Brewery, a Fish Fry and FLW
Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin
Far End of the Lake
Berghoff & Blues
Green Lake, WI
Green Co, WI
Are We There Yet?
an easy two-and-a-half hour drive from the western suburbs of Illinois
brings you to an interesting and lively location with what must seem –
at first – a strange trademark: “Lake. City. Lake”. But it makes
perfect sense. Named for the 4th president of the United States,
Madison, Wisconsin is the only northern American city – at the same time
State Capitol – located on an isthmus. And although there are actually a
group of four lakes there – Mendota, Monona, Wingra, and Waubesa (The
lakes are connected via the Yahara River which eventually flows south to
Lake Kegonsa, then to the Rock River and eventually to the mighty
Mississippi) – Madison is located right smack in-between glacial Lakes
Mendota and Monona on a fairly narrow strip of land.
I am amazed and a bit embarrassed to admit that I have passed Madison on
about two hundred occasions… but have never even gone through it; and
not once have I stopped there. Don’t ask me why. But recently I had
an opportunity to go there, and I was notably impressed with what I saw and
experienced in a very short period of time. In fact, my plan is to
return and sample additional bits of an incredibly refreshing and fun
city. With a population of only about 218,000 people, Madison has an
amazingly big-city feel to it.
On this trip, I discovered exactly why the phrase “We’ve got to
start meeting like this” is used in conjunction with a certain
hotel. I booked a room at the
Madison Concourse Hotel, and to borrow a
phrase: “This is really livin’!” My room was on the 14th and top-most
floor in what is called the Governor’s Club Executive Level: 100
luxurious rooms occupying the top three floors of the hotel. The rooms
entitle the occupants to enjoy complimentary top-shelf cocktails, hors
d’oeuvres, desserts and continental breakfast in the private Governor’s
Club Lounge, in a setting on the twelfth floor where a marvelous view of
the Capitol and downtown skyline is supplied just outside the windows.
Although on this particular excursion, I had little opportunity to take
advantage of either the Governor’s Club or the other incredible
amenities that the Concourse Hotel had to offer – as the city’s largest
convention hotel, they offer the unique ability to cater to a variety of
associations, conventions, corporate meetings, and social events, the
excellent fine dining venue Ovations and the marvelous pool and
state-of-the-art fitness center – my plan is to return soon and spoil
both myself and my wife!
My main goal while in the area was to attend the
Fireside Dinner/Theatre in Ft. Atkinson on Saturday evening. And
since my arrival was late on Friday afternoon, I decided to simply check
out the downtown area of Madison and make some notes as to which things
I would return for when the weather warmed. This is not to say that
there aren’t a ton of things to do doing the winter months… I observed
numerous hardy folks out on the ice, skating, ice-fishing and
ice-boating. I was also about a week early for the Capitol Square
Sprints (cross-country skiing), where
“the best athletes from North America will circle
the Wisconsin State Capitol in the heart of downtown Madison. The
race will be part of the SuperTour and is the first qualifier for
the 2006 U.S. Olympic Ski Team.”
did however have the opportunity to visit – accompanied by two of
Madison’s finest reps from the Greater Madison Convention and Visitor’s
a really neat venue on State Street, about two blocks from my
hotel, called the Lobby Restaurant. It is actually an old theater
(the Orpheum - originally opened in 1927, it has been totally redone and now offers
dining as well as film festivals and brings live entertainment back to
its stage. Read some more history
here). The menu has a full line of great sandwiches, salads, soups,
appetizers and entrees at very reasonable prices. There are also ample
selections for those who are vegetarian in their choices for dinner. I
selected the Friday Night Fish Fry: Blue Gills - my favorite.
Unbelievably tasty and plenty to eat!
After dinner, I got a quick tour of the immediate area, including a look
at the incredibly stunning and beautiful Overture Center for the Arts
and new Capitol Theater. With 400,000 sq ft of space, it is truly
a world-class facility. We also strode past the Capitol Building.
Most impressive perhaps is the Dome itself. Modeled after the
Nation's Capitol, the Dome is constructed of granite and is only
slightly shorter than the one in Washington, DC and a gorgeous sight at
night! The hour was getting late and there was much to do
tomorrow, so my guides departed and I headed straight to bed.
Saturday dawned a beautiful and mostly sunny day; I looked forward to it
since I was going to get a chance to attend a broadcast of one of my
favorite radio shows: Michael Feldman's
Wha'dYa Know? I had
actually listened to the show on Public Radio during long road trips -
at least on Saturdays when I was on the road - and I liked the show as
well as the guy's
sense of humor. So I was really glad that I had been given the
chance to go. It is broadcast (when the show itself is not on the
the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, a magnificent
structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938 and not opened until
1997, 59 years after its inception! The 250,000 sq ft building is
as breathtaking inside as out and offers spectacular views and flexible
meeting and exhibition space. The two-hour Wha'dYa Know show
passed quickly by and I spent most of the time laughing out loud.
Make some advance plans that include the show when you visit Madison -
you won't regret it.
After the show, we first stopped at a small but extremely popular place
near the Capitol called Marigold Kitchen on South Pickney for a quick bite to eat before heading out
on a tour of the UW Madison campus and surrounding area.
speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright - a Wisconsin native born in nearby
Richland Center - there are a number of Wright-designed structures in
and around Madison, so make certain to find where they are and check
them out. One of my favorites is the Unitarian Meeting House, but many
others are available; he designed thirty-two works for Madison, a city
to which he remained connected for most of his life. Many are
still there today. By the way, if you are a fan and are going to
the Monona Terrace
Community and Convention Center anyway,
there is a very cool
and unique exhibit there
called "The Wright Picture".
It is a
unique exhibition of photographs taken during the last 20 years of Frank
Lloyd Wright's life by acclaimed architectural photographer Pedro E.
Well, I crammed a lot into less than twenty-four hours, and wasn't
finished yet. But it was time to head back to the Hotel and get
ready for the evening's dinner and show (Those
Fabulous Fifties) at the Fireside. But I will be
back to "Mad City" when the weather warms. There are far too many
things that I have yet to see and do.
The Concourse Hotel for some
The Greater Madison Convention
and Visitors Center... especially Kim and Sara
The Wha'd Ya Know show
Gary Knowles, who always finds a
way to make great things happen...