Noise complaints, dog shit and snow plowing. This is the stuff that typically brings out four to twelve very impassioned residents to a typical Madison neighborhood association meeting but keeps the rest of the citizenry (including scoop-hungry local bloggers) far, far away.
Nevertheless, my interest was piqued Wednesday night when Scott Resnick, president of the State-Langdon Neighborhood Association, notified me that his group would be discussing an issue very close to my beer-loving heart: the future of Buck's Madison Square Garden.
It is getting sold and I was deeply concerned. Might the Madison bar scene be selling out?
Buck's is one of those places many college kids pass on a daily basis and never consider patronizing. The obtuse brick complex is ugly enough to deserve a prime spot on Regent Street and its gimmicky name lends itself more to an Applebee's spinoff than a college bar.
But during the two years I spent in the Greenbush area, I was always intrigued by Buck's apparent invisibility to the UW undergrad population. Although I never risked using my fake ID there, I did not hesitate to try out their happy hour as soon as I turned 21. Ironically, I found on the first visit that ID -- fake or real -- is often unnecessary.
Sadly, Buck's did not get the spotlight it deserved at the State-Langdon meeting. After an hour and a half presentation on a new apartment complex at Mendota Court (which will be replacing the former frat house where I attended my first college party) Resnick whispered to me that potential buyer Dan Ironmonger would not make it.
Just as disappointment was starting to sink into my gut (actually, I'm still disappointed) Ald. Mike Verveer interjected with something that raised my eyebrows. Ironmonger, general manager of Rocky Rococo's, is not the sole buyer. He is accompanied by Scott Nerat, who manages the Regent Street Retreat.
The contrast between Buck's and the 'treat could not be greater. To display this I will tell you a tale of two birthday specials.
On the eve of my girlfriend's twenty first birthday, I convinced her to take her first legal drink at Buck's. Arriving at midnight, we informed the bartender of the occasion, for which he was overjoyed because he had never hosted a 21st birthday before and told us we were entitled to a free shot, a free cocktail and a free beer. The deal was apparently also extended to the significant other (very important).
Afterwards, we decided a Regent birthday would not be complete without a visit to the Regent Street Retreat, which had been a subject of folklore ever since we had gone on a Saturday midnight the summer before and found exactly two customers at the bar. There were more than two people this time, but the bar staff was no less hostile. After grilling our I.D.s with unusual intensity, the bartender told us that a birthday girl gets a free shot. As we started to ponder what shot to take, the barkeep interjected, pointing in my direction, "it's a Flaming Dr. Pepper, and you don't get one."
A bar that not only offers setting shots on fire (which is illegal) but requires it. At the very least, such a place should be designated a "saloon."
Maybe Buckingham's (what Buck's will soon be called) might not be so bad. If the new owners can combine the former Buck's hospitality and disregard for profits with the Retreat's toughness and disregard for the law, Buckingham's just might become the wildest saloon in the West [side of Madison].
Jack Craver is a UW-Madison student who blogs daily at The Sconz.