The Capitol in the background seven blocks away from the new Star Bar.
Star Bar, the collaboration project of One Barrel Brewing owner Peter Gentry and Jade Monkey owner Hawk Sullivan, offered downtown Madison residents a reprieve from the snow with a soft opening Tuesday night. The bar's hip, industrial-modern decor is a beacon in the Constellation building at North Livingston and East Washington, with a neon star and the words "Beer" and "Cocktails" shining above a stainless-steel bike corral.
A ritzy, backlit wall of specialty liquors befitting a downtown bar interplays with funky, retro-industrial decor echoing the neighborhood's history. There's a unicycle on one wall, a jukebox on another; the moneyed hipster will be right at home, as will the downtown professional looking for a drink and maybe some darts with friends after work. Two- and four-top tables, ample bar stools, and sofas are available, so the place lends itself nicely to both solo drinking and groups of friends.
It's no surprise that the beer list is excellent. Two taps from One Barrel will be in rotation, as well as a Karben4 line and another for Ale Asylum, but Gentry says, "We're not necessarily focused on Wisconsin beer, just good beer -- but it happens that there's a lot of good beer from Wisconsin." The bottle list ranges from Wisconsin breweries like Lake Louie and 3 Sheeps to national favorites like Southern Tier and Three Floyds, as well as several prominent European brewers. There's a solid range of styles, too, with everything from ginger-brewed beer to Flemish sour; it's a lovingly chosen craft beer geek's list, evidenced by small touches like a frequently rotating "big bottle" list for drinkers to share.
In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone being unable to find a drink here; the wine list is solid, with unexpected offerings by the glass like vinho verde and carmenere. Spirits from the nearby Old Sugar Distillery figure prominently in the original cocktail list, which is currently leaning pretty sweet with several wintery concoctions; Gentry describes Old Sugar distiller Nathan Greenawalt as his "mentor" as a brewer, so it's a good fit in personality as well as proximity. And there are a few ciders, non-alcoholic beers, and ports, and a full bar of spirits to browse.
Gentry says the bar will soon serve light meals with a menu similar to One Barrel's; more exciting, they'll be doing waffles and Bloody Marys with cheese or meat straws this and every weekend for brunch.
"The city's putting a lot of resources towards developing this area, and it's a really under-served neighborhood," Gentry says of the location. Though he has a brewpub license, he says there's no room to brew on-site. Star Bar will sell growlers of One Barrel and other draft offerings.
A summer patio will add some outdoor ambiance to the corner. Gentry says he expects the neighborhood to become more lively and walkable as businesses like a new grocery store in the 800 block and a new branch of Cargo Coffee, right next door, arrive. "People who live here want that big-city feel," he says.
Star Bar will be open Mondays-Thursdays beginning at 4 p.m., and opens at 2 p.m. on Fridays and at noon on Saturdays-Sundays. Waffle brunch is from noon to 3 p.m. weekends. Star Bar is hosting its grand opening weekend starting Thursday, Jan. 16, and will provide ongoing updates via its Facebook page.