The Atrium is a unique space in Madison and almost no one knows that better than Benjamin Altschul.
Altschul grew up at the site, at 111 King St., between where the Kitchen Gallery and Context Clothing are now located. Kitchen Gallery was once home to Botticelli's, the restaurant owned by his parents, Jane Capito and Dan Altschul. "My first memories are from there," says Altschul, who is now co-owner and operator of the Tip Top Tavern, a venerable Eken Park-neighborhood tap that he revitalized in 2013.
"It's where I first came to understand the flavors of life, it's where my palate began to develop." He remembers selling scones Saturday mornings at the Dane County Farmers' Market. "That was our family business," he recalls. And when Botticelli's fell apart in 1997, so went the family -- "We were all cast in different directions," says Altschul. Longtime Madisonians still remember the restaurant fondly, and indeed part of the Botticelli's design motif is still affixed to the front of the building (a Renaissance-style scroll pattern).
But now, Altschul is excited to "bring life back into the atrium." He plans to open a cafe to be called, simply, "The Atrium."
The terrazzo-floored, skylit vestibule area that connects Kitchen Gallery, Context the Studio Quest hair salon was once overflow dining space for all the restaurants that occupied the 107 King St. space, including, after Botticelli's closed, the Clay Market Cafe and Tutto Pasta Cucina Italiana. The "King Street Arcade" was built in 1927 and its interior is "intact," according to the Madison Landmarks Commission plaque on the front of the building. The central court concept, with entrances to retail and offices, was popular in the United States at the time, but this is Madison's only example of the style.
"It's a marvelous space," says Altschul, who wants the new cafe to be a "harmonious space with the entire neighborhood," where people can come to "ruminate, share, and connect."
Altschul plans for the cafe to be open all day, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. six or seven days a week. Breakfasts will feature bakery items from his mother's Willy Street restaurant Lazy Jane's Cafe, homemade granola, and top-notch coffees. Lunch will focus on seasonal ingredients in soups, market salads and simple sandwiches. Dinner will be a small-plate affair, highlighting the goods of local purveyors, with cheese plates, homemade spreads, and a chocolate platter. Craft cocktails are also planned. Altschul describes the philosophy of the menu as "simple, functional, and accessible."
Altschul's partner in the venture is Benjamin Fritz, who is the son of Richard Fritz, who owns the building. (Altschul's brother, Gilbert Altschul, owns Grampa's Pizzeria on Williamson Street, and the soon-to-open Gib's Bar.)
Some entertainment is planned -- "small theatrical events, cabarets, screenings," as Altschul describes it, but he also wants the Atrium to complement entertainment options already present in the area. Late night entertainment is already plentiful; he foresees an "ebb and flow throughout the day."
"I want it to be a positive contribution to the neighborhood," he says.
The anticipated opening date is April, 2015.