodman’s on the east side, this is a woman-owned and -operated repair shop. They even have a nice lobby and safe kids’ play area if you wait for your car.
For those who hoof it around more, Cecil’s Shoe Repair is the place for you. It is the descendent of the famous Cecil’s Sandals on Frances Street, which at its height in the 1970s made about 70 custom sandals a day for local residents. Located now on Odana Road, it continues to repair shoes and other leather products.
One thing you don’t usually need for your dog — except maybe in the winter — are shoes. But exercise is essential. If you’re stuck at work all day, consider a day of play for your pooch at Dog Haus University, your favorite doggy day care. This place has it all. Daycare, grooming, training and pet sitting.
Also essential for your pet is good vet care, and readers take Fido and Fluffy to Lakeview Veterinary Clinic on Monroe Street. It’s a full-service clinic, offering medical, surgical, dental and preventative care. It’s open Saturdays, too, 8 a.m.-noon, a nice perk for working stiffs.
Speaking of work, or fun, or networking, or making stuff, Sector67 is your fave coworking space. There is something here for everyone: office space, a machine shop, a welding shop, a computer studio, a sewing studio and 3D printing. Membership gives you access to the space, tools and equipment. There are also a la carte options.
3.The Princeton Club
1.Inner Fire Yoga
3.The Yoga Sangha at Capital Fitness
Auto Repair Shop
1.Dutch’s Auto Service
2.Ben’s Vee Dub Shop
3.Wilde East Towne Honda
1.Cecil’s Shoe Repair
2.Monroe Street Shoe Repair
3.Heel & Sole Connection
1.Elevation Spa & Salon
2.THORPS Haircuts & Color
3.Cha Cha Beauty & Barber
1.Elevation Spa & Salon
2.Sundara Inn & Spa
3.Kneaded Relief Day Spa & Wellness
Body Art Shop
1.Capitol City Tattoo
2.Blue Lotus Tattoo & The Piercing Lounge
3.Steve’s Tattoo and Body Piercing
1.Lakeview Veterinary Clinic
2.Whole Pet Veterinary Clinic
3.Truesdell Animal Care Hospital and Clinic
Doggy Day Care
1.Dog Haus University
2.Ruffin’ It Resort
3.Waggin’ Tails Doggie Dude Ranch & Pet Lodge
We have two words to share: Get out! Whether you’re the active type or a vicarious people-watcher, Madison’s got it going on. Walk away from the Netflix and try some of these favorite destinations.
With a perfect vista for sunsets and views of the Capitol and Monona Terrace, it’s easy to see why Olbrich Park takes top honors as favorite park. In addition to its proximity to Michael’s Frozen Custard and the East Side Club, the gem also has tennis and basketball courts, soccer fields, a tucked-away beach and plenty of rolling grassland. Watch the sun gleam off William King’s “Act” sculpture, which here has room to breathe (after being relocated from its crowded downtown location). Canine pals might prefer the off-leash area at Warner Park on Madison’s north side. Water-loving pooches splash into the tree-lined lagoon, while others fetch and wrestle on the rolling hills, prance along trails and muck around in the marshland while their people enjoy some R&R.
Favorite bike trail the Capital City State Trail provides a scenic link for bicyclists between the Southwest Commuter Path and popular Lake Monona loop, with nine miles of the path rolling through Capital Springs State Recreation Area and Fitchburg. It also provides access to a pair of routes out of town: the Military Ridge State Trail heading west and Badger State Trail south to the Illinois border.
After years of effort on the part of the skating community — which, BTW, has a “spokesdude” — Madison finally built a skate park in 2015. And it’s a winner: The 20,000 square-foot shredder’s paradise in Central Park, Madison Skatepark, includes a nine-foot-deep “Eggplant Bowl” modeled after the empty swimming pools that Southern California skaters used to practice their sick moves in the 1970s.
Located near Merrimac, Devil’s Head Resort is only about an hour’s drive from Madison, making it a popular day trip or weekend destination for area skiers and snowboarders. Though this is a long way from Vail, the slopes are fun and well maintained.
The fairways and greens at the University Ridge Golf Course are in their best shape in years, perhaps owing to the PGA Champions event that premiered this summer. But you don’t need to be a pro (or even a Badger) to play; the course is open to the public.
Everyone seems to be in love with Marcus Corporation’s new Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie, a few miles northeast of the chain’s shuttered Eastgate location. The
12 auditoriums all feature reclining seats, and four offer dining service (or you can grab dinner in the lounge, or a pizza to take into the theater). Truly palatial.
Music lovers will never get over the loss of O’Cayz Corral in the wee hours of New Year’s Day 2001. Thankfully, owner Cathy Dethmers poured all her grief into creating another space, the High Noon Saloon. The 400-person venue has become a mainstay for musicians near and far. It hosts everything from bluegrass to burlesque as well as tons of CD releases and benefits for local causes, and is home of the live storytelling events for the Moth Madison.
Whether you want to sing your heart out or listen to someone else sing theirs, Karaoke Kid is the place to be. And if the cheap drinks and massive song selection can’t sway you, let us ask: Where else could you hear the bouncer rock the hell out of “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”?
Since opening in 2009, Plan B has become the premier spot at which to dance the night away in Madison. In fact, this is the club’s sixth year running being crowned “Favorite Dance Club” by Isthmus readers. And it makes sense: Plan B is the hottest spot for LGBT nightlife — although everyone’s welcome, of course.
Favorite Museum: Chazen Museum of Art
Of Madison’s museums, the UW-Madison’s Chazen Museum of Art rated as readers’ favorite. It’s a world-class facility that in 2011 nearly doubled the size of the Elvehjem Museum of Art. The elongated rectangle along University Avenue now stretches over the bike and pedestrian path; from indoors, art lovers get a glorious view of Campus Mall enhanced by glittering glassworks. More art, of course, is housed in the old and new buildings on both sides of the walkway.
2.Yahara Heights County Park
3.Prairie Moraine County Park
3.Maple Bluff Country Club
1.Capital City State Trail
2.Military Ridge State Trail
3.Southwest Commuter Bike Trail
Place to Ski
1.Devil’s Head Resort
3.Tyrol Basin Family Ski and Snowboard Area
1.Madison Skatepark -Central Park
2.Middleton Quarry Skatepark
3.Sun Prairie Skatepark
1.Chazen Museum of Art
2.Madison Children’s Museum
3.Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Live Music Venue
1.High Noon Saloon
2.The Memorial Union Terrace
1.Marcus Palace Cinema
2.Sundance Cinemas 608
3.Marcus Point Cinema
3.Baldwin Street Grille
We have talent! On any given day of the week, Madison has so much going on, it’ll make your head spin. For theater company, the award goes to perennial favorite, American Players Theatre. The Wall Street Journal in 2014 dubbed APT the “finest classical repertory company in America.” A picnic in the pastoral setting, followed by a trudge (or a frolic) “up the hill” is just the beginning. These master thespians transport you to a different time and place. And the company has been experimenting and pushing boundaries in the newer, indoor Touchstone Theatre.
Madison’s thriving comedy scene is fed by the nimble-minded improvisers at Monkey Business Institute. Formed in the wake of ComedySportz, the talented troupe puts on shows in the basement of Glass Nickel Pizza on Atwood Avenue every Saturday night, including family-friendly early shows, boundary-pushing adult performances and such late-night experiments as fully improvised musicals and “The Merge,” a blend of standup and improv.
He’s outspoken, funny as hell and an astounding percussionist. And we can’t imagine the jazz scene without him. Tony Castañeda has been a staple at Madison’s clubs and festivals since the late 1990s. No one can resist heading for the dance floor when Tony and his pro crew lay down the Latin grooves at the Cardinal Bar...or anywhere else they set up to jam.
Rodney Lucas — aka F.Stokes (pronounced F-dot-Stokes) — was born in Chicago and currently lives in New York City, but enough of his formative years were spent in Madison that he considers it a second hometown. The inventive hip-hop emcee named one of his mixtapes F.I.L.M. (Forever I Love Madison) and hosts an annual day-after-Christmas charity concert here among other recurring return trips.
Meghan Rose, winner of favorite singer/songwriter, has also relocated to New York, where she’s busy gigging and chasing her rock ’n’ roll dreams. But she’s still keeping one furry legwarmer in Madison: The busy rocker books herself solid on visits here, recently performing with various ensembles at the MAMAs, the Fountain and the Frequency while coaching Girls Rock Camp during the day.
There’s no other band like the Gomers, a zany group with a 30-year history of inserting themselves into every corner of Madison’s music and culture scene. In addition to creating off-the-wall Zappa-esque originals, the band spent the last nine years making everyone else a rock star with its “Rockstar Gomeroke.” Earlier this year, the Gomers lost Gordon Ranney, a beloved core member, to cancer, and they began an indefinite hiatus in August. Catch members in myriad other bands, though, and cross your fingers for more Gomer time.
The Americana category is captured for the second year running by WheelHouse, who formed in 2013 and promptly became possibly Madison’s hardest-working band, playing 200-plus shows a year all around Wisconsin and the Midwest. Even with such a packed schedule, WheelHouse still holds down a weekly Tuesday evening gig at the Come Back In.
DJ Nick Nice takes top honors in the Club DJ category once again, thanks to his seemingly omniscient knowledge of music and bottomless record library, to say nothing of his friendly, approachable nature when behind the decks in local clubs or at special events.
Former James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield takes home the favorite blues band award. The dynamo is rumored to be the most sampled drummer of all time. Dearly beloved Prince knew talent when he heard it, anonymously donating $80,000 to Stubblefield when he was piling up bills for cancer treatment. The “Funky Drummer” is still pumping out jams at Funky Monday Happy Hours at the High Noon Saloon.
When readers want to put on their boogie shoes, they seek out the good vibrations of Natty Nation, the longtime reggae band fronted by the appropriately named Jah Boogie. Its latest project, Divine Spark, is all about healthy living and meditation.
Readers once again voted Isthmus.com into the top spot for favorite local website. (Thanks!) We can’t help thinking that a recent major design overhaul and the site’s focus on local stories and perspectives helped take it to the top.
For 40 years, WORT 89.9 FM has been “sticking it in your ear” with programming generated almost exclusively by community members. The freeform, listener-supported radio station has long been a gathering place for local musicians, politicos, activists and other rabble-rousers. WORT-FM’s lineup includes avant garde jazz from downtown busker JoAnne Pow!ers, modern folk stylings supplied by P.C. Allen, satirical buffoonery with Mel & Floyd, citizen-reported news and more.
John Nichols, associate editor for The Capital Times, is a leading progressive voice nationally and one of the state’s most prominent journalistic players. Nichols’ encyclopedic knowledge of Wisconsin and ability to place current events within a historical context is always both intriguing and insightful.
Favorite Journalist-Radio/TV: Charlotte Deleste, WISC
When it’s time for the evening news, readers prefer WISC-TV’s Charlotte Deleste in the anchor chair. (Her co-anchor, Eric Franke, captured second place.) In addition to delivering the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts, Deleste is also the founder of Gio’s Garden. The nonprofit provides therapeutic respite care for families with children with special needs.
@WisconsinUnion is our readers’ favorite local Twitter account. The UW-Madison’s historic, beer-friendly union is a destination for far more than just the college crowd. Its Twitter announces the latest concerts, movies, art exhibits and other events — not to mention posting stunning photos of sunsets over Picnic Point and Lake Mendota.
Instagrammers are gaga for @IsthmusMadison, perhaps because of the account’s frequent reposts of visually intriguing scenes from around the city. Instagram has also proven that Madisonians have an endless appetite for photos of the State Capitol — regardless of what’s happening within.
1.American Players Theatre
3.Forward Theater Company
1.The Monkey Business Institute
2.Atlas Improv Company
2.Gin, Chocolate & Bottle Rockets
3.The Family Business
3.The Mascot Theory
2.Madison Jazz Orchestra
3.The People Brothers Band
3.The Big Payback
Local Radio Station
1.WORT, 89.9 FM
2.Triple M, 105.5FM
3.WERN/WPR, 88.7 FM
Local Journalist — print/web
1.John Nichols, The Capital Times
2.Jessie Opoien, The Capital Times
3.Andrew Winistorfer, freelancer
Local Journalist — radio/TV
1.Charlotte Deleste, WISC
2.Eric Franke, WISC
3.Greg Neumann, WKOW
What really makes a city tick are the people who call it home. Whether they’re slinging drinks, cutting hair, serving the public or inspiring others, Madison has no shortage of creative types. Here are the local favorites you need to know.
Cocktails crafted by Merchant bartender Lucas Endres caught the attention of our readers this year. He’s relatively new to the downtown bar scene, having joined Merchant as a barback just a few years ago. Drinks concocted by Endres include the I Kissed Kelly Kapowski (Edinburgh gin, Aperol, bell pepper syrup, lime and grapefruit juice) and the Viola Curtis (Don Q Cristal rum, honeydew syrup, lime juice, bitters, cayenne tincture and sparkling cava.)
In a town that takes food seriously, Madison chef Tory Miller reigns supreme. The James Beard Award winner is the executive chef at Estrellón, Graze, L’Etoile and Sujeo. Miller is also active with REAP Food Group’s Chef in the Classroom program. Each year, he brings in youth to help cook a popular breakfast at the Dane County Winter Farmers’ market.
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold tops the list of favorite politician in the year’s survey. The Janesville native has been an unabashed progressive since first elected to represent the Middleton area in the Wisconsin Senate in 1982. Feingold’s lone vote against the USA Patriot Act cemented his reputation as a stalwart defender of civil liberties. He’ll be back on the ballot this November against the political newbie who ousted him in 2010, Oshkosh plastics tycoon Ron Johnson.
A woodworker has claimed the title of Madison’s favorite craftsperson this year. Patrick Kelly, owner of Matchless Made, produces custom iPad and laptop stands, cribbage boards, knife racks, chopping blocks and other handmade goods.
Favorite Craftsperson: Patrick Kelly
When it’s time to get inked, our readers recommend you pay a visit to Brian Jansen of Capitol City Tattoo. Jansen has 22 years of experience and is known for his eye-popping use of bold color. Capitol City Tattoo opened in 2000 and maintains a prolific Instagram account displaying the designs of the shop’s five artists.
Brandon Dorman with Cha Cha Beauty & Barber got the most votes for favorite barber in this MadFaves poll. Dorman started his barbering career as an apprentice at the Willy Street shop a decade ago and has never looked back. Cha Cha has been a name to watch for in the favorite hair salon category for as long as we can remember.
Which Madisonian gives voice to a better, more imaginative future? Our readers say singer and vocal instructor Melanie Cain best fits the bill for favorite local visionary. She holds a doctorate in musical arts from UW-Madison and is co-founder of the Fresco Opera Theatre, which launched a production of Snow White in five area garages in August. Cain is indeed making America operatic again (or at least Madison). Her quest to bring art to the masses is what propelled her to the top of this category.
Nothing brightens a day faster than an unexpected glimpse of the aptly named Thong Cape Scooter Man. He’s once again Madison’s favorite eccentric. His origins are cloaked in mystery, his motives are unclear but he’s just about the closest thing we have to a real-life superhero. Spiderman has his spider-sense, Wonder Woman has her lasso of truth, but only Thong Cape Scooter Man can get even the crankiest curmudgeons to crack a smile.
Our beloved UW Badgers rose to the top of the pack among our readers’ favorite sports team. The men’s basketball team has one of the best home game winning records in the country. The women’s hockey team have won four national titles in the last decade. But the sea of red that takes over Regent Street and Camp Randall every football Saturday is the only evidence you need to see why Bucky tops the list.
1.Lucas Endres, Merchant
2.Brianna Storey, Plan B
3.Craig Berger, FIVE Nightclub
1.Tory Miller, Graze/Estrellón/L’Etoile/Sujeo
2.Jonny Hunter, Forequarter/Underground Food Collective
3.Patrick DePula, Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
1.Patrick Kelly, Matchless Made
2.Oliver Sell, First Settlement Goods
3.Isaiah Schroeder, Isaiah Schroeder Knifeworks
1.Brian Jansen, Capital City Tattoo
2.Maggie Gosselar, Colt’s Timeless Tattoos
3.Claire Warhus, Spike-O-Matic
1.Brandon Dorman, Cha Cha Beauty & Barber
2.Janet Lust, Lust Beautyworks
3.Lue Lueck, Ritual Barbers
1.Thong Cape Scooter Man
2.Art Paul Schlosser
Stereotypes often arise for good reasons, and these tend to be the kind of stereotypes we own, embrace and turn into T-shirts.
The idea that Madisonians live in a warm, fuzzy, earthy-crunchy bubble is represented by the catchphrase that the city is “__ square miles surrounded by reality.” And it seems that you can live with that representation.
The sobriquet began as a putdown by then-Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who called us some incorrect number of square miles surrounded by reality (there’s no definitive record of his actual statement, only that it was wrong). Voters this year also have taken wild stabs at our size (20, 50, 62, 70, 77 and ? square miles all garnered votes). Reality in the form of Madison’s city planning department tells us the actual size of the bubble is 79.4 square miles, as of June of this year.
Much less appealing is the idea that Madison is a place that doesn’t have any racism. Readers want a reality check on that stereotype.
The introduction of traffic circles or “roundabouts” in area roadways a few years back initially caused consternation among befuddled Wisconsin drivers, who had never seen the likes of these alternatives to four-way stops. Yet apparently, they’ve grown on readers. The majority felt that the circles are working to slow traffic and that we need more of them. However, haters gonna hate: Second place went to “they all should go.” Singled out for special animosity was the roundabout on South Towne Drive near Walmart. (Not that people who live in Madison shop at Walmart.)
Happily, many voters have finally found their way to Picnic Point, after ignoring it for many years. Yeah, it’s nice, isn’t it?
A country getaway on the edge of campus.
Lingering hostility to Gov. Scott Walker popped up everywhere in this year’s poll, and legitimately with regard to the answer to this question: “What’s #1 on your city wish list?” The top response, high-speed rail, refers to a project that was in the works between Madison and Milwaukee before Walker quashed the deal in 2011.
Folks would also like to see more affordable housing and less homelessness, answers that dovetail neatly with the sentiments reflected in voting for the “#1 Act of Local Political Villainy This Year.” There, Mayor Paul Soglin’s sweeping ordinance preventing the homeless from camping out in front of the City County Building won. The removal of rock sitting spaces in an area called “Philosopher’s Grove” — in part to prevent homeless from gathering there — also drew ire.
Reality once again intrudes into the square miles.
Favorite Madison Stereotype
1.__ miles surrounded by reality
2.We’re all liberals
3.We’re all hippies
Least Favorite Madison Stereotype
1.There is no racism in Madison
2.We’re all a bunch of drunks
3.We’re all liberals
Madison Place You Neglected to Check Out
for the First 10 Years You Lived Here
Traffic Roundabout That Must Go
1.None, we need more!
2.All of them!
3.South Towne Drive near Walmart
#1 on Your City Wish List
3.Do more to fix homelessness
#1 Act of Local Political Villainy This Year
1.Keeping homeless from sleeping at the City County Building
2.Aggressive tree removal
3.Removal of stones at Philosopher’s Grove