It's Madison Week at OnMilwaukee.com. We sent our editorial staff to check out bars, restaurants, retail outlets and cultural venues in order to uncover some of the best of Wisconsin's second-largest city.
MADISON -- In July 2007, ESPN broadcaster Scott Van Pelt declared Madison to be "America's greatest college sports town."
The incredible thing was that he made the declaration after visiting his friend, two-time U.S. Open golf champ and big Badger booster Andy North in summer.
Obviously, Van Pelt didn't need to sample the Badgers' game experience (not to mention the pre- and post-game) to come to his conclusion.
Of course, as any visitor will attest, the game-day experience at Camp Randall Stadium, the Kohl Center and even Warner Park, home of the Mallards baseball team, are outstanding in their own ways.
We asked a panel of experts -- actually a couple of friends who live in Madison and like combining sports with an occasional frosty adult beverage -- to name their favorite spots to gather before, during and after a game.
Here are their top choices for food, fun, frivolity and frosty beverages:
5614 Schroeder Rd., (608) 274-7300
A favorite on the West Side for more than two decades, Babe's offers daily lunch and dinner specials and a tremendous plate of nachos.
Badgerland Bar & Grill
525 W. Johnson St., (608) 251-3033
Located in the Doubletree Hotel across from the Kohl Center, the Badgerland Bar is swamped on game days and is also home to some sports talk radio broadcasts, including the "Bo Ryan Show." Check out the appetizers and and a flatbread pizza.
Buck's Madison Square Garden
802 Regent St., (608) 251-4744
Fans of the late, great Walker's Point bar "Timers" will appreciate the vibe at Bucks. If you go on a slow night, it's a great place for relaxing drinks and intelligent conversation. Hit it on a weekend or before a game and the joint will be rocking. The food is solid -- word has it that there is a breakfast menu now -- and it's known as a solid place to meet "Mr. or Miss Right for Tonight."
Dotty Dumpling's Dowry
317 N Frances St., (608) 259-0000
Located near the Kohl Center, Dotty's offers "gourmet" fast food, fantastic burgers and 25 beers on tap. Family owned for 30 years, the restaurant which used to be located in the shadow of the Capitol is a great pre-game stop. Word to the wise: if you plan on going for a great burger before the game, get there two hours early. The place is always packed.
Jordan's Big 10 Pub
1330 Regent St., (608) 251-6375
Located just a few blocks from Camp Randall, this longtime fixture offers a solid beer garden and pre-game atmosphere. Our experts say it's "comfortable," which is to say "dirty, but in a good way." If you feel like hunting cougar, one expert said "if you stay too late, the crowd winnows out to 46-year-old divorcees." Insiders also say that the pub offers one of the better Friday fish fries in town.
529 N Lake St., (608) 257-3611
This venerable bar, a haven for fraternity boys for years, is regarded as the best campus bar for football games, primarily because of its tradition and the fact that about half of the team will show up after the game.
Lucky's Bar & Grille
1421 Regent St., (608) 250-8989
The crowd is usually young and energetic at this bar, which offers a prime location, 40 TV screens (perfect for NFL Sundays), dart boards and shuffleboard.
Luedtke's Stadium Sports Bar & Eatery
1419 Monroe St., (608) 256-2544
Located across from Camp Randall, the Stadium Bar offers the biggest beer garden in Madison and is great place to grab a Bloody Mary and a bratwurst before the ball game. When the Badgers are in town, they roll in a huge LED TV that is rented from a Milwaukee company. Many patrons find it so comfortable that they forget to enter the game.
The place also offers live music and shuttles to most events at the Kohl Center. In the summer, the Stadium Bar hosts volleyball leagues.
Nitty Gritty Restaurant & Bar
223 N Frances St., (608) 251-2521
Though it is located within a slap shot of the Kohl Center, this bar owned by former broadcaster Marsh Shapiro offers more than proximity. It's a great place to go if you're looking for tickets, because they'll often have a pair at the bar and scalpers like to drop in and warm up during the colder months. The food is outstanding -- try the Gritty sauce -- and the place is a popular post-game stop for assistant coaches, media and other "insiders."
5441 High Crossing Blvd., (608) 242-1888
Located on the East Side, this neighborhood favorite has an 8 x 10-foot big screen and is a prime destination for hardcore sports fans who want to see out of town games. There is an impressive display of memorabilia and a good menu of classic bar food including nachos, burgers, pizza and appetizers.
Regent Street Retreat
1206 Regent St., (608) 256-7750
The RSR features the largest indoor bar in the Camp Randall area and is attached to The Annex, a music venue that features free acts after every home game. One expert describes it as "a good beer-goggles pick-up place toward the end of the night."
State Street Brats
603 State St., (608) 255-5544
A giant place on State that rocks on game days and weeknights, Brats offers a number of enticing specials. On super Bowl Sunday, they have a $25 all-you-can-eat-and-drink special. It's a great place to meet friends before the game, or just watch. Two massive TVs mounted on the wall are visible to the "box seats" upstairs and customers on the first-floor bar.
The Sports Pub
1902 Bartillon Dr., (608) 241-0147
Located near Highway 51 near Madison Area Technical College, The Sports Pub features lots of TVs, outdoor volleyball courts and tasty Cajun fries. All that and some $2 beer specials many days of the week.
602 University Ave., (608) 256-5204
ESPN's Van Pelt wrote visited Wando's and was smitten by the giant Fishbowl drinks and trays of bacon. This is a true melting pot, where you'll find students, politicians and even some rougher-looking Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts. But, it's always fun.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.