an easy two-and-a-half hour drive from the western suburbs of Illinois
brings you to an interesting and lively location with what must seem
– at first – a strange trademark: “Lake. City. Lake”. But it
makes perfect sense. Named for the 4th president of the United States,
Madison, Wisconsin is the only northern American city – at the same
time State Capitol – located on an isthmus. And although there are actually
a group of four lakes there – Mendota, Monona, Wingra, and Waubesa (The
lakes are connected via the Yahara River which eventually flows south
to Lake Kegonsa, then to the Rock River and eventually to the mighty
Mississippi) – Madison is located right smack in-between glacial Lakes
Mendota and Monona on a fairly narrow strip of land.
On this trip, I discovered exactly
why the phrase “We’ve got to start meeting like this”
is used in conjunction with a certain hotel. I booked a room at the
Madison Concourse Hotel, and to borrow a phrase: “This is really
livin’!” My room was on the 14th and top-most floor in what is called
the Governor’s Club Executive Level: 100 luxurious rooms occupying the
top three floors of the hotel. The rooms entitle the occupants to enjoy
complimentary top-shelf cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, desserts and continental
breakfast in the private Governor’s Club Lounge, in a setting on the
twelfth floor where a marvelous view of the Capitol and downtown skyline
is supplied just outside the windows.
I did however have the opportunity
to visit – accompanied by two of Madison’s finest reps from the Greater
Madison Convention and Visitor’s Bureau – a really neat venue on State
Street, about two blocks from my hotel, called the Lobby Restaurant.
It is actually an old theater (the Orpheum - originally opened in 1927,
it has been totally redone and now offers dining as well as film festivals
and brings live entertainment back to its stage. Read some more history
The menu has a full line of great sandwiches, salads, soups, appetizers
and entrees at very reasonable prices. There are also ample selections
for those who are vegetarian in their choices for dinner. I selected
the Friday Night Fish Fry: Blue Gills - my favorite. Unbelievably tasty
and plenty to eat!
Saturday dawned a beautiful and mostly sunny day; I looked forward to it since I was going to get a chance to attend a broadcast of one of my favorite radio shows: Michael Feldman's Wha'dYa Know? I had actually listened to the show on Public Radio during long road trips - at least on Saturdays when I was on the road - and I liked the show as well as the guy's sense of humor. So I was really glad that I had been given the chance to go. It is broadcast (when the show itself is not on the road) from the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, a magnificent structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938 and not opened until 1997, 59 years after its inception! The 250,000 sq ft building is as breathtaking inside as out and offers spectacular views and flexible meeting and exhibition space. The two-hour Wha'dYa Know show passed quickly by and I spent most of the time laughing out loud. Make some advance plans that include the show when you visit Madison - you won't regret it.
After the show, we first stopped at a small but extremely popular place near the Capitol called Marigold Kitchen on South Pickney for a quick bite to eat before heading out on a tour of the UW Madison campus and surrounding area. And speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright - a Wisconsin native born in nearby Richland Center - there are a number of Wright-designed structures in and around Madison, so make certain to find where they are and check them out. One of my favorites is the Unitarian Meeting House, but many others are available; he designed thirty-two works for Madison, a city to which he remained connected for most of his life. Many are still there today. By the way, if you are a fan and are going to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center anyway, there is a very cool and unique exhibit there called "The Wright Picture". It is a unique exhibition of photographs taken during the last 20 years of Frank Lloyd Wright's life by acclaimed architectural photographer Pedro E. Guerrero.
Well, I crammed a lot into less than twenty-four hours, and wasn't finished yet. But it was time to head back to the Hotel and get ready for the evening's dinner and show (Those Fabulous Fifties) at the Fireside. But I will be back to "Mad City" when the weather warms. There are far too many things that I have yet to see and do.
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