Jun 29, 2016

A commoner drinks (and dines) at Mike’s Horseshoe Bar, Madison, Wis.

In my hometown, when you hear the phrase “horseshoe bar” you probably think of a place where you can build your own open-faced sandwich covered with fries and smothered with cheese sauce.  But in almost every other place in the world, I imagine one would expect a place that has a bar shaped like an actual horseshoe. 

Nailed it (pun intended).
That’s exactly what you'll find inside Mike’s Horseshoe Bar and Grill in Madison, Wis.  And on my search for the best friendly, neighborhood taverns in town, Mike’s was among the best.

Mike’s had one of the best low-key, welcoming middle-aged blue collar vibes of any place I drank at in Madison, and that’s a pretty sizable list.  I felt right at home the instant I sat at one end of the horseshoe. 

The Miller High Life tall boys for $3.50 didn’t hurt, either.  Surprisingly, much of Madison seems to embrace Pabst Blue Ribbon more than the High Life.  I blame hipsters.  Mike’s is obviously more of a High Life bar, and that made me happy.     

My visit to Mike’s may have been on one of its quieter nights, and that was OK, too.  When I arrived, a few regulars were gathered in the back part of the bar near a pool table to catch up on the day’s events.  A few more soon rolled in and sat at the other end of the bar closer to the classic overhead menu.  Maybe they wanted to be closer to the TV to watch the game, or maybe they just wanted to be closer to the taps to keep the bartender company. 

As usual, my seat at the other end of the horseshoe had a perfect view of the grill.

Speaking of the menu and the grill, how could you not look at this and feel compelled to order something?  And at those prices, you couldn’t afford not to eat anyway.  Since it was Madison, and since the bartender talked them up, I had to try the cheese curds.

For some reason, I always take fuzzy pictures of cheese curds.  They didn’t disappoint, though.  And the bartender gladly offered both marinara and ranch sauces for dipping.

Ordinarily, that would have been enough to satisfy my appetite.  But I couldn’t help but notice some other customers had orders a pizza from the menu that looked simply fantastic.  I confess – I love good thin crust, topping overloaded tavern pizza straight from an ages old pizza oven. In Central Illinois, Butch’s Pizza is usually what most discerning dive bars stock.  In Madison, or at Mike’s at least, it’s Emil’s Pizza.  The deluxe was just $6.25, and it was outstanding. 

Mike’s Horseshoe Bar and Grill is on the corner of Cottage Grove Road and Dempsey Road in eastern Madison, Wis.  I don’t want to say it’s nowhere special, but it really kind of is.  And that’s kind of the point.  If you’re in the area, you’ll probably see several bars driving along Cottage Grove, but this is one you won’t want to pass up.  A friendly bartender, prices that are easy on the wallet and comforting bar food make it completely worth the trip.   

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