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Thursday, April 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  Overcast
The Daily


Madison's sacred separation of bar and cafe

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It has worked in Europe. The late-night bar is also a cheery spot to get your morning espresso. But just like socialized medicine, the bar/cafe model is apparently doomed to failure in the United States. And nowhere is the situation better displayed than in Madison.

As I write this, I am sipping a screwdriver at the historic Plaza Tavern. According to Plaza time (15 minutes fast), it's 3 p.m. It's too rainy and gray to lament the limited view of the outside world the bar gives you, but the dingy lighting in the bar does not create what most UW students would consider an ideal studying space. Nor, for that matter, would I guess it to be a place where many businessmen would choose to meet a potential client.

Once a dive, always a dive.

Some bars advertise coffee, but I don't think too many people pay attention. In Madison, the only cracks in the solid wall between caffeination and inebriation are Rum & Cokes, Jaegerbombs and a few coffeeshops that offer a small selection of beer and wine. I worked at one such coffeehouse, Indie Coffee on Regent St. It has a respectable number of local beers and offers a number of alcoholic espresso drinks. But practically nobody orders them. Nobody apparently wants to be the only person drinking.

Says Dean, the Plaza owner: "It is the Plaza Tavern and Grill, not the Plaza grill and tavern." I suppose that means that although some people come in for a nonalcoholic experience, alcohol is still front and center of a bar's brand, no matter what time of day.

As Dean points out, there is a pot of black coffee at the Plaza if anybody is interested. However, the bar certainly does not offer "specialty drinks," such as lattes, mochas or macchiatos. According to Dean, a great admirer of the small-town tavern, northern Wisconsin bars have been doing just fine and will continue to prosper without adding raspberry mochas to their drink menu.

Similarly, the Plaza has yet to fully use Internet marketing. The bar has no Facebook page, no Twitter account and a website that has been maintained by its janitor for the past eight years.

To Dean, however, even if the Plaza's limited web presence is partially the result of indecision, it also fits the the tavern's rustic brand.

Dean recalls the day he began managing the Plaza, in 1985, when a fellow businessman asked him what he needed to change. "Nothing," he responded. The businessman agreed.

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