Jan 7, 2016

Finding local flavor at Players Sports Bar and Grill, Madison, Wis.

If you’re a commoner like me, and you find yourself “living” on the road for an extended period of time, you start to seek out the kind of places where you can feel completely at ease when grabbing a quick bite or beverage by yourself.  After all, some friendly neighborhood dives are more friendly than others toward strangers.  

The relatively unassuming entrance of Players Sports Bar and Grill
My initial search for such a place while working in Madison, Wis. (where I eventually found several) drew me back to the Atwood neighborhood where I had previously discovered Monty’s Blue Plate Cafe.  I had seemed to recall passing a relatively unassuming place called Players Sports Bar and Grill somewhere along the way, and one evening, after finding the happy hour appetizers at the hotel rather unsatisfying, I decided to roll the dice.   

I could tell I made a good decision even before entering the building.  The long bar that greet you when you enter was packed with patrons.  I found the last seat at the bar open and took it.  I ordered the first of a few Miller High Lifes.  They were ice cold, refreshing and cheap.

The long bar at Players ... Herb is not pictured ... his dinner plate is.
Almost immediately, I found myself talking to a fellow named Herb who was seated next to me and had previously been chatting up the servers on duty.  He was an awfully friendly sort who fit in perfectly with the mix of regulars who the bartenders treated with utmost respect.  He bragged about being 59 but feeling much younger; I told him he didn’t look a day over 56, which he seemed to greatly appreciate.  

Herb turned out to be the ideal person to talk to and learn more about the neighborhood.  He gave me several pointers for where else to quench a thirst within walking distance, but he was also quick to point out the best burger in the neighborhood was right here.  

Caution:  Grillmaster at work.
As fate would have it, my spot afforded me the perfect view of Players’ grill.  It’s certainly the type of grill station you’d expect to see in a bar which, as Herb helped confirm, has a longstanding reputation for making great burgers.  

The menu at Players is simple.  Just figure out what kind of burger you want.  After some deliberation with Herb, I ordered the Players Burger.  It seemed like the obvious choice.  

Plenty of pink in this burger ... 
I probably ordered a little late in the evening to get the best burger experience, though.  As the cook was preparing my burger, he realized they had run out of buns, so they substituted Texas toast.  It turned out to be a good call.  And it turned out to be a good burger, albeit a little rarer than what I consider to be medium.  But the hamburger tasted as fresh as it could be, and the ham paired very well with the hamburger patty.  As far as a bar burger goes, the Players versions won’t let you down.   
Peering into the pool room ... 
The sports bar aspect of Players Sports Bar and Grill is about as old-school as the grill.  You won’t be inundated with the newest and flashiest big-screen TVs, although they have plenty to hold your attention.  You will, however, find a large section of the bar devoted to actual games -- pool, darts and ping pong.  And at least on the night I was there, the game room was constantly humming.

Of course, since we were at a sports bar, Herb felt compelled to discuss with me the games that were on, along with the current state of the Milwaukee Brewers (bad) and the Green Bay Packers (better).

By the time I was on my third and final Miller High Life, Herb and I (ok, mostly Herb) were discussing his third-shift job at a nearby hotel.  For some reason, I didn’t take his advice to consider staying there at any point while I was in Madison.  I hope he wasn’t disappointed.
As I discovered during my time in Madison, it’s filled with many great neighborhood blue-collar dive bars and grills.  In my opinion, though, you’ll have to look long and hard to find one better than Players Sports Bar and Grill  in the Atwood neighborhood.  From the staff to the patrons, they’ll make you feel very welcome.  

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