Our Town

Local community members reflect on their favorite Madison destinations from grocery stores to lakeshores, from neighborhoods to nightclubs.

The Capitol Square
Jim Chiolino, Attorney, Quarles & Brady LLP
I’ve been referred to as “master of the obvious” for my tendency to voice clichés. Even so, I’d be missing the boat if I didn’t name our beautiful Capitol Square as my favorite place. I especially love it on Saturdays when the Farmers’ Market is showing the best of the season. Like most Madisonians, I am extraordinarily proud of our State Capitol building, which boasts the largest dome by volume in the US and one of the largest in the world—and the only granite dome in the country.

On the best summer days, my husband David and I start with a workout at Capital Fitness (a few blocks off the Square), then stop for a leisurely lunch at the friendliest lunch spot in town—the Argus Bar Grille—where owners Gwen Cassis and Rick Brahmer offer great sandwiches at reasonable prices (try “Auntie Em’s Veggie Reuben”). Next, a stop at Brocach Irish Pub and Restaurant, the nicely renovated former home of the Badger Candy Kitchen and E. W. Parker Jewelers, for another beverage, watching the parade of Farmers’ Market goers. Tremendous people watching!

When the top of my head begins to redden, we leave for a nap. Later, we take our dog, Puck, to Sycamore Park, one of Madison’s many dog parks for some dog time. From the hill in the center of the park, you get to enjoy a stunning view of the sunset behind the capitol dome. The view confirms what we have known since returning here in 1999: we live in an enchanted city.

Community Pharmacy
Richard Kilmer, Chief Pharmacist
I have worked at Community Pharmacy since 1984. Several days after pharmacist Jane Greischar interviewed me for the job, I saw her at a 10% Dance at UW Memorial Union. At that moment, I knew that I had found the perfect working environment. I recall a feeling of “coming home” to a place where I could be openly gay, while also satisfying my desire to make a difference in the world and to be there for people in need.

Community Pharmacy began in 1972 as a Wisconsin Student Association (WSA) sponsored program to provide affordable prescription drugs to students and community members. Known as WSA Pharmacy, it evolved into a worker-owned cooperative. As the community began to view the pharmacy as a comprehensive health care resource the name was changed to Community Pharmacy. The pharmacy expanded its inventory from pharmaceuticals and basic body care products to also include a large selection of nutritional supplements, herbs, homeopathic remedies, books, and greeting cards. Students from the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy can select Community Pharmacy as a clinical training site. I serve as a Clinical Professor and coordinate and oversee their experience.

The pharmacy supports a wide range of social and political health care issues, including donating thousands of dollars for low-cost medications to the homeless and uninsured, providing a clean needle exchange, and securing affordable medications for health teams traveling to developing countries. Locally, Community Pharmacy is well regarded as an “information warehouse” and referral center for complementary medicine.

Put Community Pharmacy on your list of Madison destinations. You won’t be disappointed.

Downtown Eating and Drinking Establishments
Ricardo Gonzalez, Owner, Cardinal Bar
Many eating and drinking establishments have come and gone in Madison over the past 40 years.

There were always staples, such as Paisan’s, Porta Bella, and the Cuba Club—some of them still around. But new ground was broken in the 1970s by the Ovens of Brittany on State Street, which together with Andrea’s (now L’Etoile) set the tone for years to come.

I loved Andrea’s for its simplicity and Ovens for its great tasting nouveau cuisine. Around 1976, L’Etoile took over and has literally remained the number one restaurant in Madison, although others such as Magnus and Harvest have certainly challenged its supremacy.

Personally, I love the eateries where you can get a good meal for a good price (don’t we all!?). Foremost on my list would be the Weary Traveler, which is hard to beat for quality, price, atmosphere, and service. Sardine is a wonderful space with excellent offerings; the new Plaka Taverna, formerly Cleveland’s, is a good bet, as is Dardanelles on the near west side.

One place in the burbs that has really impressed me is Eno Vino and you can’t beat Wasabi for Japanese; when I’m looking for a good steak, then Tornado Club is the place.

The Cardinal Bar
Cheng Vue (aka DJ Chen Cheng), local DJ
I like to think of dancing not as an activity, but as an experience consisting of a comfortable atmosphere, a bumping sound system, and music that makes you move. One of my favorite places for that is the Cardinal—Madison’s classic dance bar.

Atmosphere is important because it gets you in the mood to dance. Anything from the lighting to the other people in the bar can have an affect on the atmosphere. I’ve always liked the Cardinal because even though it isn’t officially a gay bar, I always feel comfortable dancing with another guy there. When you walk in, you can hear music, but the dance floor is tucked away in the other room, allowing for some drinks and conversation with friends before dancing.

The sound system at the Cardinal is amazing. Because of the carefully placed speakers, the music literally surrounds you. You not only hear the music—you feel it.

Friday is definitely my favorite night to go to the Cardinal. It is their Rebirth night (in honor of the recent renovation) and resident DJ Nick Nice spins all things house from the classics to funky or electro. Also, once a month, Rebirth teams up with Indie Queer and switches things up by bringing in guest DJs.

The East Washington Underpass at the Yahara River
Ingrid Ankerson, Principal, Ankerson Communications
Since opening my graphic design business three years ago, I’ve lived on one side of East Washington Avenue and worked on the other. My daily walk between my house on North Baldwin and my office on South Dickinson is only five minutes, but it means crossing six lanes of traffic at least twice a day. And while I generally try to find the beauty in the mundane, walking the long block along East Washington followed by a rather desolate patch across the railroad tracks of the “warehouse district” is both loud and, well, boring.

Then, in 2006 during the reconstruction of East Washington, something magnificent happened: the city built an underpass for bikers and walkers along the Yahara River. Suddenly it became possible to cross East Washington without the fear of someone making a left-hand turn over the top of me. The north and south side of the isthmus was bridged with a tunnel. And a very beautiful one at that.

Constructed in the “Prairie School” style of architecture, the underpass is graced with a series of simple, elegant, arching beams that cast a beautiful reflection on the river year-round. In the summer, boaters and canoers pass with me from lake to lake; and on cold winter evenings, the nighttime lighting throws quiet, inspired shadows on the water.

Granted, taking this trail adds a few blocks to my walk, but once I reach the river and then the underpass, I feel overwhelmingly fulfilled by this city and my place in it. Over time, I’ve had numerous conversations with others with whom I’ve shared the trail. One morning an elderly woman nearly shouted as we passed each other, “How lucky you are that this is your path!”
Indeed.

Grocery Stores from The Willy Street Co-op to Woodman’s West
Linda Balisle, Shareholder, Balisle & Roberson, S.C.
For foodies, discerning cooks, and anyone looking for a healthy meal with recognizable ingredients, Madison is a paradise. Much has been written about our Dane County Farmers’ Market, which The New York Times rated the best in the country, but I spend my time at the remarkable variety of food markets available in Madison. Not mere grocery stores, but true markets, where the source of the produce is identified and the produce reflects the seasons.

I confess that my heart belongs to the Willy Street Co-op. I wander the perimeter comparing orange, red, purple, green, brown, and yellow foodstuffs from all food categories. When I’m on a “soup mission,” I can select from 3–5 different types of fresh mushrooms, 6–7 types of greens, 3–4 varieties of onions, shallots, and leeks, and a myriad of root vegetables, most with their home farms identified.

The Seafood Center located next to the deli is my routine source for special dinners as well as all the Omegas we’re supposed to consume. I could describe each aisle of bulk grains, nuts and flours, fresh oils, the full expanse of artisan cheeses, the local organic meat choices, the expertise available for the pharmaceuticals, and the beautiful teapots and other kitchen supplies that gratify my every wish. But then I would be ignoring some other wonderful local food markets available in Madison.

On the east side, the Jenifer Street Market always is noted as the best neighborhood market. It has evolved over the 30-some years I have shopped there into a true market, with fresh and organic produce, with a notable meat and deli section crafted by experienced butchers. If your mind insists and your body allows, their bakery is a corner to savor, filled with their own muffins, cakes, cookies, and breads.

On the West side my car seems to turn into the Metcalf’s Sentry parking lot whenever I pass. They welcome you with a prepared food and produce emporium that is often my first and last stop. Some of their attraction is practical—they provide large quart containers for their homemade soups, which is convenient for several people, or your sick friend who needs good chicken vegetable or chicken noodle soup for a couple of days. Their “Asian to Go” section is good enough that your family and friends will think you spent the hours of chopping and sautéing with the right oils.

Madison also has Wisconsin-grown, traditional grocery stores: Copps and Woodman’s. Woodman’s is employee-owned and has one of the best sections of gluten-free packaged foods I’ve ever seen. I would be remiss if I didn’t share that while at Woodman’s West I’ve witnessed two domestic altercations, one of which required police intervention. Both were in the produce section, which provided too many objects a human hand could grip and throw. But this additional drama was free of charge and Woodman’s prices remain one of the lowest in town for packaged goods.

Atwood Avenue
Kim Nemacheck, Realtor, EcoBroker, Bunbury & Associates
Atwood Avenue is one of Madison’s little treasures. A bike path runs parallel to the street, and I particularly love the stretch from Olbrich Botanical Gardens to the Yahara River.

Café Zoma’s backyard café is right on the bike path, and I often stop in the summer for an iced coffee and to visit with friends. The backyard has tables and chairs, a sandbox, dog tie-outs and is a great place to people watch. When I need to have my bike tuned up, I pop next door to Revolution Cycles where the tattooed bike mechanics are always helpful and you can find a cool T-shirt.

Just down the street is one of my favorite bars, the Harmony Bar & Grill. I consider it the “Cheers” of the east side, where everybody knows your name. It brings together locals sports and music fans, straight and gay clientele, and is an all-around welcoming place. Most of the bartenders have been there forever and the food is great. I especially love the hot chips with blue cheese, walnut burger, and made-to-order pizza.

Just down the street is Dobhan restaurant, and if you haven’t been there, you should make plans to do so very soon. The service is always friendly and the food is consistently good. The owners, from Nepal, also own Himal Chuli and Chautaura on State Street. Take my word for it—this place has good eats for dinner or brunch.

Because the Atwood area is so pedestrian friendly, I really look forward to gallery night, the night all over Madison that art studios and local businesses feature local art and refreshments. My friends and I have so much fun stopping in the many businesses and galleries that have openings including Bad Dog Frida, Café Zoma, Absolutely Art, and Paran Studios (around the corner on Winnebago) to name a few.

Atwood Gives Back
Alnisa Allgood, Executive Director, Nonprofit Tech
Stopping by Café Zoma, I talk to Dan about the 4th Annual Atwood-Winnebago Winter Festival. The weather was cold and I was worried people would stay indoors. Dan described a huddled-down crowd flowing between Absolutely Art and Café Zoma. They were warm, caffeinated, excited, and braving the cold.

Framed by Starkweather Creek, the Yahara River, and Lake Monona, you can walk, bike, canoe, or garden, and feel at-home holding the hand of your partner, while walking down the street. The Schenk-Atwood Neighborhood is more than a neighborhood. It’s a community.

I’m a twenty-first century girl. I love high-speed Internet, all things Apple, and FedEx delivery; but I’ve got an old fashioned attachment to civility—and Atwood bristles with it. Business owners such as Megan Blake-Horst, owner of Absolutely Art, and Teresa Ouabel, owner of Bunky’s Café, who inspired the community to brave the cold and economic uncertainties; to come out, have fun, and support the neighborhood for that Winter Festival. Priceless.

I’m also a bit of a dreamer and I think Schenk-Atwood is, too—a neighborhood of dreamers who want green spaces, beautiful places, and smiling faces, but know that it takes commitment. I see the abundant enthusiasm of Helen Hazelmare of Goodman’s Food Pantry or Christine Thompson of the Personal Essential Pantry at Zion Lutheran. They provide food, service, and hope to your friends and neighbors.

I’ve felt the warm smiles of the staff at the Goodman Community Center—where Becky, Kristi, Corrisa, and Kristin work with boundless energy for this community, for you.

The Schenk-Atwood Neighborhood is colorful, vibrant, and engaging. It has good food and people, and lots to do. But there’s a warm comfort, and a sense of the familial, that embraces the LGBT communities ensconced within.

The Schenk-Atwood Neighborhood
Linda Halsey, Director of Development, University of Wisconsin Foundation
In 2000, we decided to move our family out of the San Francisco Bay Area. The City had been an exciting, magical place where Mary and I had lived for 15 years. But after our two boys were born, we began to long for things from our own childhoods that were simply not going to be part of our boys’ Bay Area lives. Simple things, like a neighborhood where kids all went to the same public school (private schools were the norm where we lived because the public schools were in rough shape), or a place where parents felt comfortable letting their young kids walk to the park by themselves.

But for all of our frustrations, we had always felt that there simply wasn’t a more accepting place than the Bay Area for same-sex parents to raise a family.

Then we heard about Madison. We heard that it was a special place—not too big, not too small—a place where our family would be embraced, where the public schools were great, and where the community was progressive. “It’s the Berkeley of the Midwest,” someone assured us.

So after doing a little research, we moved here in July of 2000 with our then three- and six-year-old boys, and by an immense stroke of luck (and the help of a wise realtor) we settled into the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood.

Now, almost 10 years later, we are still in the honeymoon phase with our neighborhood. At first our neighbors didn’t understand why we got so excited when our kids actually learned how to ride a bike, or when we let them walk to the park, and to school, by (gasp) themselves. Or how we loved it when our kids began to use old-fashioned terms like “I’m going to call on Emory to see if he wants to play.”

We didn’t know what hit us that first year when we began to uncover the amazing treasures in our neighborhood: We had a seemingly endless bike path that crossed our street. We could walk to pretty much everything … restaurants, shops, cafes, a grocery store, parks. (In the Bay Area it took 20 minutes and a car just to get a gallon of milk.) We had an incredible (Goodman) community center down the street and the Barrymore around the corner for music. And the Yahara Park summer festival! … and it’s free?! Our favorite place in Madison is our Schenk-Atwood neighborhood, hands-down.

Governor Nelson State Park
Cheri Maples, Co-founder, Center for Mindfulness & Justice
Of the innumerable gems in Madison, I must direct special attention to Governor Nelson State Park—we have this phenomenal treasure right in our midst, and right on Lake Mendota’s north shore, complete with a stunning view of downtown Madison.

It seems rare for a city to be able to boast a state park in its environs, and many Madisonians enjoy it for its boat launch, picnicking, and fishing activities. I prize the park for other reasons—it is a restorative haven, a quiet refuge for me where I can deeply connect with the natural world.

Governor Nelson has more than eight miles of trails through woods and prairie. On a typical summer day’s walk, I encounter stunning wildflowers and incredible bird life—including sandhill cranes—and I often pay my respects at the many Indian mounds (including a panther effigy mound), reminding me of those who came long before us. As a completely fun bonus, I get to share this experience with my dog, as they’re also allowed at the park (leashed, of course).

As I write this in the midst of winter, I’m especially appreciating the groomed cross-country ski offerings of the park. I’m awkwardly, and happily, honing my skate skiing skills at “Govy Nelson”—and when I’m not up for that challenge, I strap on my classical cross country skis.

I’m now watching for the annual nighttime event they host each winter, where they have candlelight trails for skiers/snow-shoers. It is a magical evening that evokes a more civilized time, where “strangers” share in a fun outdoor activity, complete with a roaring bonfire and hot chocolate along the trail—and in so communing, are strangers no more.

The Crestwood Neighborhood
Bill Beaudreau, Owner and Interior Designer of CRB Interiors
When asked to ponder a favorite west side neighborhood, I was instantly reminded of a time many years ago when I learned about the Crestwood Neighborhood as a docent for a Historic Madison home tour. The neighborhood is near Rosa Road and Old Middleton Road and borders Bordner Park and Owen Conservation Park. It is filled with modest residences, built in the post-World War I period, where optimism and ingenuity reigned. The houses are generally modern in style. Marshall Erdmann was instrumental in providing and building residences based upon types A, B, C, and D, with variations on a theme.

Inspiration and enlightenment come into play here. A section of the neighborhood is filled with an arc of cul-de-sacs alphabetically named: Arbor Vitae Place, Bittersweet Place, Cedar Place, Dogwood Place, Elder Place and Forsythia Place. It is simply quaint. This neighborhood was formed by the Wisconsin Co-operative Housing Association in 1936, and it is believed to be the oldest neighborhood association in the U.S. At the time, many people didn’t have money to buy a large lot and a house. So, public paths as alleés were formed between the smaller lots through cooperative ownership and provided direct access to Owen Park.

Imagine taking a daily walk up into a restored prairie or a woods for hiking or a winter ski. I have walked through Owen Park many times and once sauntered down one of the paths through the neighborhood. It was a sheer treat.

I only wish I could do it more often.