One for the road
In Wisconsin’s state capitol, $5 fun still abounds. And the city sandwiched between two lakes has everything intrepid road-trippers could ask for: lush scenery, cheap eats, radical history, plenty of culture and, of course, a heck of a lot of beer and cheese. We offer up a few highlights to get your weekend bender under way.
First off, ditch your Mapquest directions when it comes to exiting US 12/18. Instead of Park Street, exit at John Nolen Drive. As you cruise along between the blue expanses of lakes Mendota and Menona, you’ll be treated to a stunning view of the Capitol. Refresh after your 2 1/2–hour drive with a cool smoothie from Loose Juice in the pedestrian mall at the west end of State Street. The juice cart is run by an old Madison radical who was implicated in blowing up the university’s Army Math building in 1970. But don’t worry—the only incendiary thing in this square is the nostril-searing smell of patchouli emanating from nearby street performers.
On Saturday mornings, people come from all over the county to pick up fresh local produce, cheese, jams, honey and baked treats at the sprawling Madison Farmers’ Market on Capitol Square. If you’d rather opt for a ready-made meal, grab a bite along State Street. Cheap eats abound in this college town and we’re not just talking pizza and subs. For Thai/Laotian cuisine, try Vientiane Palace (151 W Gorham St; $5–$11), but don’t show off by asking for the ultimate “five stars” on the spice scale—the hotness here is off the charts. Himal Chuli (318 State St; $5–$12), another great option, serves Nepalese cuisine. Momochas, which are samosa-like stuffed vegetable dumplings, are their specialty.
The city is also home to the new Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (227 State St; free admission). Take in works by Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and others. On Fridays, stick around for the museum’s weekly Rooftop Cinema, where avant-garde art films are screened al fresco at 9pm ($4).
Shake off the mindbending effects of art films with a few Wisconsin brewskis. The Great Dane (123 E Doty St) brews its own beer ($3–$4) and occasionally hosts live music. Or for a dizzying menu of tropical drinks, head to Jolly Bob’s Jerk Joint (1210 Williamson St) on the east side of the capitol. The Caribbean-blue shack’s interior is walled with soothing tropical fish tanks, but don’t let them distract you from your drink count—these sweet libations are served stiff and will have you seeing double in no time.
So where’s the cheese? If you must indulge in Wisconsin’s signature dairy comestibles, stop by the aptly named House of Wisconsin Cheese (107 State St) on your way home. You can pick up some squeaky, seasoned cheese curds, and yes, they sell those ridiculous foam “Cheesehead” hats. But for the good of us all, don’t bring that thing back across the border.—Martina Sheehan
For more information on Madison, contact the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-373-6376, www.visit.madison.com).