Ellen J. Meany
If it exists in a box, can or jar, chances are you can find it at Park Street's Yue Wah market.
The city of Madison has more than 120 neighborhood associations; it groups those community units into nine main sections.
But residents don't always play by the rules. For most Madisonians, the city breaks into five main sections - downtown, east, west, north and south. Even then, east and west dominate. In Madison, you're generally either an east-sider or a west-sider, with the north side usually being categorized as part of the east side, and the south side shelved with the west side.
Then there are stand-alone communities whose boundaries are within the city of Madison - Maple Bluff, Shorewood and Monona. And just where does Madison become Fitchburg?
There is some confusion even among longtime residents about what's where. To some, everything east of Lake Monona must be Monona (nope! wrong, wrong, wrong) and anything north of Tenney Park along Lake Mendota must be Maple Bluff. Wrong again. Let's not even get started on the town of Madison, or remnants of the town of Blooming Grove, or Dunn, within the city limits. That only really matters when it comes to paying taxes or signing up for a library card.
For the confused, the consternated, the clueless and the just plain curious, here's our human-GPS thumbnail guide to the streets of Madison, Wis.
There are a number of smaller neighborhood units downtown, some official (Bassett, First Settlement), others legendary but unofficial ("Miffland"). Bassett and Mifflin West lie southwest of the Capitol, Mansion Hill to the northwest along Lake Mendota, and First Settlement to the northeast along Lake Monona.
Bassett & Mifflin West
Older two-flats and mid-'70s multi-unit apartment buildings stand next to new condo projects like Fourth Ward Lofts, Bedford Court and Metropolitan Place. Older folks from the Meriter Retirement Community and the Madison Senior Center mix with college students.
The area is within walking distance of campus, State Street and the Capitol Square, but its commercial hub is at West Wash and Bedford streets. Have a sandwich and espresso at Electric Earth Cafe, or stick around for the Atlas Improv Company on Saturday nights.
The Southwest Bike Path runs right past the Williamson Street Bicycle Works, housed in the old railroad station. Modern takes on Asian furniture are sold at eclectic Indocara. A few blocks away, Jo's Tazzina serves soups, salads, coffees and handmade chocolates.
Old-school taverns like the Main Depot and the Echo Tap serve classic bar food (try the Echo for the Friday fish fry, the Depot for burgers), while Maharani serves south and north Indian cuisine.
The downtown's only remaining full-service grocery store is here: Capitol Centre Market. Need to patch the plaster or fix a hinge? Dorn Hardware is down the block.
Parks include what's left of narrow Law Park, along Lake Monona, and Brittingham Park, site of a petite off-leash area for pooches, a diminutive beach and a boathouse. The Brittingham Boat House is Madison's oldest (surviving) structure in a park and is home to the Camp Randall Rowing Club. It's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.
A surprising number of 19th century mansions remain, some subdivided into apartments, some remodeled into condos. The first Governor's Mansion, a solid sandstone home on the lake, is now the UW's Knapp Scholar House, which presents a yearly seminar series.
The four most famous architecturally intact homes anchor the corners at East Gilman and North Pinckney. One is the newly renovated Mansion Hill Inn, a German Romanesque Revival stunner built in 1857.
Other lodging options include the Gilman Street Rag bed and breakfast, the tony Edgewater Hotel and the Madison Concourse Hotel. Planning to settle in, not to visit? Mansion Hill is also home to one of Madison's housing co-ops, Hypatia Cooperative House; others are nearby in the State-Langdon area.
Sit down to a locally sourced crepe and potent espresso at Bradbury's. Or grab a sandwich to go from Pinkus McBride Market and Deli. Carry it over to the volunteer-run Period Garden or to James Madison Park, where you can rent a canoe or kayak from Supreme Water Sports. James Madison is also home to the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, the fourth-oldest surviving synagogue in the country but now available through the parks department for weddings and other events.
This is where Rosaline and Eben Peck opened the first public house in town. Although now dominated by state office buildings and cheek-by-jowl with Madison Gas and Electric, the homes on Franklin and Hancock streets retain their human scale. The Madison Youth Hostel is located here, next to the tiny but charming Cafe Costa Rica, where you can wake up to Costa Rican coffee or lunch on a handmade empanada.
Remember the Pecks with a Peck's Pilsner at the Great Dane Brewery, or find even more beers at the Essen Haus, where beer comes in boots and live oompah music is played nightly. The Hotel Ruby Marie is a bed and breakfast right next door, in a restored hotel that dates back to 1873.
The east side starts right downtown, at the appropriately named Gateway Mall at the intersection of Wilson, Blair and John Nolen Drive. Williamson Street, East Washington Avenue, East Johnson Street and East Gorham Street are the major auto arteries. For bikes, it's the isthmus leg of the Capitol City bike path.
The Williamson-Marquette neighborhood fans off Willy Street to Lake Monona. Wil-Mar has preserved much of its eclectic heritage, thanks in large part to the independent-minded, politically committed people who live there. But the neighborhood is changing. Just ask anyone who's bought an apartment in one of the many gleaming condominium projects built in recent years. Early 20th century bungalows line many of its streets.
Perhaps there's no greater emblem of the neighborhood's mix of old and new than the Willy Street Co-op. The Madison icon is on the one hand a countercultural holdover, a redoubt for organic foods and communitarian ideals. Its emphasis on local, sustainable agriculture makes it a trendsetter.
Locally owned restaurants line Williamson Street: Southeast Asian at Bandung, Lao Laan-Xang and Ha Long Bay (to name a few); Caribbean at Jolly Bob's or Jamerica; gastropub grub at the Weary Traveler. The street also boasts a variety of friendly meeting places, including coffeehouses Mother Fool's, Ground Zero and Escape Java Joint.
There's also a thriving live-music scene, with venues hosting rock, blues, folk, jazz and other sounds. In warm weather, the neighborhood's signature outdoor music confabs - the Willy Street Fair, La Fête de Marquette and the Waterfront and Orton Park festivals - feature touring and local acts.
Situated along the north shore of Lake Monona between the Yahara River and Starkweather Creek, this is a diverse yet cohesive neighborhood that invests in its quality of life. A little over 20 years ago, its residents rallied to transform what was then a seedy porn house into the Barrymore Theatre, restoring it to its former glory and establishing it as the beating cultural heart of Madison's east side.
Since then, the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association has enjoyed a renaissance. The Goodman Community Center has new digs in the transformed Kupfer Ironworks factory. Olbrich Gardens is a neighborhood respite, with lavish outdoor gardens, the indoor Bolz Tropical Conservatory and the remarkable Thai Pavilion - plus accessible tram service.
Residents can still walk to the grocery store at the fine Jenifer St. Market. Revolution Cycles will fix your bike, Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier will feed your sweet tooth and Bad Dog Frida will keep your pooch outfitted in style. Live music comes not just to the Barrymore but to the Harmony, Alchemy and Mr. Roberts.
In midsummer, Atwood SummerFest brings all the neighbors together with a street fair, bands, food and, of course, face-painting (it's a requirement).
Tenney-Lapham, on the Lake Mendota side of the isthmus, is more residential than Wil-Mar or Schenk-Atwood, despite the large amount of traffic ferried through the neighborhood via Gorham Street (headed westward) or Johnson (eastbound). The commercial center is East Johnson at Paterson Street, where you can buy a geode or a trilobite fossil at Burnie's Rock Shop, buy local art or frame a print at U Frame It, have a coffee at In the Company of Thieves, get a sandwich at the incredible Mildred's, have your fiddle fixed at Spruce Tree Music or participate in art/music/brunch potlucks at the gallery space the Project Lodge.
Breese Stevens Field, on East Wash, is a Depression-era WPA-built sandstone stadium that's the city's premier site for soccer tournaments.
Some of the city's most notable Craftsman-style homes line Sherman Avenue along Lake Mendota and fill the charming side streets closer to Tenney Park.
Tenney, with its stone bridges and winding lagoons, is a great park summer and winter. In summer, the Tenney Park Locks let people boat from Lake Mendota down the chain of lakes. Once the ice freezes, Tenney's one of the best places in the city to skate or play hockey. A drive is under way to replace the utilitarian warming house with something more befitting this gem of a green space.
Don't forget the MSCR pontoon boat rides, which leave from Tenney throughout the summer - one of the most economical ways to get out on the lakes and not have to do any paddling yourself.
The west side grows out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The main arteries west are heavily trafficked University Avenue/Campus Drive and Regent Street. If you're seeking a way around traffic jams, you can inch through the campus via twisting Observatory Drive, gaining wonderful views of Lake Mendota from atop Observatory Hill - but not making up much in the way of time.
This neighborhood is a transitional area between the southern end of the UW-Madison campus and the largely owner-occupied Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood. Here, student renters coexist with single-family homeowners, while being towered over by Meriter and St. Mary's hospitals.
The commercial artery is Regent Street, which is clogged with traffic at almost any hour. The southwest bike path runs more or less parallel, mercifully taking two-wheeled traffic out of the way.
Regent is lined with a jumble of stores - but very useful ones. Budget Bicycle runs a cluster of shops and oversees the rental red-bike program. Bars like the Big Ten Pub cater to sports fans that converge on the area for UW football games at Camp Randall and volleyball and basketball at the Kohl Center. The Annex hosts rock, prog and hip-hop bands.
Grab a cup of coffee and a waffle at Indie Coffee, and return in the evening for readings and indie music (Jason Mraz even made a surprise visit to perform under-the-radar this past spring).
Celebrate the area's past with pizza and finish it off with a shot of grappa at the Greenbush Bar, underneath the stalwart Italian Workman's Club.
The green center of the neighborhood is Vilas Park, which houses one of the last free zoos in the country. A perennial favorite for kids is the "Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" slide in the playground.
While busy Regent Street is apt to become more orderly with new master plans for the area, the relaxed, almost 19th century feel to Vilas is likely to continue well into the 21st.
For natural beauty, it's hard to beat Lake Wingra and the UW-Madison Arboretum, a paradise for hikers, bikers, joggers, sailors, bird-watchers and other hardy types. And those are just the high-profile spots. Insiders know about the Glenway Children's Park, a wooded paradise tucked off Glenway Drive; and the maze of trails behind Glenway Golf Course and Forest Hills Cemetery, beloved of dog-walkers and 10-year-old explorers. On snow days, every kid in the neighborhood flocks to the glorious sledding hill on Glenway Golf Course, where a good ride will take you right to the edge of Forest Hill's picturesque gravestones.
Dudgeon-Monroe also has its share of urban pleasures. The Monroe Street corridor is scaled to pedestrians, and a walk from one end to the other will take you past storefronts offering creative cooking, locally made candy, hip clothing and intriguing artwork, along with indie shops selling CDs, books, comics, flowers, kitchenware and costumes.
In the summer, throngs flock to Michael's Frozen Custard, conveniently situated on the outskirts of Wingra Park. A stroll along the lake will almost work off that scoop (okay, double scoop) of chocolate-chocolate chip.
Camp Randall Stadium fills the intersection of Monroe and Regent streets with red as far as the eye can see on football Saturdays. The Edgewood college and high school campus has grown even more beautiful with recent expansion. And Trader Joe's has become a destination for shoppers seeking delightfully eccentric foods.
With its tree-lined streets and vintage houses, the residential part of Dudgeon-Monroe could serve as a Hollywood set for Idyllic Midwestern Neighborhood.
The north side is home to many neighborhoods, like Brentwood Village, Lakeview and Cherokee Park. While diverse, they have enough common features that we can treat them as a group.
The center of the north-side neighborhoods is Warner Park and the adjacent Northside Town Center shopping area.
Warner, home of the Madison Mallards baseball team, hosts city soccer and softball league play. The Warner Park Community Recreation Center has an indoor basketball court, fitness center and pottery studio along with meeting space. Warner draws visitors for its large off-leash dog park, boat launch and once-a-year Rhythm & Booms fireworks extravaganza, along with many festivals along the way, like Africa Fest and the Blues Picnic.
The shopping center is the home of the Lakeview Branch of the Madison Public Library, with a cozy reading room that has its own fireplace and garden. Neighbors banded together to bring back a grocery store, Pierce's Northside Market, and establish the Northside Farmers' Market on Sunday mornings.
Northgate Shopping Center, also on Sherman Avenue, is being remodeled; it's home to a Frugal Muse bookstore with an excellent local author section and new and used books.
Lakewood Plaza is the place to breakfast with baked goods from Manna Cafe and Bakery. And it's here that Vic Pierce Liquor has attained legendary status for being open until midnight (because it's technically located in Maple Bluff). Consequently, the scene in the parking lot at 11:45 p.m. recalls the San Francisco Bay area in 1849. Any cab driver in the city should be able to get you there, even if you know it only as "that place that sells beer until midnight."
Just around the corner is the Inferno nightclub, which highlights goth, electro, industrial, techno and harder beats and hosts live shows with local bands like Droids Attack and Screamin' Cyn Cyn & the Pons.
All the way north lies Cherokee Marsh, a birder's paradise and important Dane County wetland. More birdies are on hand at the adjacent Cherokee Country Club.
And speaking of things that fly, don't forget the Dane County Regional Airport. Despite its prominence in the life of the community, it seems tucked away and manages to maintain a pretty low profile.
One trip down the central artery of Park Street is all you need to see that the south side is home to Madison's most diverse neighborhoods. Asian and Hispanic markets; Indian, Japanese and Peruvian restaurants; taquerías; even a classic American greasy spoon line one of our earliest streets. La Comunidad, the Spanish-language newspaper for southern Wisconsin, is headquartered here. So is the Labor Temple, home of the South Central Federation of Labor. It's one of the most exciting areas of the city to explore, with surprising nooks and crannies and hidden green spaces.
Classic near-south-side neighborhoods are Bay Creek, Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks. Bay Creek hugs Monona Bay to the south and is home to Bernie's Beach, with a pocket-size playground for kids. Just around the corner, the inviting commercial area on Lakeside Street contains a first-class yarn store, Lakeside Fibers; locally sourced food and locally roasted coffees at the Washington Hotel Coffee Room; locally made gifts at the Bohemian Bauble; and healthy food and fun toys for your pet at Nutzy Mutz and Crazy Catz. Still existing quietly in the same strip is the holistic pharmacy Quintessence.
Bram's Addition is a cornerstone of Madison's African American community. There, Penn Park is the home of the city's annual Juneteenth celebration, marking the end of slavery. Quaker Housing's apartments for seniors face the park. Down the street, David's Jamaican restaurant serves super-hot jerked dishes and ackee codfish.
The south-side farmers' market is held three times a week, at the Labor Temple and at the Villager Mall, a city-owned complex of services and private enterprises including Yue Wah grocery store, which carries foods from China, Southeast Asia, India and Mexico. Cypress Spray Park, adjacent to Lincoln Elementary School, is a recent addition to the Burr Oaks neighborhood where kids can enjoy water play to cool off during the summer.
The Wingra Creek Bike Path runs alongside Wingra Creek, joining Lake Wingra and the Arboretum to Lake Monona. On its way, the path skirts Quann Park, home to community gardens, 12 tennis courts and a large off-leash dog park. Neighboring Goodman Park is the home of the city swimming pool, finally built after years of Madison-style wrangling over location. Two waterslides and a shallow water play area please the kids, while an eight-lane 25-meter lap area with diving boards placates serious swimmers. The bike path ends at Olin-Turville Park, which combines wooded hiking paths with the city's most popular park shelter, built in 1884 as part of a summer religious camp assembly that drew visitors from all over the Midwest.
Today Alliant Energy Center pulls in visitors for concerts, sporting events, trade shows and the Dane County Fair.