Near East Side
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The Near East Side begins four or five blocks east of the Capitol, downhill along East Wilson Street to the hairy junction of about six or seven roads at the cusp of Lake Monona. Here, legendary Williamson Street (“Willy Street”) begins. Willy Street and its neighborhoods are a pleasant hodgepodge of students and families, with an up-and-coming array of restaurants, clubs, bars, and shops, all still recalling the 1960s salad days, when these blocks were the hippified enclaves of revolution and fighting The Man.
The cornerstone is the Crystal Corner Bar (the Crystal, 608/256-2953) at the corner of South Baldwin and Willy Streets; this neon-lit bar is a hot blues (especially blues), roots rock, Cajun, and R&B spot in town (though it doesn’t have as much music as it used to).
Up the road to the west is funky Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse (1101 Williamson St., 608/259-1301), with eclectic music regularly. And a bit further is Plan B (924 Williamson St., 608/257-5262), the hippest gay bar in town.
Continuing east of the Crystal, you’ll find one of the greatest neighborhood bars in Madison: Mickey’s (1524 Williamson St., 608/251-9964). It’s famous for rock-bottom beer prices, coasters made from well-worn carpeting, and large crowds. But, get this, it also has amazing food. Seriously.
Regular eclectic big-name music acts—roots rock, alternative, hip-hop, folk, international—appear at the neighborhoody Barrymore Theatre (2090 Atwood Ave., 608/241-2345), recognizable for its distinctive-hued dome. This old vaudeville hall (which also hosts film festivals) has an endless schedule, so something is bound to be in town.
Folkies definitely should head to the hippified Near East Side. Most acoustic music will be found at Mother Fool’s or, inside the Wil-Mar Center, the Wild Hog in the Woods (953 Jenifer St., 608/257-4576), which regularly welcomes folk artists and holds barn dances and the like.
© Thomas Huhti from Moon Wisconsin, 5th Edition