Fall is a special time. We stumble, as if in a daze, toward the red and yellow blaze of the sugar maples; the smoky-sweet scent of a fireplace, aglow in a cozy hearth; the distant but unmistakable call of the Jager bird.
"Jager! Jager! Jager!"
Laden with pumpkins fresh from the patch and a case of Four Loko, we make our way through the swarm of red sweatshirts and the throng of Uggs, wondering how it got so loud all of a sudden. Fall is a time of endings, a time of beginnings, a time perhaps of slipping in the puddle of a 19-year-old's puke.
The students are back, and for those new to Madison, fear not. Madison's nighttime entertainment options may seem like a tangled maze, but it is a maze we will navigate together.
Best Bar to Improve Your Shuffleboard Handicap
Since our days perfecting our skeeball at the local Chuck E. Cheese or playing cutthroat Monopoly in the family room, we've had one surefire way of enjoying time with the ones we love -- and that's beating the pants off them. These days there's a host of bar games that should suit your needs.
Drop a quarter in the 1930s shuffleboard at Woody Anne's (2236 Winnebago St.) where you'll find a Garth Brooks-heavy jukebox and the finest of frozen pizzas. For more classic bar pastimes, join the pool sharks at the Brass Ring (701 E. Washington Ave.) or throw some darts at the Paradise Lounge (119 W. Main St.), a downtown dive that's my favorite spot for a late-night basket of fries.
If you're looking for something a little more violent, work out your aggression on the punching bag at Wilson's Bar & Grill (2144 Atwood Ave.), the only tap I know that's dedicated enough to televisions to put one in the bathroom, or hunt digitized deer with a Big Buck Hunter league at Stadium Bar (1419 Monroe St.).
If a battle of wits is more your speed, try Adult Trivia on Wednesdays at the Bayou (117 S. Butler St.), but be prepared for questions you wouldn't answer in front of your grandma. For more family-friendly fare, there's a wide selection of board games at the Weary Traveler (1201 Williamson St.) to pass the time while you wait for your Bob's Bad Breath Burger.
Best Venue That Feels Like Your Living Room
If Kiki's House of Righteous Music (1326 Macarthur Rd.) feels like your living room, that's because it practically is. It's Kiki Schueler's basement, to be precise, and while it might be the most intimate venue in town, it's frequently host to nationally touring musicians.
Another cozy spot is Mother Fool's Coffeehouse (1101 Williamson St.), a coffeeshop with comfy couches, vegan baked goods and a wisp of a stage. The shop is often packed to the gills on Friday and Saturday nights, faces turned attentively to the singer-songwriter (or more experimental ensemble) before them.
The Project Lodge (817 E. Johnson St.) is a one-room force of nature. The space serves as art gallery, music venue, dance hall, poetry salon and movie theater all wrapped in one and is the prime spot in town to catch that band everyone has heard of but you.
Best Venue to Get Lost in the Crowd
With performers as varied and successful as Vampire Weekend, Jolie Holland and Jonathan Richman, it's no surprise that the cavernous High Noon Saloon (701 E. Washington Ave.) is often voted one of Madison's favorite live music venues.
Built in 1929, the Barrymore Theatre (2090 Atwood Ave.) is a renovated movie theater that once showed porn but today hosts many of the hippest bands that come through town. The Barrymore has many features to recommend it, such as local tap beers, $2 popcorn and a lovely historic building, but because I'm an old fogey, my favorite feature is the seating -- rows and rows of cushioned theater seats. None of this mosh pit nonsense the whippersnappers get up to.
The Majestic Theatre (115 King St.) opened in 1906 and has shown everything from vaudeville to Houdini's magic act. For several years, the Majestic had a bad rap for violent crowds, but a change of management in 2007 has turned things around. These days the club is one of the best bets in town for a memorable show or a solid dance party.
Best Venue to Observe the Local Fauna
Madison's well known for its supportive music scene. If you're looking to catch some local acts, Mickey's Tavern (1524 Williamson St.) should be the first stop on your tour. The fries are drizzled in truffle oil, but don't let that classy touch fool you -- the PBR flows fast and loose here, and if you come on Tuesday Music Project night, you'll want to have earplugs.
Down the street at the Crystal Corner (1302 Williamson St.), you can buy candy cigarettes in the vending machine and smoke real ones on the patio. Stop in for Jeopardy to win a free drink, but stick around for the local alt-country.
You'll find jazz combo Ted Keys Trio at Alchemy Cafe (1980 Atwood Ave.) on Tuesdays, and be sure to catch hometown hero DJ Nick Nice on Sundays at Maduro (117 E. Main St.), a swanky cigar bar with plush couches and mean cocktails.
Best Place to Write Your Magnum Opus
Whether you're writing the next great American novel or a research paper on Dadaism, sometimes all you need for nighttime fuel is an indie rock soundtrack and a bottomless iced tea. A student favorite is Fair Trade Coffeehouse (418 State St.), an oft-crowded spot that's been home to many a Craigslist missed connection. Indie Coffee (1225 Regent St.) is a cozy cafe that smells like fresh waffles and occasionally hosts small film screenings and concerts.
Right off the Capitol Square is Michelangelo's (114 State St.), a comfy cafe where you can order a panini hot off the press, curl up in a corner armchair, and eavesdrop on a Russian conversation group. On the other side of the Square, you'll find the downtown Barriques (127 W. Washington Ave.), a two-story coffee shop with large tables, a wide selection of wines, and what might be the most dependable Wi-Fi in Madison.
Best Place to Snort Soda Through Your Nose
If laughter is the best medicine, then comedy clubs should outnumber hospitals two to one. Madison isn't quite at that ratio, but we're getting close.
For your standard standup fare, you won't do better than the Comedy Club on State (202 State St.), which hosts nationally touring comedians as well as the city's biggest comedy open mike. Another open mike for comics is hosted Mondays at Argus Bar (123 E. Main St.) by local comedy collective The Isthmians of Comedy.
Atlas Improv Company, long housed at Electric Earth Cafe (546 W. Washington Ave.), is currently seeking a new home, but improv troupe Monkey Business Institute performs every Saturday at Glass Nickel Pizza Co.-East (2916 Atwood Ave.).
For something a little different, local burlesque troupe Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies combines laughs and discreet blushes for a show that's worth catching. The troupe performs regularly at Club 5 (5 Applegate Ct.) and the Inferno (1718 Commercial Ave.).
Best Place to Burn Off That Late-Night Burrito
Let's be honest: that fourth strawberry daiquiri did you no favors. Among other regrets, it inspired an ill-advised 2 a.m. stop at Ian's Pizza (115 State St.; 319 N. Frances St.), the grease from which is still working its way out of your pores. Maybe it's time to swap your standing date with the fryer at State Street Brats (603 State St.) for something a little more active.
Take advantage of the lakes while they're still in liquid state and rent a canoe for a sunset paddle at the Memorial Union Boathouse (800 Langdon St.). Prefer the solid version? Lace up and take a spin on the indoor ice rink at the Shell (1430 Monroe St.).
If you prefer to burn your calories to thumping bass, you can work it out and work it off at a pole-dancing class at Miss Pole (7475 Mineral Point Rd.) or get ready for the next "Thriller" flash mob at a workshop on Oct. 22 at Dance Fabulous (401 N. Lake St.).
Best Place to Nurse a Bucket of Popcorn
The Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee hosts free film screenings nearly every night of the week at Union South's Marquee, ranging from the highbrow (The Tree of Life) to the very, very low (BASEketball).
Free is always good, but at $3 per ticket, Market Square Theatres (6604 Odana Rd.) is my favorite place to catch second-run movies before they're gone. It's a quaint little cinema, reminiscent of a simpler time before 26-screen multiplexes.
If you don't mind dropping more serious change, Sundance Cinemas (430 N. Midvale Blvd.) is a gorgeously appointed palace for smaller indie films.
For one-off movie-watching experiences, catch a Brew & View at the Majestic Theatre. Past viewings have included Anchorman, The Big Lebowski and Wet Hot American Summer -- pair that with a brewski and what's not to love?
On a loftier note, Duck Soup Cinema is your chance to see classic silent films on the big screen, accompanied by a Grand Barton Organ. The series only screens twice a year at Overture Center for the Arts (201 State St.), but it's worth marking your calendar for the one Nov. 12.