Super Bowl XLVI Gameday Diary Part I

Just got back to Chicago from an absolutely unbelievable weekend in Madison. Since it was very eventful, I’m breaking it up into three parts. This part will detail a bulk of the miscellaneous (read: food heavy) weekend around town, Part II focuses on the continued gluttony that was the Super Bowl party I went to, and Part III is my actual football analysis.

I’ve been back to Madison a bunch since graduation but it’s always been for a big football weekend, Mifflin, or Halloween. It was great to see it in its natural habitat, which is to say without a lot of other visitors.

Sort of a gluttonous weekend but it’s the Super Bowl. As the great philosopher Karl Welzein said, you gotta practice like you play. Running diary format with approximate times. Here we go…

FRIDAY

7:30 – Arrive in Madison with Raffi. Staying at our friend Ajit’s condo at Mifflin and Broom. The weekend crept up sort of fast which is really weird because normally there are any number of unforeseen obstacles that come between you and a weekend you are greatly looking forward to. I remained on alert for them throughout the week, thinking that as the time got closer the obstacles would be greater–or at least arrive–but they never came and all of a sudden I’m here without having had to battle for it. The entire weekend will be a model of relative ease.

8:30 – Head to Merchant–a new restaurant by the capitol that opened a little over a year ago–with Raffi, Ajit, and Sanchit. Merchant has great food, a wide array of delicious fruity specialty cocktails, and a treasure trove selection of bourbon. OUTSTANDING addition to Madison that I would not have taken nearly enough advantage of if it had existed when I was an undergrad.

Appetizer: Beer-battered cheese curds with housemade onion dip. A NEW NUMBER ONE IN MY CHEESE CURD POWER RANKINGS!!

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Main Course: Merchant burger with bacon and fontina + Fries w/ aioli. Very good execution.

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10:00 – Food coma’d from Merchant, we head to Sanchit’s apartment in Towers for a couple hours to relax, sip a couple drinks, and watch basketball. As condensed and sloppy as this NBA season is, it’s awesome that there’s a good game almost every night of the week and that they go until 1:00 AM. Well, except when you get suckered into the second half of a dank game on a weeknight. Still sort of a good problem, though.

1:30 – I have to twist Raffi’s arm but end up convincing him that it’s a good idea to go to Fat Sandwich Company. We + Ajit split the Fat Cheesehead, a toasted sub with cheese curds, mozzarella sticks, deep fried mac and cheese, french fries, and ranch. I’ve added bacon to this sandwich in the past when sharing with less virtuous friends. Not having daily access to food like this is one of the reasons I weigh 20 pounds less than I did when I went to school there.

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SATURDAY

10:00 – Bacon, egg, and cheese + Diet Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry @ Gotham Bagels. My absolute favorite breakfast in the world. So happy.

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12:15 – On the way to the Kohl Center (more on that later) I pass Madison Sweets, an unbelievable cupcake/candy boutique on State Street that, like Mechant, opened about a year ago. I didn’t know about it before but am led in by my hound’s nose for the delicious cupcake scent that was wafting outside. I order The Carter, which is a moist chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate ganache and ribbons of peanutbutter frosting. I don’t think I’ve ever had better frosting and this was an unreal deal at $2.00. I had to buy one for Matt later so I could have an excuse to have another bite without feeling like a complete glutton. I’m trying to watch my figure, you guys.

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12:30 – Ajit, Raffi, and I arrive outside of the Kohl Center to try and scalp tickets for Wisconsin-Ohio State. Our strict budgets are that we will only spend up to $50 and we will not sit on the 3rd level because watching basketball on HDTV is better and cheaper than watching it in the upper deck.

On our first lap, a cop sees us negotiating and tells the scalper he is breaking the law and has to sell to us at face value. For a pair of 100-level seats, the face value on which is $26/ticket. This is sort of a deceptive list price, though, because you have to donate a lot of money to UW-Madison to qualify to buy these seats. Also, the crappy games like UW-Stout and other cupcakes of Washington Generals caliber for a month while the Badgers tune up have the same face value. The cop almost gets the scalper to relent and sell the tickets to us at face value–a substantial loss–but he slithers out of it to a point where she makes him leave UW property instead of following through on her threat to write him up. Would have been AWESOME if that worked out but we would have made a mortal enemy in the process. Probably for the best that it didn’t work.

A different scalper has four 100-level seats together and would be willing to sell us three as tip-off gets closer. Over the course of a hard-fought half hour, we get him down from his original $125/ticket asking price to $60/ticket. But our budget is $50, there’s no other serious buying candidates around, and it’s not like he is going to eat the tickets in the end instead of getting $150 in revenue. There were more sellers than buyers and we were feeling pretty good about our chances.

12:57 – Jussssssst as the scalper we’ve been working is about to relent, some girl buys the tickets for $60 each. Damn. The scalper thinks he’s won and has a patronizing smirk on his face. But we had a price and stuck to it, got to watch the game in comparative comfort at the Nitty Gritty, and had extra money to spend on our Super Bowl celebraish. Feeling pretty good about how it ended up working out.

1:30 – #Firstworldproblem rant alert. If you don’t want to spend the next 700 words reading gripes about the Nitty Gritty’s subpar food and Madison alcohol density ordinances and just wanna get to more hot food porn action, I totally understand and will not begrudge you for skipping to the next timestamp. Here goes, though….

The Nitty Gritty has great location right by the Kohl Center and a very friendly and hardworking staff. It’s as good of a place as many in Madison to stop by for drinks–Power Hour and the birthday mug are two of the best specials in the city. But its food is terrible and overpriced. They should be ashamed of the cheese curds and chicken quesadillas that they served to us. And the Nitty Gritty operates this way consciously, skating on its reputation and location, knowing that no one can move in nearby, get a liquor license, and compete. The Nitty Gritty’s irresponsibly bad food is the consequence of an inefficient marketplace. I wrote broadly about this Madison alcohol density ordinance in my August profile of Sconnie Nation, an Wisconsin-themed apparel company that tried to open an innovative new sports bar downtown but couldn’t get through the bureaucracy:

In 2010, Vosseller set about opening a bar in the Madison area, collaborating on plans and ownership with local restaurateur Daniel Swerdlik, a manager at Mia Za’s, Underground Printing’s neighbor on State Street. In attempting this, the pair knew that plans for the bar would be constrained by the Alcohol Licensing Density Ordinance (ALDO), a measure passed by Madison’s Alcohol License Review Committee (ALRC) in 2007. Essentially, the ALDO stipulates that alcohol licenses for taverns (establishments that derive more than 50% of their revenue from alcohol sales) may only be granted in spaces that were most recently occupied by taverns. This means that the only way to open a new bar in the UW campus area would be if an existing one closes or is purchased. As the purpose of the ALDO is to cap the total amount of alcohol consumption in the downtown area, it constricts new bars to the occupancy limits of the previous tenants.

Given these restrictions, the only suitable area for the Sconnie bar to open was at 317 W. Gorham St., above a bar called Chaser’s, in a vacant space that was previously occupied by a pool bar called Cue-nique. For this space, Vosseller and Swerdlik paid architects, made a floor plan, and, unable to find electronic records pertaining to Cue-nique’s occupancy limit, presented their plan to the ALRC for the Sconnie bar to have an occupancy of 500.

The plan called for the Sconnie bar to be a multi-faceted entertainment venue, featuring live music, cover bands, DJs, and a dance floor. Despite all of these luxuries, the bar would of course “have a very much Wisconsin theme going on” according to Vosseller. Further, the bar would have been tailored to be a great place to watch sports. Although the plan for the Sconnie bar was appealing to some members of the ALRC, paper records were dug up during the application process that showed Cue-nique to have an occupancy limit of just 175 people. Even though Cue-nique was limited in the amount of people it could hold due to the substantial space that its pool tables occupied, the ALDO was non-negotiable and plans for the Sconnie bar had to be put on the back burner.

While the ALDO is rooted in noble intentions of preventing Madison from becoming oversaturated with drinking establishments that pose a liability for the community and prevent existing bar owners from earning an adequate return on investment, it has unintended consequences for situations like the Sconnie bar. In preventing any wiggle room in the ALDO, the ALRC has granted a de facto oligopoly to current tavern owners. As free market forces are inhibited, consumers are presented with higher prices, less options, and a group of bars that do not necessarily have to enact continuous improvements to stay in business: “These places do not really have competition forcing them to improve, so in some ways it becomes kind of a race to the bottom,” Vosseller laments, diplomatically abstaining from naming names. “If I was a bar owner, I guess I would be happy with it but as an outsider looking in, it sucks.”

OK, rant over. I feel better now. Hopefully people are still reading.

6:00 – Head to The Great Dane Pub–a tremendous spot that I have underutilized in my Madison career–with Matt, Raffi and Ajit. We have an hour wait and kill the time playing pool. We go brown versus white and it turns out that Ajit is somewhat of a hustler.

I remember that the Dane has a pretty intimidating menu with a million different things I want to order so I take a look at it in between turns.

While I’m deciding what I’m going to want, I see that they have a falafel sandwich and just KNOW that Raffi is going to order it. I pull Matt and Ajit aside, bet them a dollar each that Raffi will order the falafel, and give them the field. There are about 40 menu items, of which he would conceivably order about 10. The falafel may be the plurality but it is FAR from the majority.

7:00 – After much careful deliberation, Raffi orders the falafel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Even though I only won two dollars, I have never been more happy and fulfilled from winning a bet.

Appetizers: Breadbowl cheese and artichoke dip; beer bread with honey butter. I’m running out of adjectives to describe food but both of these were splendid. The honey butter was a particularly life-changing discovery because I hadn’t previously been aware of what butter is capable of.

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Main course: Ended up splitting the falafel with Raffi and adding a buffalo chicken sandwich on a pretzel bun with fries. Pretty good but nothing earth shattering and not pretty enough to document pictorally. Not easy to live up to honey butter, though. A burger at the Great Dane is probably your optimal move in the likely event that you’re not sandwiched between two nights of burger dinners.

10:00-2:00 – Head out with Matt for his birthday, hitting Ivory Room, Madhatters, and Red Shed. Stunning revelation that Madhatters is the best all around campus-area bar. Don’t want to sound whiney because Madison is awesome but it is sub-optimal for the same reasons described in my Nitty Gritty rant. Sports Column in Iowa City and Kilroy’s in Bloomington, for example, are much better than all of the bars by the Wisconsin campus.

Quickly:

  • Ivory Room – Piano bar near the capitol, hidden on Mifflin Street. You have to know about it go there; it’s situated in area that attracts the bare minimum of window drinkers. Singer/pianist is superb but the requests are obscure and kind of shitty. And when they’re not, they’re cliche like Sweet Caroline. He has to play what people request, though, so it’s not his fault we’re there for 45 minutes but only really get into one song–I’m Gonna Be (the ‘I will walk 500 miles’ song). Unrelatedly, we got Sangria pitchers because they were on special but they ended up tasting like a mixture between cough syrup and the non-gag-inducing non-alcoholic wine they give the kids at the Passover table.
  • Madhatters: I made the bold claim that it’s the best bar in the Madison campus area. Here’s why: spacious, plays good enough music, has a shuffleboard table, attractive but not comparatively unpretentious people working and drinking there, location (Gorham between Henry and Broom). Cons: A little bit pricey for a Madison bar but still cheaper than Chicago. I will listen to arguments for what is better but will probably disagree.
  • Red Shed: Encountered a grave jukebox injustice. It was one of those fancy new jukeboxes that takes credit cards, has a huge screen, and shows you the queue of how many songs are ahead of you. These jukeboxes SUCK and have user-unfriendly interfaces that make it really difficult to browse through artists and find the songs you want. We saw that there was only one song ahead of us, put $2 in, and picked out three songs–Rain is a Good Thing by Luke Bryan, Barbie Girl by Aqua, and some Lady Gaga song (Born This Way I think?). I picked the first one, not the latter two. But I also didn’t stop the other two from happening. Never apologize for partying. Our songs NEVER end up coming up in like 90 minutes because someone must have put like $20 in right after us and hit ‘Play Next’ on all his picks. This guy was paying $3 per song to hear like Bobby Brown. I hope he woke up the next morning and was PISSED about his credit card statement because there’s a good chance his jukebox splurge wasn’t the only fiscally irresponsible decision he made that night.

SUNDAY

9:30 – Original Pancake House with a crew of eight.

Shared with Matt: Chocolate chip pancakes (with a side of bacon and scrambled egg and a TOWER of rich whipped cream), biscuits and gravy, and eggs benedict. We finish our plates because there are people starving in other parts of the world and it would be wrong to waste it. We’re humanitarians.

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12:00 – Mud football!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We get a group of 10 people and play on the Kohl Center lawn, destroying what little vegetation had been left in the middle. Oh man, was that fun! I haven’t played nearly enough competitive sports since finishing high school and am resolving to do it on the newfound free-time derived from what will no longer be NFL Sundays forever until mid-September.

I get picked last and feel like Tom Brady using the draft snub as extra motivation to thrive, catching at least three touchdowns and throwing three more en route to a 12-6 shellacking. Very few things are more satisfying than dominating the other team in pick-up sports and saying things like, “Do you guys want to switch these teams up to make them more fair?” and “What is the mercy rule policy?”

Parts II and III coming in a bit.

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One Response to Super Bowl XLVI Gameday Diary Part I

  1. Frankie Weisburgh says:

    Really enjoyed this one. Caaaan’t wait for the next two.

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