Though more sensible folks wisely hunkered down at home as the latest winter storm started dumping snow on Tuesday night, there was no shortage of people out on the town. This simply wasn't a typical mid-week crowd, though, as several nightspots around downtown Madison filled up with folks gathering to celebrate two disparate yet similarly-named events, the Super Tuesday set of presidential primaries and Mardi Gras.
Over the course of a few hours, I stopped by parties at four bars to find out who was making the most of the big night.
Up first was the Angelic Brewing Company, the no-longer-a-brewpub restaurant and tavern on West Johnson Street that was the location of a Super Tuesday party for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Immediately upon entering the large bar and dining room around 8:15 p.m., one was greeted by a table stacked with campaign literature and a small scrum of the New York senator's supporters.
The bulk of the Clinton crowd was inside a smaller room set against the windows facing the street, though, where by my count some 60 people were gathered for the party. Some were picking clean a table already largely denuded of hors d'oeuvres, while others kept their eyes on a high-mounted television tuned into to live election coverage from CNN. Most people, though, were simply talking to one another, discussing the primaries and various other subjects tending towards politics.
The star of the room was Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin's District 2 representative who is looking to embark upon a second decade in Congress after winning what looks so far to be her own relatively easy reelection campaign this year.
"It is very exciting," said Baldwin of the gathering and of the prospects for her favored candidate. She officially endorsed Clinton last August and serves as co-chair of the Wisconsin campaign. Even that early in the evening, it was already clear from the TV returns that neither Democratic candidate was walking away with a decisive victory, so it all became about massaging the expectations game for supporters. Baldwin acknowledged the closeness of the race, and asserted that Clinton was performing as expected. More directly, the representative noted that the night's results would have major implications for this state.
"Wisconsin will be totally relevant," said Baldwin of the Badger State's primary on Tuesday, February 19. "I suspect we will see many of the candidates here over the next two weeks," she continued. Would this include a visit by Clinton to Madison? "I sure am hoping to see her!" was the response.
Baldwin didn't stay long at the party, though, departing not too long after 8:30 p.m. to get onboard a couple of campaign conference calls. As she was leaving, both Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk were arriving, the trio representing three of the four highest-profile elected women in the state. Indeed, the crowd at the Angelic viewing party was significantly female, a reflection of the gender gap among Democratic voters that was to emerge in the returns coming in through the evening.
I didn't stay long either, soon returning to the windy streets for a short walk up State Street and some 135 around the Capitol Square for the next stop on the crawl.
Brocach on Main Street was where supporters of Barack Obama were gathered in Madison for Super Tuesday. One could tell that there was a crowd gathered inside simply from the number of people taking a smoke break outside. Indeed, upon entering the Irish pub, the first thing one encountered was a thick crowd gathering to watch the TV above the front door, and more crowds stretching back to another set above the far end of the bar.
There were far more people at the Obama party. Though I was unable to make any sort of count due to the size and steady stream of people moving about the multi-roomed tavern, one local progressive activist sitting near the fireplace at back said that a figure of 200 persons had been announced earlier in the evening.
Obama's supporters were young, though not significantly more so than that at the Angelic. It was definitely more racially diverse. And while there was no (visible) array of snacks set out for the partiers, there was no shortage of pint glasses in varying stages of being drained. A good collection of folks were closely watching the TVs -- tuned to MSNBC -- but most were simply talking with one another.
The atmosphere at this party was very energetic, and it wasn't easy to move smoothly amongst the crowd through the narrow alleys of the bar. Some people kept busy moving about, though, such as local campaign activist Lindsey Lee, who was encouraging people to sign a campaign sign for presentation to Russ Feingold in hopes of garnering the Wisconsin senator's endorsement for his colleague from Illinois.
Local politicians were also in attendance at the Obama party. Governor Jim Doyle made a brief appearance, as did Wisconsin Assembly representative Spencer Black. Like Baldwin, he too noted the closeness of the Super Tuesday results being discussed on TV and said his preferred candidate was meeting if not exceeding expectations. "It looks like it's pretty competitive," said Black. "Obama is doing better than expected. When the delegates are counted, I'm guessing it will be pretty close. If he stays close, it's a win for him."
Black also remarked on the revelers at the party. "Often I go to Democratic events and I know everyone," he said. "One of the things I like about this event is that I do not know many of the people here, and most of them are younger than I am. I think that's good."
Crowds were so thick at Brocach, in fact, that I quickly decided it was time to leave the political excitement and anxieties behind on this crawl, and headed down King Street for some Fat Tuesday fun.
Mardi Gras at the Great Dane was marked by the Blessing of the Bock, a tongue-in-cheek ceremony that celebrated one of the brewpub's new spring beers, its Dominator Doppelbock. While the main floor bars and dining rooms at the downtown Dane were only moderately busy, its downstairs rathskeller was thick with revelers.
The room was decked out for the occasion, with Fat Tuesday banners hanging from the rafters and the walls decked with large plastic masks of Comedy and Tragedy, the decorations gleaming in purple and green and gold. More than a few people at the party were wearing these universal krewe colors too, along with plenty of beats and a jester hat or three. There were also two tables laden with food, including boiled crawfish, cornbread, and a King Cake prepared for the ceremony. Music was provided by Beer Advocate and Essential to the party is the music of reported in Isthmus last October, the group's debut album Valse a Deux Temps was released on a label based in the heart of Acadiana and won an award from the Cajun French Music Association as a standout album made outside Louisiana. They play a regular gig at the Harmony Bar, and have also been the house band of Mardi Gras at the Essen Haus for some time. Plenty of pairs danced to the tunes of the Strangers on Tuesday, swinging around the dance floor underneath a bead-laden moose bust and in front of tables full of revelers. It all made for a jovial yet laid-back vibe at this party, which sounds just about right for Mardi Gras. Snow continued to swirl around outside, meanwhile, and the streets of downtown Madison felt close to deserted shortly after 10 p.m., excepting plows and police cars. Fat and Super Tuesdays are over for the year, and winter is weighty right now, but both celebrations were signs that spring really is closer than it feels.
Essential to the party is the music of reported in Isthmus last October, the group's debut album Valse a Deux Temps was released on a label based in the heart of Acadiana and won an award from the Cajun French Music Association as a standout album made outside Louisiana. They play a regular gig at the Harmony Bar, and have also been the house band of Mardi Gras at the Essen Haus for some time.
Plenty of pairs danced to the tunes of the Strangers on Tuesday, swinging around the dance floor underneath a bead-laden moose bust and in front of tables full of revelers. It all made for a jovial yet laid-back vibe at this party, which sounds just about right for Mardi Gras.
Snow continued to swirl around outside, meanwhile, and the streets of downtown Madison felt close to deserted shortly after 10 p.m., excepting plows and police cars. Fat and Super Tuesdays are over for the year, and winter is weighty right now, but both celebrations were signs that spring really is closer than it feels.