clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roundtable: The Great Madison Bar Bracket of 2015

It's time to break this bracket down, roundtable style.

Darren Hauck/Getty Images

The bracket has been out for 24 hours and the debates on Twitter, in the B5Q comments and on my phone and Facebook have already been heated. A couple quick notes before we get to the esteemed members of our roundtable: this is just a campus bar bracket.

I know how many wonderful bars the rest of Madison has, all of my friends live in the suburbs now and we never go downtown anymore because we're old and lame. We may do a smaller, NIT-style bracket for non-campus bars later this summer, depending on how well this one goes. In the Southeast region, we will be replacing Amy's Cafe (which is closed and being remodeled) with Madhatters (which I somehow forgot, again, probably because I'm old and lame).

Alright, on to the roundtable! We have three members of the B5Q staff ranging in age and attractiveness (all are equally "blogger hot") here to drop some knowledge on you. They are as follows:

Prepare for the takes people, because they are coming in hot.

Which region is the toughest?

Jake: Initially, I thought it would be the State Street bracket based on allure, history and reputation alone. You have State Street Brats, KK, Hawk's, City and a solid set of top-tier, well-known bars (along with some great Round of 32 match-ups) and honestly, every bar on State Street's solid.

However, I'm a huge believer in the Southeast bracket being the toughest. Though I must say I've been to these bars far more than other regions' establishments, you have intriguing match-ups in not just later rounds, but the first round. Church Key and Dotty's is a great 7-10 match-up and a true 5-12 upset special possibly brewing between two Madison-rooted establishments in the Nitty Gritty and Echo Tap. Your Top 4 include Wandos, Vintage, Chasers and Karaoke Kid, but there's depth with the likes of the Nitty Gritty, Dotty's, Red Shed and Church Key. Many of these bars/restaurants have near-legendary footings with alcohol and food (Wandos with its fish bowls and BACON, Nitty Gritty with free beer on birthdays and that delicious Gritty Burger), and many showcase solid strengths for alcohol, food, or both with some intangibles (KARAOKE KID BABAY!).

I'm getting hungry and thirsty just talking about it all, and I'm on a diet.

Phil: I think we can all agree that the Camp Randall region is weak sauce and the other three will be bloodbaths. And Jake is right, the State Street bracket isn't living up to the hype -- many old favorites, but a handful of newish places that I don't think carry a lot of weight (yet).

The Capitol region is my pick here in a late switch, but it's very, very close. I just see too much strength from the top-seeded anchors to all the great values in the lowest seeds. Fame of the top-four seeds spreads beyond city and even state borders. That doesn't make them the best in Madison, but it gives this corner of the bracket a lot of juice. Seeds 6, 8, 10, 11, 13 and 15 are all well-loved too. Who knows, maybe I'm overcompensating for my Southeast dorms-alum bias though.

Kevin: To me, the Southeast region takes the cake here. While the State Street region is stacked at the top with legendary spots like Brats and The KK, Southeast just has more depth top to bottom. As a current student, Wando's, Vintage, and Chasers are all high quality establishments that knock it out of the park with their specials, beer selection, and food. As Jake mentioned, Wando's fishbowls and bacon are hard to top on Tuesday nights and Vintage's $1 Wisconsin taps is probably the best spot to hit up on Monday nights. The strength of this region is solidified by its lower seeds (Dotty's Dumplings, Echo Tap, Brickhouse BBQ) which all serve great food, and may push some of the higher seeds to the brink of defeat. All of this and I still haven't mentioned the University Ave. two-headed monster of The Church Key and The Real KK (Karaoke Kid). While, the State Streeet region is no doubt stacked as well, I still think the pick here is the Southeast region.

What's the most intriguing first-round matchup?

Jake: I'll stick in the Southeast region. Church Key vs. Dotty's Dumplings Dowry is a solid match-up. No. 7 seed Church Key has its All-Day Happy Hours on Wednesdays or Thursdays until 7 p.m., plus a great Friday post-class special but not a great selection with pub food. No. 10 seed Dotty's is known for its burgers and cheese curds, along with its craft brews -- which is extensive. Can it make the upset against one of my favorite hangouts as a college undergrad? That's up to you, Wisconsin fans.

Phil: Two matchups pit behemoths vs. quirky cubbyholes that I love. The labyrinthine Red Zone faces a stiff test from Greenbush Bar, home of the best post-football pizza if you're willing to wait (sorry Topper's). Maybe even more intriguing is another #4 vs. #13 pairing on the opposite side though: Essen Haus vs. Natt Spil. Complete opposites, except that both prominently feature music. I'll take the best DJs in town over polka almost every time, so I'm rooting for the underdog there. Love Jake's pick too, and Genna's vs. Paradise Lounge will be interesting.

Kevin: I think the most intriguing matchup is in the State Street region between No. 8 seed Hawk's and No. 9 Plaza. It's a classic 8-9 matchup between two bars with very different vibes. It's pits the laid back, hipster feel of Plaza against Hawk's classic sports bar feel. It's going to come down to whichever style you prefer, and to me the contrast in styles of these two bars makes it the most intriguing matchup of the first round.

Which bars are overseeded and underseeded?

Jake: Based on food alone, I think Bluephies may be a bit underseeded in the Camp Randall region. Their menu is great, and if you haven't tried their desserts (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough egg rolls, anyone?), you haven't lived. They have a decent alcohol selection; however, the food there overshadows the spirits in this interest.

For overrated, I think you run into the problem of having the "blue-bloods" of Wisconsin bars at the top. Are State Street Brats (WHICH I LOVE, btw) and the KK really the top bars on/near State Street, or is that just based on reputation? Same goes for the Old Fashioned, which may have received much love from the Food Network for its cheese curds, but is it really the top bar/restaurant in the Capitol region with the Great Dane or Merchant lurking right below them? I think all are, but you always run into that argument over seeding.

Phil: Overseeded: Karaoke Kid (#4), Come Back In (#5), maybe even Brasserie V (#2), which benefits from a weak region. Same goes for Mickies Dairy Bar (#16), which isn't even open at night. And The Double U (#16)? That bar hasn't opened yet.

Underseeded: Plaza Tavern at #9? It's a Madison institution. You could make an argument that Argus, Natt Spil, Tipsy Cow and Coopers are all too low in the Capitol region (which is why that's the toughest bracket IMO). Feel bad for Argus going up against Great Dane off the bat -- two underrated basement spots there. Echo Tap and Buckingham's at #12 and #6 are probably a little low, since they have loyal non-student followings. And we have the Monroe Street edition of Brocach, but the original didn't make it all?? Curious indeed.

Kevin: I think one bar that is a bit overseeded is Whiskey Jack's as a 3 seed. It's Thursday night 25, 50, and 75 cent taps is one of the best specials in Madison, but besides that it just doesn't do much for me. I think City Bar, Monday's, and Plaza could all make a good case to be seeded higher than Whiskey Jack's in the State Street region. I also think AJ Bombers is seeded too high as a 7 seed and think Capital Taphaus has a real good shot to pull the upset in round one.

Two bars stand out to me as being slightly underseeded. I think Brocach as a 12 seed is a bit low and is my pick for this tournament's classic 5-12 upset over Mason Lounge. I also think Dotty's Dumplings (10 seed) deserved a higher seed based on their burgers alone, not to mention it's ideal location and exceptional service.

What is your favorite bar on campus?

Jake: As a college undergrad, it was hands down the Church Key. It was low-key (no pun intended) at the time, and my roommates and I always found a way to get there , have a few beers, then go back to the apartment and play Halo until 3 a.m. when someone would get too angry from doing certain acts in the game and quit. Many spirits and fun stories we have back from that time there.

As an adult, I think I have to go with Great Dane. Really good combination of food and brews that satisfies my thirst and hunger. Though you mention on campus being a qualifier, it's nice they have other locations in nearby Fitchburg and Hilldale (near West side of Madison) to have easy access to the goods.

Phil: It's like asking someone who their favorite grandchild is: "The one I was just with/at." But seriously, it comes down to the Vintage and Paul's Club for me, with Vintage Spirits & Grill getting the nod. I walked into that building for the first time before it was the Vintage, then came new ownership and it quickly became our home base in college. Years later, they've done really well with Wisconsin taps on Mondays, not to mention branching out to their brewery on the westside. Best patio in Madison for my money. Good people watching outside, comfort and craft beer on the inside. And plenty of good people running the place too.

Have to give a shout out to the Paul's Club jukebox though. Even better than the tree.

Kevin: This answer is a hard one for me, as it seems to change with each semester I get closer to graduation. As a junior, it would have to be Brats because of it's awesome environment, five-for-five special, and high-energy third floor. But I agree with Phil that Vintage is probably my favorite bar at the moment. I mentioned $1 Wisconsin taps on Monday's, but it also serves $1 rails on Thursday nights, and it's patio is a great place to spend a warm night without spending a ton of cash. But the real reason Vintage gets the nod here is it's laidback feel, tasty bar food, and their exceptional bartenders (longest I've ever waited for a drink was probably 5 minutes).

Which bars make the Final Four?

Jake: Camp Randall: Brasserie V -- think the food and alcohol there can overtake the well-known Jordan's Big 10 pub

Southeast: Gotta go Wandos. BACON AND FISHBOWLS FOREVER!

Capitol: Great Dane. Something just feels right with this pick. I love the Old Fashioned, but Great Dane has a lethal combination here.

State Street: Think it goes to Brats just based on reputation and solid selection/service of food and alcohol -- it's the one establishment outside of Mickie's Dairy Bar ESPN or the Big Ten Network show during Badgers' football games.

Phil: No idea, but I guess we'll learn a lot more about the type of readers we have, won't we?

From State Street, I like Paul's Club as a darkhorse and The Red Zone to get a residual "RIP Stadium Bar" bump to propel it into the Final Four. On the tougher side, I'll stick with heavy-hitters Wando's and The Great Dane to make it as well. It just so happens to be a great mix of different vibes, so I think that would be a good way to finish this thing off.

Kevin: From the State Street region I like Brats to top The KK and make it to the Final Four. In the Camp Randall region my pick is Jordan's Big 10, as it's gameday environment is tough to beat, however, Lucky's may give them a run for it's money in the Elite Eight. I think Wando's and Vintage are on a collision course to meet each other in the Elite Eight, and it's a shame both of these bars can't make it to the Final Four, but I think Vintage will prevail in the end. Lastly, I like Great Dane to win the Capital region, although I think Essen Haus is a darkhorse to watch out for.