So I was anchoring for the Wisconsin Guys, Murph and Prebil, yesterday. As often happens to be the case, we got a little off topic, and through the course of our discussions, began debating the finer points of dive bars. More specifically, we talked about the joy of driving to the middle of nowhere and finding a hole-in-the-wall with absolutely NO class, but character in spades.
You see, I think there are three factors that elevate a dive bar above your run-of-the-mill dump to make it something worth noting. First, it has to be cheap as all hell. In a world where a plate of noodles, a soft drink and a hunk of flat bread will cost you into the double-digits at a place like Noodles and Company and still leave you hungry for dessert, a good dive bar will serve up a beer, all the sides and a heaping portion easily enjoyed by two for under ten bucks. For instance, the Kourt House Bar in Portage serves gyros that one could easily use as lunch, dinner and breakfast. But damnit, even if it COULD feed an Ethiopian family for a week, it's the diner's DUTY to finish the whole thing in one sitting...even if that sitting is three-and-a-half hours long.
Secondly, there's the quality of the food, and this is a biggie. If I'm going to ride for two hours, sit down, eat a cheeseburger and then ride two hours back, I don't want it to be some patty knocked off a two-foot tube of frozen beef. I want hand-kneaded, home-grown, never-frozen, greasy-as-shit All-American burger, cooked medium rare with tender love and care, baby! I want it seasoned, then smothered in ketchup, and so thick I nearly have to unhinge my jaw to gnaw a hunk off. Fresh tomatoes? Yes. Onions? Fried please, and breaded. I want something that's going to coat my arteries in a layer of goo so thick, a doctor won't so much perform open heart surgery as he'll conduct an archealogical dig someday. You don't find that kind of food in a city as health-conscious as Madison. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's an ordinance against it.
Finally... and this is where Bumblefuck, Nowhere's dive bars can really outshine any other drinking establishment... But finally, there's the character. Rather, there are the characters that inhabit these holes in the wall. Be it the owners, the bartenders or the regulars, a good dive bar will have some of the most memorable people you'll ever meet. And my God, there are the stories you'll hear told and retold, to the point where you'll be able to retell it yourself, though not to the same effect. The people in these places come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common: they rock.
So anyway, Murph, Prebil and I began recounting stories from our favorite dive bars, and Lo and Behold, the phones started ringing off the hook. Seems everybody has a dive that's near and dear to their hearts. I siezed on the opportunity right away, and began to scribble a list on the back of the forecast I was reading at the top of each newscast. It's sitting on my desk at home right now, and after a number of callers' suggestions, this is verbatim what it reads:
Algoma - Hudson's
Rio - Old Theatre Tavern
Hill Point -
Deansville - Smith's Crossing -good fish-
Eagle Crest - Hwy 30 off E side
Marshall - Marshall Pub... fish
Rockdale - Heather's
Leeland - Sprecher's Bar
across from Glenway (golf course) - Village
Blue Mounds - Hooterville Inn... pizza
So this, I think, is the start of something. I consulted Kyle Brown, my riding buddy, and he agrees a project could be in the works here. If we find time every couple of weeks to ride to one of these bars and bring back the information and stories we gather, we could quickly compile a pretty decent list and ranking of rural dive bars within two hours of Madison. For now, our plan is to bypass Algoma... Door County's a bit of a ride for one day... and check out the Old Theatre Tavern in Rio as per Prebil's suggestion. I figure we'll write up a review and critique it in terms of cheapness, quality and character, then build it from there.
Of course, the list we have won't last long. I would be interested in hearing other suggestions. In the end, I hope to find the ultimate dive bars and compile a map based on proximity to Madison and overall ranking. What can I say? We all need an admirable goal.
Long live the DBP!