The relationship between bicycling and beer is undeniable, if inexplicable. Why is the bicyclist personality type also drawn to craft beer? New Belgium, out of Colorado, is possibly the brewery most associated with bikes, though it is not alone. Its flagship brew is Fat Tire; it sponsors a summer festival called Tour de Fat with bands, bikes and beer, with proceeds going to local bike nonprofits; and its Clips of Faith film fest also funnels its proceeds to bike nonprofits. Many other craft breweries sponsor cycling teams.
Middleton's Capital Brewery has its own bike club, an informal group that gets together Tuesdays and Thursdays for summer evening rides in the countryside west of Madison; these end at the brewery's bier garten. The ride routes themselves are named after beers (Maibock Rock, Hop Cream Haul), and one -- the Hop Cream -- creates a mini-pub crawl of sorts by passing by the Riley Tavern on its route.
Of course bicycles are a great mode of transportation for in-town pub crawls as well. No need to don Lycra. In fact, it's better with a T-shirt and shorts.
The parameters of this bike pub tour were simple: to stick as tightly as possible to off-street bicycle paths, within the city, straying if necessary only to park the bike and enter the tap. It's easy to swap out bars if you want to veer a little more off the path. But we had to start somewhere.
1. Harmony Bar & Grill 2201 Atwood Ave., Madison
And what better place to begin than the Harmony Bar, where the Capital City path crosses Atwood at Division Street? The Harmony, Atwood's longtime hangout for sports-watching, progressive causes, fantasy baseball meetings, book signings, blues and Sheepshead, has recently changed hands -- but nothing has yet changed. Activities include plugging the jukebox, playing pool and, possibly, elbowing your way into a card game. While starting this adventure by eating could bog down later progress, it's hard to pass up the walnut burger. Bike parking at the side of the building is barely off the path.
One Barrel Brewing 2001 Atwood Ave., .3 miles on city street
Next Door Brewing 2439 Atwood Ave., .2 miles on city street
2. Mickey's Tavern 1524 Williamson St., Madison, .6 miles, 4 minutes down the Capital City trail from stop one.
Mickey's, like the Harmony, is located footsteps off the Cap City path with plenty of bike parking. Local taps include brews from Ale Asylum, Capital, Furthermore, Karben4, Lake Louie, New Glarus, Pecatonica and Tyranena. A basket of sexy fries would not be out of order. A lot of the fun stuff (darts, pinball) has disappeared, but there's still a pool table, slouchy couches and a convivial outdoor patio space.
Weary Traveler Freehouse 1201 Williamson St., .4 miles on city street.
3. Essen Haus 514 E. Wilson St.
Come Back In 508 E. Wilson St.
Up North 150 S. Blair St., 1.3 miles, 8 minutes down the Capital City trail from stop two.
This is a three-for-one in which you don't even have to re-park your wheels. All you have to do is cross Blair Street once, at the lights, where the bike path veers to Lake Monona. The Essen Haus features 16 German beers on tap, drinking from boots, and live polka bands. This all must be given in to with more than a "When in Rome" spirit.
Come Back In, with a pleasant patio, has 20-some beers on tap: some German, some Wisconsin, and some excellent craft picks from the rest of the U.S., like Left Hand's Milk Stout, Lagunitas' New Dogtown and New Belgium's Pumpkick.
At the Up North, absorb a little of that elusive "north of Hwy. 8" feeling without having to check out the Community Car for a long drive. If you time your visit right, there's live music, no cover, Monday through Friday, with acts like Catfish Stephenson, Lefty Joe, MoonHouse and Nicky Bobby.
Willy Street Pub/The Wisco 852 Williamson St., .1 miles on city street.
4. Main Depot 627 W. Main St., 1.5 miles, 11 minutes via the Capital City trail, Brittingham Path, and the Southwest Commuter Path from stop three.
The route from the Wilson Street trio to the Main Depot is the most scenic on the crawl, along the shore of Lake Monona and Monona Bay. There are no bike racks (though there are several across the street), but its pool table, video poker, dart boards, and good burger and fries combo make for a classic tavern atmosphere in an area once dedicated to trains and warehouses. (Now, apartments and condos.) It's just across a small parking lot from the eastern end of the Southwest Commuter Path. Check out the tin ceiling.
The Echo Tap 554 W. Main St., 335 feet on city street.
5. Mason Lounge 416 S. Park St., 1.1 miles, 7 minutes (backtracking on Southwest Commuter Path to Brittingham path, then crossing west to South Park Street) from stop four.
Two modern bike hitching posts aid in parking out front; it's hard to imagine where the Mason Lounge could fit any actual racks. This tiny storefront opens up to a comfy neighborhood gathering spot, quiet, dim and quirky, with a redoubtable tap list. The bar itself seems to have retained a bit of the 19th century, with the seating area resembling Great Aunt Florence's parlor. (But in a good way.) Recent finds on draught: Goose Island's Matilda in its "Lambicus wild" iteration; Tallgrass Wild Plum Farmhouse Ale; MobCraft "Most Mobbed" Imperial IPA.
Brasserie V 1923 Monroe St., 1.1 miles on city street.