EatDrinkMadison.com is pleased to have guest blogger Kaitlyn Herzog share her recent experience at the new Vintage Brewing Company
Hot, humid nights and a pitcher of beer with friends on the patio at the downtown Vintage is the staple to any undergraduate’s summer in Madison. But what happens when you graduate, grow up and move westward? Left vacant for a little under a year or so, the old J.T. Whitney’s needed a serious overhaul to become the new Vintage Brewing Company. And with the name as familiar as the downtown Vintage, it was a sure fit for a mature, west side crowd.
From the outside, the façade hasn’t changed. Besides the sign on Whitney Way, there isn’t much indicating it isn’t the old establishment. But the moment you walk indoors you’re likely to think otherwise.
The revamping of the restaurant took some time but paid off immensely. The same U-shaped bar is located right as you walk in, with a gorgeous fish tank as its centerpiece, illuminating top-shelf bottles of liquor.
All around the dining area, it is tastefully decorated with a variety of well-known beer company’s “vintage” illuminated signs—very 1950s. A supper club era is the theme – rightfully so. With a couple pool tables and dart boards, it’s sure to entice the younger crowd of the Westside, but without competing with a sports bar.
I’ve visited the bar a couple times before, and the clientele doesn’t seem to target one generation. You see a lot of the same retired folks that frequented the old JT Whitney’s, but you can also count on some 20-somethings to regulate the median age.
Swanky, yet not hipster enough to be called trendy – the bar sets a good feel for a first date, a beer after work, or catching up with friends over dinner in the bar. High booths separate a waiting/seating area and the bar. It makes for an intimate atmosphere to catch up, cozy up next to your man, or gather with some buds as a stop along the way in your weekend bar crawl.
So, as I sat on a Monday night after all football had come to an end, you could imagine the bar was relatively sedentary (as I’m sure it was elsewhere, being a bartender on the west side). We sat in a booth in the bar and ordered a couple pints of Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious ($4.50 each).
After taking hard look at the menu, I was quite impressed. The downtown location is open for lunch with a sandwich and soup menu, so this was certainly a spin in the right direction. It seemed to be a take on bar food, with an “Iron Chef” twist.
Since I’m a big fan of hot wings, we ordered up the Classic Buffalo variety with bleu cheese, and a couple of “shots” of their homemade hot sauces. (If the only thing I could eat for the rest of my life was hot sauce, I’d be okay!) Being the spicy food connoisseur that I am, we gave the “XXX” and the “Pepper Fire Mole” sauces a try.
Unfortunately, I was a bit shocked when the wings arrived. I thought we weren’t at Brother’s for wing night? The wings were small—very small. With their size and for the price of $7.50, I thought I’d get more than eight wings. However, with my self-proclaimed expertise in spicy food, I can assure you the flavor of all three sauces – Classic Buffalo, XXX and Pepper Fire Mole – were fabulous, each in their own way. The waitress had given us her favorite menu items upon request and informed us the Wisconsin Cassoulet was the way to go.
Sure to fill you up, the Usinger bratwurst, andouille sausage and smoked duck leg highlight the white bean and fennel casserole topped with bread crumb crust. Be it I already had a couple of wings, I opted for the crab cake, mango and avocado Salad. I think that salad won me over with the words crab cake and avocado. Am I wrong?
The pan-seared crab cakes laid on a bed of mixed greens, topped with diced mango, sliced tomato, deep-fried onion strings and, much to my dismay, guacamole (not sliced avocado) and served with a delicious roasted red pepper remoulade to enhance the crab cakes. Overall this salad was a steal for only $12.25.
Also sampled that night was the baked mac and cheese for $13.50. It was made with fresh rigatoni and a Wisconsin cheddar sauce, topped with crispy bread crumbs and baked. This isn’t your everyday Kraft Mac and Che’! A dish that only adults would appreciate and my favorite dish of the night by far – I only had two bites!
While being diagnosed with a food coma, I contemplated dessert. But in the midst of conversation, and with a full stomach, I was presented with the bill and I unknowingly declined dessert. I think my jeans will be happy.
All in all, the bar scene at “The New Vintage” (as most seem to be calling it) is certainly something I could see myself at. Being a 20-something west-sider, this was very much needed. As much as I love the local Irish bar, or the new sports pub in town, a chic, new happy hour locale is well accepted on the west side.
With “hours of happiness” between 4-7 p.m. and $1 off rails and tap beers, it makes for a relaxed, yet business casual environment right near the commerce park. It is bar food with a little something special and specialty drinks that are reasonably priced.
Expect Vintage Brewing Company to grow by word-of-mouth marketing. With the new brews being tapped before the end of March, make sure to stop in and experience some homebrewed excellence.