We settle in to yak, listen to free music, watch the sun set and indulge in Babcock ice cream (make mine orange custard chocolate chip), made in a campus dairy plant that is one mile uphill.
What could be better? Maybe a rooftop or other elevated view. Our State Capitol city has no shortage of above-ground spaces that draw a crowd for cocktails, food, fun or sneak peeks at people passing by.
Brickhouse BBQ, 408 W. Gorham St. – It’s just a five-block walk from the Kohl Center’s sporting events to the rooftop patio of this downhome-casual bar and comfort-food restaurant. Get a whiff of long-smoked meats while taking a gander at life in the city. thebrickhousebbq.com, 608-257-7675
The Edgewater, 1001 Wisconsin Place – A $100 million revamp of Madison’s most historic hotel, built in 1948, turned the property into a much-welcomed hub for free music, outdoor movies and lingering. At the same time, elegance and integrity of the original hotel are maintained. This is where visiting celebrities stay, but anybody can appreciate the elevated public plaza and its fine views of Lake Mendota. theedgewater.com, 608-535-8200
Eno Vino Downtown, 1 N. Webster St. – Our new talk of the town opened this summer on the 10th floor of the AC Hotel, and even the view from women’s restroom windows is stupendous. Add a shaded patio, wrap-around bar and at least 40 kinds of wine by the glass. Dinner means tapas that include flatbreads and bruschetta. On the desert menu: cinnamon chocolate fondue to red velvet cake. enovinodowntown.com, 608-455-0663
Fresco, 227 State St. – Where to put an above-ground sculpture garden? A logical choice is atop the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, on the city’s beloved pedestrian-only thoroughfare. That provides a whole new perspective to people watching. Add a contemporary menu of artsy entrees, served behind a wall of windows. So enjoy the views indoors or outside. frescomadison.com, 608-663-7374
The Madison Blind, 601 Langdon St. – One of the city’s most charming boutique hotels is Graduate Madison, on the same street as campus fraternities and sororities. The Blind (as in hunting blind, to match the hotel’s woodsy, outdoorsy décor) is the rooftop cocktail lounge and restaurant, up seven stories, positioned perfectly to see both Lake Mendota and the State Capitol. graduatehotels.com/madison, 608-257-6949
Madison Children’s Museum, 100 N. Hamilton St. – Visit the city chickens and walk around a 3,400-pound, two-headed bird sculpture made with cast-off materials on the rooftop of this five-story building. Look down for a panoramic view of Capital Square antics. Go inside for a spin on the human-sized gerbil wheel. madisonchildrensmuseum.org, 608-256-6445
Monona Terrace, 1 John Nolen Dr. – We’re celebrating Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday this year, and what better place to applaud the iconic architect than this community center, designed by Wright in 1938 but not built and opened until 1997. So that makes it 20 years old, which is another reason to whoop it up, and the best place for this to happen is the William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden, where free and lively Dane Dances feature salsa to funk from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on Fridays in August. mononaterrace.com, 608-261-4000
Paisan’s Italian Restaurant, 131 W. Wilson St. – Arrive early or prepare to wait for rooftop patio seats where Lake Monona is the front-and-center view. Living like a local means sipping sangria, noshing on pizza and sharing a Porta Salad (lettuce dressed with chickpeas, cheeses, salami, ham). The restaurant began business elsewhere in 1950. paisansrestaurant.biz, 608-257-3832
AMC Dine-in, 430 N. Midvale Blvd. – Unknown (for now) is the fate of the open-air, third-floor cocktail lounge at the movie theater formerly known as Sundance 608, a part of Hilldale shopping center. What began as arthouse cinema now plays the mainstream hits, and structural conversions are ongoing. sundancecinemas.com
State Capitol, 2 E. Main St. – Time your free tour right, as in summer and good weather, for a view of Madison’s epicenter from the century-old building’s sixth-floor observation deck. Guided, hourlong tours occur several times daily, except for major holidays. tours.wisconsin.gov, 608-266-0382
Memorial Union Terrace, 800 Langdon Ave., is open to all, but a UW identification card or Memorial Union membership card is needed to buy beer. Opening next to the Terrace lakeshore on Oct. 6 is Alumni Park, which converts a parking lot into landscaped gardens with art, exhibits that showcase alum careers, a boardwalk and public pier with 17 boat slips. union.wisc.edu, 608-265-3000; alumnipark.com, 888-WIS-ALUM
Dairy production at Babcock Hall, 1605 Linden Dr., began in 1951. Watch the weekday work at the plant from observation windows while deciding which of around 15 flavors of ice cream should be yours. babcockhalldairyplant.wisc.edu, 608-262-3045