So we feel as though you are properly versed on where you should be eating and drinking when you come to Madison. The last thing you need to know is where (and how, in some cases) to tailgate on a Football Saturday in The Greatest College Sports Town in America.
Every school has its own take on tailgating and no one school is "more right" than another. But you will be hard-pressed to find a place that has more fun on a football Saturday than Madison, Wisconsin. I've tailgated in State College and the sea of cars, RVs and people in white yelling at you was one of the most impressive things I've come across in college football. I've tailgated in Iowa City, which has an extremely similar vibe to Madison (which is a good thing, Hawkeyes). I've been on the golf course in Pasadena with TCU fans, a house party in Boulder before CU/CSU, downtown Minneapolis with Gopher fans, the parking lot of Veteran's Stadium (RIP) before the Army/Navy Game, the parking lot of the Citrus Bowl with Arkansas fans, the parking lot outside of Jack Trice Stadium with Iowa State fans and a Villanova dorm room before a Nova game (don't judge me, they are my hometown team and they're better than Temple).
B5Q's Guides to Madison
B5Q's Guides to Madison
My tailgating credentials are solid, if lacking a true experience on a boat (SEE YOU SOON, WASHINGTON OR TENNESSEE), and I still haven't seen a town go as hard as Madison on a gameday. Allow me to let you in on some secrets to fully enjoying your football Saturday.
First thing's first: there isn't an extremely traditional tailgating scene here, as Camp Randall Stadium is located in downtown Madison. Being located in the middle of a major city and state capital unfortunately limits the number of massive fields or parking lots you can have. While there are still traditional tailgating setups, like at Meriter Hospital's parking lot or a couple of other lots around the stadium, most of the pre-game chicanery takes place at house parties and bars that ring Camp Randall like Saturn's, uh, rings.
Take a walk down Breese Terrace, quite literally a football's throw away from the stadium, and enjoy 30 different houses blasting the UW Marching Band, House of Pain, AC/DC and any number of vulgar hip-hop songs that the kids are listening to these days (*shakes fists at kids*). There are also multiple wonderful bars located within a short walking distance of Camp Randall. Five of the best, in no particular order because on gameday everywhere that serves beer is tied for the best bar in Madison:
A massive parking lot turns into an outdoor beer garden on gamedays. Multiple TVs show any and all other college football games if the Badgers play later; if they play at 11, they will be showing "College GameDay" and all the potential gunshot victims (once Lee Corso inevitably gets his weapon after he picks). They also have a ridiculous website with graphics from Lord knows when. I strongly recommend the website, and the bar, I guess.
A similar set up to Jordan's Big Ten. The parking lot turns into a beer garden and the grills are fired up early for the breakfast of champions (burgers and brats). It's even closer to the stadium than Jordan's, so if proximity is your game or you just hate walking after seven beers, I'd choose Lucky's!
This is what the old Regent Street Retreat turned into at the beginning of last season. While still a live music venue, The Red Zone has started also catering to sports fans being right by Camp Randall and relatively close to the Kohl Center. I've yet to make it here, but friends of mine speak highly of the number of TVs and lively gameday atmosphere.
What is usually a quiet bar during the week with comfy couches, a roaring fire and an excellent beer list turns into a rollicking, yet somehow subdued, party on Saturday mornings. This small spot in between University Avenue and Campus Drive is my go to post-game spot on gamedays. They don't have the most TVs (only five or six) but they are captained well by the bar staff to make sure that you don't miss any action. As a bonus, if you're there before the game, they are also a cafe and have many of the coffee drinks you'll need to face 12 hours of drinking. And I haven't even mentioned the food! In case you couldn't tell, this would get my vote as "best bar" on gameday.
An added bar to the list that many people don't think of is the bar on the first floor of Hotel Red, The Wise. They are way nicer than they should be to people who have had too much to drink on gamedays. I, uh, know because a friend told me. Yeah, a friend told me.
Many people choose to start their gamedays on State Street and make the walk down University to the game, and we've already gone over the bars they should be frequenting, but if I may add two more spots to the list. First, and this will come as a shock to many of you, I recommend grabbing a drink at State Street Brats and sitting on the patio to people watch for 30 minutes. It is a wonderful place to see the brightest and drunkest Madison has to offer. Before you do that, however, start further up State Street toward the Capitol at the Silver Dollar. Play a game of shuffleboard while wearily eyeing the possibly homeless dudes at the table next to you.
Lastly, I'd like to shoutout my tailgating location: the roof of Lot 17 (Engineering Drive Ramp). It's stadium-adjacent, even though my seats are in the opposite corner, and we have good beer and food, too, and the band will come and play up there after the game sometimes! Also, the coaches park up there and we never have to worry about Andy Ludwig taking our spot because his car is always parked three lots further away. I mean, really, with all those deep passes?!?! UGH! Anywho, bring on Western Illinois and On, Wisconsin!