After a cold and slushy walk, the low lights and warm wood paneling of the Avenue Bar, 1128 E. Washington Ave., feel as cozy as a grandma's living room. The walls are home to a dizzying mix of knickknacks and Badger paraphernalia.
It is a Wednesday night, which means it is Scott & Mike's Hammond Organ Nite, a weekly nod to the supper clubs of the 1950s. At the head of the room is a Hammond organ, played by Mike Cammilleri, with pal Scott Beardsley on drums. They wear dark suits. Their three-hour set of jazz standards and swinging Latin boogaloo is the perfect soundtrack to a burger and a Brandy Old Fashioned: loud enough to set the mood, but not so loud that you and your dining companion can't have an in-depth conversation about feminist readings of 1930s pulp fiction (that might have just been me).
The crowd is a mix of families, undergrads and a few lone drunks. The duo dedicate a few songs to friends in the crowd, including a fun rendition of "Happy Birthday to You," which they perform "Lawrence Welk-style" for a gentleman in the audience who's turning 26.
When Cammilleri, accordionist for local Irish group the Kissers, got the idea to do an old-school supper club night with Beardsley, a studio musician and drummer for the popular cover band the Hometown Sweethearts, the Avenue Bar was Beardsley's first thought. "I've been eating lunch here for years," he says.
After locking in the Wednesday-night timeslot, they scored a sponsorship from Korbel Brandy. It was a match made in heaven. Beardsley jokes, "We sound like brandy tastes."
The duo's been playing the Avenue for about a month, with a steadily growing crowd. Cammilleri covers both melodies and bass lines on the organ, creating a fuller sound than a duo would typically have.
The big wooden box behind the organ isn't just a place to rest your drink, as I originally assumed. It is the organ's speaker - a wooden cabinet housing two spinning driver units. They give the organ that beautiful, warbling sound.
Says Cammilleri of playing loungy, brandy-soaked organ gigs at dimly lit Wisconsin restaurants, "It's a dying art."